On Thursday February 9th, the AH Planning and Zoning Board is scheduled to hear an application to build a three story, 32,000 plus square foot storage facility on the site of the former car wash on West Ave (behind the Flakey Tart). Located in the Central Business District where storage facilities are not permitted, the applicant must convince the Board to approve a "d" use variance in order to move forward. Given that the current vacant lot is surrounded by a chain link fence, and looks rather depressed, a nicely designed and landscaped storage facility may be viewed by some as an aesthetic improvement.
However, there are other important factors to consider. From an economic point of view, it is difficult to imagine a business that would bring less economic stimulus to the Central Business District. A storage facility will create no new jobs (especially if it is tied to the existing neighboring facility). It will attract no regular customers to shop on First Ave. It will bring no new residents to town patronize local businesses. From a functional perspective, a storage facility is almost identical to the current vacant lot, except that it will be surrounded by a nicer fence. It will do little to improve the vibrancy of down town, and it will only bolster the physical divide between the East and West sides of our community.
While it is is tempting in this economic climate to support any sort of development in AH as progress, the irony is that if we stand by (and in some cases strengthen) the zoning we already have in place, we will do far more to promote economic progress in town. As we struggle mightily to improve the aesthetic appeal of AH with new signage, holiday decorations, a new Borough Hall, streetscape upgrades, etc., this project is a step backwards.
As a former planning board member, one of my regrets is an early vote (perhaps my first) when I was asked to approve a variance for the existing storage facility on West Ave. Because I heard no opposition from the public (or any negative feedback at all), I voted to approve the project. Though I am not sure it would have made a difference in the final outcome, I wish I could have that vote back. The Central Business District has a great deal of potential to serve as an economic engine for local businesses and as an attractive bridge to our quaint residential neighborhoods. We can do better than large scale warehouses in this central location of our beautiful and cool community.
All the Best,
Atlantic Highlands, NJ