Frenchtown wants to greet new businesses with open arms – especially those that will add to the borough’s tourist appeal. So borough council introduced amendments to its land-use ordinance at its May 1 meeting.
Mayor Brad Myhre explained at an April 13 town-hall meeting that in May of 2018 the public was invited to suggest “zoning changes that would help us fill our stores downtown.” Then a committee was formed consisting of members of council and the planning board to work with the borough planner to craft changes.
The hope is “to maintain our small-town character – no McDonald’s,” while enticing new businesses, Myhre said.
He explained, “Because of Amazon and other things, not everybody’s doing cash-and-carry, paper-bag goods.” So there’s an emphasis on “artisan food and beverage production” like bakeries, ice cream parlors and coffee roasteries. “We’re trying to attract microbreweries and distilleries. They’ve been a great driver for a lot downtowns in terms of economic activity, and I think it would be good for Frenchtown,” he said.
“We actually had a craft brewery that wanted to move here, but were worried we wouldn’t work with them. So their attorney advised them not to come to Frenchtown. So this is our attempt to reach out and say, ‘We’re open for business. We’ve got a great downtown, and I think it’s a good place for such uses,’” Myhre said.
If something is not listed as allowed in the borough zoning ordinance, an applicant must undertake a costly quest for a use variance. They would have to spend “$3,000 before they even get started,” Myhre said. So council is adding several new allowable uses for its central commercial zone for buildings constructed before 2000. But those uses cannot occupy more than 2,500 square feet of space.
These include the uses cited above, plus cooking schools; gourmet food shops; tasting rooms; child-care centers; places of indoor entertainment and instruction; and laundromats.
Uses added to the list, but restricted to upstairs levels, are a digital makerspace (“a facility for digital design and fabrication utilizing hardware and software tools”), incubator space (for administrative, research and development and/or limited manufacturing where multiple entities can share services), a maker studio (for “a carver, candle maker, painter, sculptor, potter, weaver, jeweler, photographer, 3D printer or the like”), medical offices and other offices. Restaurants would be allowed to expand upstairs.
Business-friendly reforms would also be made with regard to signs and parking. Signs that conform to code can now be okayed by the zoning officer independent of the Planning Board. Off-street parking would not have to be provided for non-residential uses “due to the smaller parcel sizes and availability of on-street parking...”