Editor’s Note: Dawn Watson, the owner of Brother of the Wolf dog training school came to Gloucester City in 2010 because she was told the city was business-friendly. After reading how the city treated Joe Feldman, who wanted to open a bail bond office, but was denied, she felt obligated to tell others about her distressing experience trying to open her business at 700 Market Street.
By Dawn Watson
GLOUCESTER CITY NJ--This is what happened to me and my late husband Dan immediately before moving to Gloucester City from Voorhees.
Dan, my husband, and I went to the farm market that was held at Proprietor’s Park and met with a couple that encouraged us to move here because the city was business-friendly. We went to lunch together and they convinced us that to move here and open a business would be a snap and it would benefit both the community and my business, which was based in Berlin at the time.
I called the municipal building and made an appointment to speak with an individual that could give me the perspective. I met with the individual and we discussed the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ). He said the TOWN was in the UEZ and I could charge less for services because of the 3.5% sales tax. Several days later, after we had picked out 700 Market Street for the business, based on the fact that it was a commercial zone (I was shown a map that stated it was commercial) and we could open the business and live there, too.
A fellow from the Housing Authority came into the office and told me not to buy the house because it was NOT zoned commercial. We had already scheduled settlement on the Market Street property and couldn't back out of the deal. I scheduled a zoning meeting to dispute the zoning but I couldn't get on the schedule until mid-August. (I met with the individual from the zoning office in May and couldn’t get onto the schedule until August.)
Meanwhile, we purchased another home in town and my daughter moved in. I stayed in my shop (in Berlin, sleeping on the floor with my dogs) for a month because we couldn’t get a CO on the Market Street house, much less a variance to have the property zoned commercial/residential. I moved to our second property in Gloucester City and Dan and I slept on the floor because the contractors were still working on bringing Market Street up to code.
It took three attempts to get a CO for Market ST. Part of the problem, so said the Housing Authority, was the roof. We were told who to call to fix it. The guy came without a ladder and demanded $350 in cash. He never looked at the roof, but we did manage to get the CO. (I still have the same roof after 3 years and it never leaked, yet.)
“We moved into the house on September 1. Meanwhile, I went to the municipal building again. The Housing Authority guy showed up and SCREAMED IN MY FACE that I couldn't open the business because I should never have bought the house, and that was why I was having these problems.
Mid-August came and the zoning board took a vote. The fellow that encouraged us to move here was on the zoning board (we were surprised to see him there as he had failed to mention that he was on the board when we had lunch with him) abstained from voting, so I was not granted the variance (commercial/residential). I had to postpone opening my business until October, but we were granted the CO in the meantime. At least we were sleeping on a bed and not on the floor, now, which was good because Dan was losing weight and not feeling well.
Second meeting of zoning, woman testified that my business would reduce the quality of life in Gcity because of the noise and dirt. I later discovered that she lived across the street on Market Street and was concerned about where to park when the street cleaners came, as she was accustomed to parking on 7th Street near my home/business.
Fortunately, by that time I had learned how to play the game. I approached an attorney that lives in town and he told me he couldn't help me because he was a Republican, so I went to a Democrat lawyer in town but he said he didn't want to tangle with the zoning board for fear of retaliation.
The variance was finally voted in at the meeting, but I couldn't join the UEZ because only specific businesses were allowed in, and I wasn't one of them. I was sick of arguing so I just gave up.
The following month, November, Dan was diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer. He lived for seven more months.
Now, the couple that encouraged us to move here is moving to Florida, I'm going to be selling the business in March, (to someone outside of the area who will not be opening here in Gloucester City). I am searching for a house in Gloucester City, where I will still give back to the community by working with dogs at their owners’ homes so I won’t need to go through any ‘authority’ for a variance.
And that is why I don't recommend anyone to open a business in Gloucester City.
Note: The author writes a weekly column, Pet Tips for CNBNews. She has also written numerous articles about businesses that we featured under the category named The South Jersey Business Scene. She writes both columns for free as a public service to the readers of CNBNews.