Monday, March 21, 2016
Westbard County Council worksessions fail to discuss retention of existing small businesses
Of course, all of this may be discussed again and further altered by the full Council at its Tuesday worksession, which has been scheduled so as to discourage the public from hearing the full discussion.
But what hasn't yet been discussed? How thousands of cars will be added to already-jammed River Road. And what the exact plan is to accommodate hundreds of new students in the also-jammed Walt Whitman cluster - and even more important, how they will pay for that yet-unrevealed plan.
That's not all, though.
The Council PHED committee said not a single word about how the popular small businesses already operating in the Westwood Shopping Center and Westwood Center II will be able to survive through the construction process, and be able to lease space in the new development. Many of the owners and employees of these businesses have become part of the fabric of the community over the decades, and the Council needs to have this discussion Tuesday. What I'm hearing, is that this is the last discussion on the plan before a final vote in the coming weeks. The current Planning Board draft contains only weak, aspirational language on this topic. Should the Council fail to amend that, many of these businesses will likely be lost.
One additional reason to have this discussion, is that one of the items that will come up for conversation Tuesday is Councilmember Roger Berliner's request that the commercial Floor Area Ratio for the Westwood Shopping Center be reduced from the PHED committee's recommendation of 1.0 to 0.75. I don't have a dog in that hunt either way, other than I would like to be sure that we get the best retail center possible on that site, and the F.A.R. should be whatever achieves that goal.
But more germane to this topic is - which of those F.A.R. options (if either) would most help the current mom-and-pop tenants in the shopping center? Would the lower one keep out larger chains in favor of neighborhood retail, thereby helping keep Fashion Craft dry cleaners, Anglo-Dutch Pools & Toys, etc.? Or would the larger one allow Equity One to have more square footage to earn rent on, and thereby offset lower rents for the local retail?
Is one preferable for tenants like Anglo-Dutch, who need more floor space than the Westwood Barber Shop, for example? All of these factors should be considered by the Council, so we know if there is any relevance of F.A.R. to the retention of existing businesses there.
And beyond the F.A.R. discussion, we need to know in the broader sense just what the Council's specific plan is to retain those businesses. Staging will be a huge issue, because the large underground parking garage proposed will almost certainly require the demolition of the existing Westwood Shopping Center before anything else can be done. And wouldn't the proposed realignment of Westbard Avenue have to take place simultaneously, meaning that the Westwood Center II would also have to come down? If so, where will the current tenants go during the two-year construction?
These are discussions that need to be had in detail, before just taking an up-or-down straw vote.