MOUNT HOLLY Darkened bail-bond storefronts, massage parlors, tattoo studios, and even professional and charitable-services offices won't be welcomed downtown much longer. The Township Council is taking measures to radically change a two-block stretch of High Street near the Burlington County government complex.
But phasing those businesses out could take a while. About half have been deemed undesirable under an ordinance the council passed Monday night.
The council wants to establish downtown strictly as a retail/restaurant district. The ordinance prohibits nonretail/restaurant businesses from opening in the area. Existing businesses can stay, but future tenants or owners will be barred from opening those types of shops or offices.
Currently, the downtown has four bail-bond businesses and a couple of law offices that cater to those accused of crimes. Sprinkled among them are several pizzerias, a diner, a tailor, a jeweler, two pubs, a pair of thrift stores, and a martial arts studio. There are no tattoo parlors. Six buildings are vacant.
"If you walk down High Street and see three or four bail-bonds places, that does not set the mood for shopping," Mayor Rich DiFolco said. "We want it to be an eating and shopping place."
No business owners spoke at the meeting. The downtown business association is inactive.
Nancy Henry, who has operated Ms. Nancy's Bails on High Street for 15 years, said she had no objection to the council's action.
"I think it's an excellent ordinance, because Mount Holly is a nice town and I would hate people to think it's inundated with criminals," she said.
The township has eight bail-bond businesses and doesn't need more, she said. She said it would be more appropriate for these businesses to locate near the county jail, but offices there are occupied by lawyers.
Coin laundries, mental-health treatment centers, used-car lots, dry cleaners, auction places, industrial establishments, dance halls, printing shops, and bakery operations that "employ more than 10 persons or use machinery of more than 10 horsepower" are also forbidden under the new law.
The ordinance establishes a new zone and states that its purpose is to "accommodate a mix of uses that maintains the liveliness of the street and supports downtown commercial activity." It also says it recognizes "the importance of retail use at the ground floor" and thus restricts residential units and offices to upper floors.
Councilman Dwynne Belton questioned whether the ordinance would prevent financial-service firms and banks from locating downtown. DiFolco said banks would be classified as retail, but professional services likely would not. The idea is to not have "just people working at their desks" downtown, he said.
The council is also considering extending the definition of downtown to Washington Street and turning the area into a "walkable shopping district." That two-lane street now has a dentist's office, homes, a building supply store, a service station, an insurance broker, and other non-retail businesses.