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Letter: Principles for Cranford’s Economic Recovery and Business Development Task Force

This op-ed originally appeared in TapInto Cranford.

We welcome the Cranford Township Committee’s creation of a Task Force devoted to our town’s economic recovery and business development. COVID-19 continued to have a profound impacts on our lives, local businesses, and community. As the Task Force prepares to start its work, we believe seven principles should guide its priorities and decision-making.

1. Keep the Virus Contained: Coronavirus cases are spiking across the country and the Trump administration has no plan to control the outbreaks. It has been left to states and local governments to fight the virus. Our region has sacrificed too much to backslide now. Our economic recovery must be guided by science and public health concerns, including use of masks, responsible social distancing, and sanitizing hands and surfaces.

2. Support Our Schools: Families cannot return to business as usual without the safe reopening of schools. Local communities must decide how their schools approach reopening. Parents, teachers, and administrators are being asked to make extremely difficult decisions with the virus threat looming. We applaud the Cranford school system efforts to solicit community input. We believe the Task Force and Township Committee should provide all support it can to Cranford Superintendent Dr. Rubin and the School Board to support their mission of safely educating our children. This includes opening township properties, like the recently acquired tennis club and town parks, to provide more space for social distance classes if useful.

3. Open Additional Outdoor Space to Support Local Businesses: Cranford has taken a deliberate approach to closures on Alden and Eastman Streets. These steps are good, but there is more we can do. An informal poll we conducted on Cranford Talks last month found overwhelming support for additional closures and designating areas for socially distant gathering. Working with our Police and Fire Departments as well as local businesses, we should experiment with more expansive closures, including North Union Ave and areas on the south side on a temporary basis. The Task Force should also consider further easing of permitting to allow merchants to have items outside temporarily as well as set up communal locations where people can responsibly gather (as they have experimented with on Eastman). We have seen other towns take bold approaches with great success, and in past summers major streets have been closed for our regular street fairs. Rather than external vendors coming to sell gutter guards, it would be great to close our streets to support local businesses and residents.

4. Support All Cranford Businesses, Across Town and Professions: Our retail and restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19, and there has been strong focus on supporting recovery of our award-winning downtown and restaurants. The Task Force must take into account the full economic diversity of Cranford, which includes Centennial Village, office parks, and warehouses as well as a broad range of professions. There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution given Cranford’s dynamism, and the Task Force should advance diverse policies to promote broad-based economic growth.

5. Continue to Attract New Businesses: This month’s opening of Spoonful Masala and Folklore Artisan Taco proves we remain an attractive town for new businesses. The Task Force should explore additional ways to promote Cranford and bring in additional investment. Additionally, the Task Force should work with the Planning Board, Zoning Board and Township Committee to identify areas where smart redevelopment can help both the local neighborhood and supplement our tax base in years to come, tackling eyesores like Swan Cleaners in the heart of our town.

6. Build for the Future Now: COVID-19 has forced all of us to pause and take stock of what is important as well as how to make improvements for the future. The emergency response has allowed changes we hope will be lasting, such as opening outdoor spaces to dining at local restaurants like Kilkenny House. The Task Force should consider other policies that will improve Cranford’s competitiveness and appeal for the long-term. It is encouraging that the Task Force will include members from the Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Committee and Green Team. A more walkable, bike-friendly, and environmentally conscious town will benefit all of us in the years ahead.

7. Protect Our Township Employees and First Responders: We do not yet know the full economic impact of COVID-19 on town finances, but we will certainly be heading into difficult budgets ahead. The large majority of Cranford’s town budget is for personnel – the township employees who keep our town running and public safety departments which were our front line confronting the virus. It is important we honor our commitment to those that serve our community by protecting the personnel who helped get us through the health crisis from budget cuts.

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