More on Williamstown's bid to grow businesses

Main Street chairman Ernest W. Carbone II (left) and Council President Cody D. Miller. Main Street is the focus of a new residential and commercial corridor.

I rarely write a subsequent column about a community I've visited for "Town by Town," but I had such a good time in Williamstown (July 3) that I thought I'd make an exception for No. 187 in the series.

Some of these town visits have been forgettable: Real estate agents don't call me back, municipal officials choose not to respond; and residents conclude that I am out to bring down property values single-handedly.

Then there are those who think these are travelogues. "Town by Town" is about real estate - residential along with some commercial, if it is germane, as it is with Williamstown, which is part of Monroe Township, Gloucester County.

Cody D. Miller, the Township Council president, said one thing Monroe has done to make it easier for businesses to locate there is create a "director of community development and zoning officer." The director's job is to be the go-to person for businesses that want to locate in the township. The council established redevelopment zones to help businesses offset the cost of setting up, he said.

The Williamstown Chamber of Commerce was launched earlier this year, and provides networking opportunities and support of businesses.

Business growth is important to Williamstown in a couple ways. First, property taxes in South Jersey are high, even higher in communities that are basically residential enclaves. Businesses help diversify the tax base, and can eventually ease the burden on homeowners.

Logan Township, Gloucester County, is a perfect example, with an industrial base that affords it the lowest property taxes in South Jersey.

The second way centers on disposable income. Main Street chairman Ernest W. Carbone II said a 12-year-old survey showed that Williamstown families' disposable income was about $4,000 a year.

"The problem is that most of that is being spent out of town," he said, primarily in Washington and Deptford Townships.

It's not as if Williamstown is the Sahara Desert. Indeed, both Miller and Carbone are quick to point out there is industry in Williamstown, though glassmaking has been history for years. There have been talks with Rowan University, seven minutes away in Glassboro on the Route 322 corridor, about expanding to Williamstown, Carbone said.

Main Street has several businesses, including the Grand Theater, the ballet theater, and the arts center - and it's adding venues all the time. "The idea is to fill Main Street with unique businesses," he said: goods and services you can't get elsewhere.

Attracting retailers is a tough row to hoe for many Main Streets, because there is not enough room to accommodate big box stores, even if the demographics are favorable.

Mixed-use development is the key for many communities, and Williamstown has embraced it.

The problem, as my recent "Town by Town" mentioned, is that as Main Street declined in the 1960s and 1970s, Monroe Township allowed single-family homes to be cut up into rental apartments. Many have fallen into disrepair.

Miller said the township wants to acquire those properties when they are for sale, raze them, then have developers build first-floor retail with residential above.

"A lot of people are uncomfortable with the township getting involved," he acknowledged.

aheavens@phillynews.com
215-854-2472
@alheavens

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