Mayor Steve Fulop and the Jersey City Council have taken an extraordinary step to preserve the distinctive neighborhood downtown that is making Jersey City one of the most livable cities in America.
Jersey City Corporation Counsel, Jeremy Farrell and his law department drafted the first franchise and formula business ordinance in New Jersey. The new law favors mom-and-pop establishments over chain retailers.
The bold new ordinance will have the effect of keeping chains like Starbucks and 7-Eleven from infiltrating the city’s revitalized downtown. The law specifically applies to businesses that are contractually obligated to maintain a facade, menu items, and merchandise or color scheme and have 10 other properties within 300 miles of Jersey City, limiting them to a maximum of 30 percent of ground floor commercial leasable space in the downtown area. Grocery stores over 15,000 square feet and a large segment of the waterfront area are expressly excluded from the restrictions.
The goal of the ordinance is to “preserve Downtown’s distinctive sense of place and unique neighborhood character”. Mayor Fulop further explained to The Wall Street Journal, “If you look forward three, four, five years and Jersey City is filled with franchise and formula-based businesses, it would no longer be a place where you would see the continued growth.”
Critics of the ordinance, including the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, argue that no municipality should ever turn away business and that restricting chain stores may slow Jersey City’s rapid revitalization. However, it is hard to argue against Mayor Fulop, whose groundbreaking ideas about government have won the praise and support of urban mayors and academics alike.
Unlike some of his previous initiatives, this one has received broad support from neighborhood activists, urban planners and coalitions of small retailers. Jersey City observers say that it’s acceptance is due in large part to Fulop’s track record of success. They point out that anyone can see the momentum of Jersey City’s renaissance by strolling downtown at night for dinner at a rooftop restaurant or ice cream at Torico.
The city’s robust and often misunderstood tax abatement system, which Mayor Fulop overhauled after taking office, is attracting developers, businesses, and residents to all areas of the city. Under the city’s new tiered tax abatement scheme, the length of the tax abatement is largely determined by the location of the project.
It wasn’t long ago when Mayor Steve Fulop and the Jersey City Council adopted the first municipal ordinance in New Jersey to require mandatory sick time for employees of businesses located in Jersey City. It was a bold and controversial move at the time, but that bold policy initiative has become the model ordinance adopted by more than a dozen NJ municipalities.
It was the same result with Fulop’s pay to play ordinance. It had very little support when, as a City Councilman, he introduced it. Today it has become the model ordinance and the State of New Jersey, under Governor Chris Christie, requires that all municipalities that receive state assistance adopt it.
Only a handful of New Jersey municipalities have achieved such momentum that city officials can direct development rather than being directed by development. Mayor Steven Fulop’s Jersey City is one of those municipalities.