At last night’s Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) meeting, three ordinances that would limit the number of new personal grooming establishments (barber shops, beauty salons, nail salons) drew concerns from members of the board.
Council-At-Large Joseph DeIorio, who is on the MLUB as a council representative, addressed the board. He explained,”The idea of this ordinance came about from the City of Rahway. [It] had a similar problem that Roselle Park has continued to face over the last many years and that was a lot of these particular types of businesses dominating what they consider their downtown area.”
He stated that a local ordinance was enacted which still allowed for a new salon within a certain distance from a pre-existing one as long as it was approved by Rahway’s zoning board. Councilman DeIorio continued, “What has happened since 2011 in Rahway is that they’ve diversified their businesses. They have more eateries; they have more specialty shops per se . . . ”
He added that Union Township enacted an ordinance similar to Rahway’s salon regulations.
Councilman DeIorio further stated, “What has happened to Roselle Park is, essentially, those types of businesses are very easy to fill. Landlords will fill [their property] based on who’s going to pay the price of renting that facility at the same time the first person that they can get to fill; they’re going to fill. There’s nothing wrong [with that], it’s capitalism. However, Roselle Park is facing a problem in its diversity of similar types of businesses.”
Citing that there were ten (10) salons in the central business district – also known as the t-district – the council representative commented that out of 47 first-floor commercial businesses, one out of every five is a personal grooming service. The t-district runs along Chestnut Street from Grant Avenue to Westfield Avenue and then on Westfield Avenue from Walnut Street to Locust Street. The councilman said, “What we’re trying to – and it would happen over time – is to encourage other types of businesses rather than beauty salon, barbershop or nail salon.”
MLUB member Julio ‘Jay’ Robaina asked, “Have we had any discussion with the landlords of these businesses?”
“No,” answered the council-at-large, “We’ve had a couple of calls, but we have not met. A couple [of them] called me and [yes] they were upset. The movie theater was one that contacted me. ‘I happen to have a beauty salon [interested], why can’t I put one in there?’ We’re trying to change the type of business . . . Especially the business district. Again, I don’t fault them to want to have an easy rental fill, but if we’re going to continue that, we’re not going to have the coffee shops, the bagel shops, all these things that people talk about.”
Councilman DeIorio noted to the MLUB that the governing body is in the process of looking for economic development coordinator who would be a sort of liaison between the business community and government and that Rahway has one.
Mr. Robaina said, “They also have a chamber of commerce.”
“Well, they have an active chamber of commerce,” replied Councilman DeIorio, “I want to make that clear.”
The councilman additionally discussed the municipality beginning to actively work on being designated as a transit village.
MLUB President Loren Harms added to the conversation, “I kind of understand where you’re going with it. If we want the make the change in the community, then something like this might have to [happen].”
Mr. Robaina remarked, “What I’m concerned with is, legally, what would happen if we begin with hair, nail, and skin services – we start with salons – what’s to say two years from now it’s going to be restaurants? . . . Right now, I think we’re in a position that [shows] we’re open for business and we want to cut the red tape and we want to encourage business owners to invest in their properties. I think we need to do a better job of getting an economic development coordinator and working with those folks – the landlords of properties here in town – to either revitalize, refit or reface [to] give the downtown the look that it needs to encourage the activity so we can get something else. I think that the free market will dictate [businesses].”
When asked how many salons are currently in town, Councilman DeIorio answered there are 21 of them. Mr. Robaina then asked how many restaurants are in town. The response was 24. The board member then reiterated the slippery slope of limiting a certain type of business.
Councilman DeIorio said, “One of the criticisms that kept on coming back to me last year was that when I was mayor, we didn’t do anything to attract business. The free market ruled. So in that case then either I was very successful – which I don’t think I was when it came to that – or we need to use zoning as a tool to try to bring in different types of businesses. That’s where I’m coming from.”
MLUB Owen Iungerman proposed, “How about when the landlord comes along and says ‘you’re not letting me fill my store. I’ll have an empty store. I’m losing money.’ I understand where you’re coming from. I definitely understand it but [like] my colleague [Jay Robaina] over here says, you’ve got to talk to the landlords . . . What happens if the businesses aren’t coming? Now your store is sitting empty. That makes it worse I believe.”
Councilman DeIoiro said, “Again, this is not to discourage business from coming in. It’s to provide a means to get new businesses to come in. We’re already moving ahead on the economic development coordinator . . . But if we’re happy the way things are going now then do nothing.”
“Or table this until the economic development coordinator comes in,” said Mr. Robaina.
President Harms reminded members that the board could only offer recommendations, adding, “A dialogue back and forth is great, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t, but when we say that we should table it, it’s not ours to table. [We can offer] a recommendation but it’s not something that we can proceed to have them do. They can do as they wish.”
MLUB member Greg Delano offered his input, “I’m looking at how many [salons] we have already and if I was interested in opening a barbershop or a hair salon I would be like, that’s a lot of competition. I might want to go somewhere else.”
“It continues to grow though,” Councilman DeIorio stated, then continued, “If I may share something because I’m trying to learn the industry a little bit, and I’m not in the industry, but from what I’m finding out, if you go down to downtown Chestnut Street on a Saturday, they’re full . . . Because people tend to follow people who cut their hair no matter where they go. But Dowling’s was empty, Costa’s was empty, [Nealtican] was empty. They’re coming in, and they’re going out.”
“What can we do to better to encourage a coffee shop [or] a bagel shop to open up?” asked Mr. Robaina.
The councilman commented that the hiring of an economic development coordinator, the possible uniformity of the zoning along Chestnut Street from Westfield Avenue to train station, and working on becoming a transit village would all improve Roselle Park’s business community.
MLUB member Paul Baiamonte stated, “I agree [that] we have too many salons. But I think that if this economic development coordinator is a critical position in terms of downtown development, [since] we’re only talking a month or month and a half of hiring somebody, is it that critical that this person can’t have a say in this? And it may just stay this way, but I think that if we’re going to the extent of hiring someone to fill this position to help the downtown, maybe this person should have a say and shouldn’t get pigeonholed into this.”
As the 20-minute discussion came to a close, the board as a whole recommended that the three ordinances (2524, 2525, and 2526) be tabled until an economic development coordinator is hired. When all three ordinances were put up for a vote, all but one member, President Harms, agreed to recommend that they be postponed until a business coordinator is hired. Mr. Harms in explaining his opposition stated, “I want to go forward with it and get it done.”
The ordinances will all have public hearings and be voted on by the governing body on Thursday, May 17th, at the 7 p.m. municipal meeting in the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.