Residents may begin to see fewer empty storefronts — or at least that’s the hope — after the City Council gave final approval to an ordinance that will change the city’s zoning to include more business districts.
The Small Business Expansion District Plan, sponsored by 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco and Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle, aims to re-establish Washington Street as the city’s primary commercial hub. The plan would lower barriers for small businesses like restaurants and shops that want to open on the main street. Sections previously closed to businesses would now be open.
“Our zoning in Hoboken for retail is centered around the Central Business District and the PATH train to the point where if you wanted to open a restaurant north of Fourth Street, you wouldn’t be able to do that and would have to go through a whole litany of bureaucratic procedures,” said Doyle. He also sits on the city’s Planning Board, which has confirmed that the changes are consistent with the city’s Master Plan.
The plan creates three new neighborhood business districts and defines and expands permitted uses in these areas. This will encourage new businesses like restaurants, cafes, co-working spaces, and tech incubators to open. It also aims to encourage more neighborhood retail and corner stores.
“Small businesses play a vital role in our community, making it critical that we find ways to help mom-and-pop shops succeed in Hoboken,” said DeFusco in a press release. “The Small Business Expansion District Plan does exactly this by enacting a proactive policy that will encourage makers, creators, and innovators to invest in our city.”
“When small businesses thrive, our neighborhoods are more vibrant, new jobs are created, and we lower the burden on residential taxpayers,” Defusco said. “I am proud to have worked with the City Council and mayor to expand neighborhood business districts and look forward to bringing new and exciting business concepts into our community.”
Currently, the city’s zoning code defines the Central Business District as the area south of Fourth Street along Washington Street. Though most residents view the entirety of Washington Street as the business area, this is not the case.
Heading north on Washington Street — from Fourth Street to Fourteenth Street — the area is zoned R-1 residential, despite the many ground-floor businesses.
This code makes it difficult for certain types of establishments to open because they must be approved by the Planning Board or Zoning Board.
In that area, restaurants are technically not permitted. They must get a variance to open, which members of the business community have said is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, resulting in new business owners opening in Jersey City instead.
Under the new zoning, commercial zones are separated into three distinct districts. The Hoboken Terminal District is concentrated around the transit hub. The Central Business District runs along Washington Street from First to Seventh Street. The Neighborhood Business District includes the west side of Washington Street from Seventh Street to 14th Street, both sides of First Street from Bloomfield Street west to Harrison Street, both sides of 14th Street from Hudson Street to Clinton Street, and the east side of Jackson Street from Third Street to Seventh Street.
“The hope here is by economically zoning we will economically incentivize businesses and mom-and-pop shops to spread out, and hopefully applicants will be coming not just to downtown Hoboken but across the city,” Doyle said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos said that adding the Jackson Street corridor and allowing businesses to more easily open in the area will help create a more vibrant district.
Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said this zoning change, as well as the future potential Special Improvement District, will help the local business community thrive. “I am so excited about all of this converging, and over the next 12 months hopefully we will see what is now vacant storefronts with great businesses in them,” she said.
Council President Jen Giattino noted that while it’s important to help small businesses, it’s also important to protect residents’ quality of life. She felt the ordinance struck the right balance between the two.
The changes also include updating the zoning ordinance to reflect modern issues, applications, conditions, and language to be more consistent with the city’s Master Plan, Master Plan Reexamination Report, and 2018 Master Plan Land Use Element.
This includes more modern definitions as well as new bulk standards and permitted uses.
For more details on the zoning changes go to the detailed May 15 council agenda at hobokennj.gov.
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