The Ridgewood Village Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to substantially change zoning laws in the business districts, that officials say has been from setting up shop in the village.
The subject of over the past year, the revised ordinance now strips the term "fast food," and notably prohibits drive-thru windows at establishments, dining or not. Further, it eliminates the distinction of "fast food" and "slow food" establishments, treating them with equal weight.
Proponents of the previous ordinance expressed fear that big, bold traditional fast food meccas like McDonalds and Burger King would dot E. Ridgewood Avenue should the ordinance change, a point Village Planner Blais Brancheau has rebuffed in the past.
Brancheau, addressing the planning board in the summer, said fast food businesses have had the opportunity to move into Ridgewod for decades, but have chosen not to because of a lack of foot traffic, parking and drive-thru options.
"Fast food" restaurants, prior to the codified changes Wednesday, could only operate conditionally in the B-2 zone (Franklin Ave.) but not on E. Ridgewood Ave and B-1 zones. According to Brancheau, who drafted the ordinance at the planning board, lines have blurred over the decades and many existing establishments contain "fast food" uses.
As a result of those restrictive ordinances – which contained language banning the sale of food primarily stored in plastic and paper cups, plates with plastic utensils – over seven small businesses had been turned away from opening.
The most notable example is Elliot Bloom, who had sought to open a yogurt shop, Red Mango, after Quiznos closed in summer of 2011. After tens of thousands of dollars spent, Bloom was denied by the zoning board.
"I think this is a very positive outcome for Ridgewood," said Bloom of the council's unanimous vote Wednesday. Restricted no longer, Bloom is in the process of reapplying and plans to open Red Mango in late winter, early spring.
"When we first opened in Montclair there were many vacancies," Bloom noted, remarking that vibrancy has since recovered around the Red Mango Church St. location.
"It just takes a little spark to ignite interest and renewal in an area. Hopefully Red Mango can be that spark and we're very delighted to be in town."
There are still some hurdles that must be cleared with the ordinance, officials said Wednesday.
Resident Boyd Loving remarked that the amended ordinance does not speak to curbside pickup orders, a point Village Attorney Matt Rogers acknowledged.
Several businesses offer the service in the village and Killion said it represents a safety hazard.
"Where it's a convenience for people, I believe it creates a safety situation because they are really parking in a no parking zone," the mayor said. Though it may not be addressed immediately, Killion said the curbside question is "high on the list" of things to tackle, whether it be at the planning board or council.
The ordinance changes go into effect 20 days after passage.