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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Businesses disagree, try to bend

John Nagle, left, and Jay Cousino have made improvements to their body shop building. They want it to be attractive but put more emphasis on quality service and products. John Nagle, left, and Jay Cousino have made improvements to their body shop building. They want it to be attractive but put more emphasis on quality service and products.

TEMPERANCE - In the raging debate over the merits of Bedford Township s contro-versial architectural ordinance, there is a faction that says the township has a right to set standards for how its commercial businesses look and another that maintains that the marketplace is a better arbiter of such decisions.

And somewhere caught in the verbal crossfire of what at times has been a heated rhetorical exchange, are a number of longtime local business owners trying to keep their heads down, their profits up, and their businesses in compliance with the law.

“Businesses should be judged on the quality of their products and service, not on the color of paint on the front or the slope of their roof,” said John Nagle, general manager of Temperance Body Shop.

Last month, the nearly 70-year-old business was towed unknowingly into the debate when a photograph of its facade was used by township planning consultant Wade Trim as an example of less-than-flattering architectural features.

Jay Cousino, who with Mr. Nagle runs the body shop that his late father, Gerald Cousino, started in the 1940s, said it is nearly impossible for most small businesses to live up to the standards mandated in the township s commercial property ordinances.

“I want this place to be attractive. Every business owner wants their business to be attractive,” Mr. Cousino said.

“Every year I ve been here we ve improved the building,” said Mr. Cousino, a former engineer who returned to the family business more than a decade ago.

The shop s latest addition, a 2,700-square-foot paint shop, was added to the rear of the body shop in 2001 at a cost of about $280,000.

But at least $50,000 of that figure were improvements mandated by local officials to the front of the property, nowhere near the addition, but necessary to win the approval to expand, Mr. Cousino said.

“If we were building a new body shop from scratch, this is not the look we would have gone for,” Mr. Cousino said. “But this is what a business looks like when it grows. You have to play the cards your dealt and this is what we ve got to work with.”

The body shop is an example of one of the biggest hurdles the ad-hoc committee working to amend the ordinances must overcome: what to do with buildings that were once fine but now don t comply. Until they get an answer to that question, which probably won t be for several months, committee chairman Med Barr said, business owners will have to wait.

Architect Dave Kubiske, of David Arthur Associates in Ida, got an up-close view of Bedford Township s architecture, lighting, and landscape ordinances in 2002. The Hometown Plaza strip mall in Lambertville that his firm designed was the first to be subjected to the new rules and requirements.

The changes mandated by the planning commission and township board to make it comply with the ordinances added $100,000 to the cost of the building, Mr. Kubiske said.

“It s important for them to re-evaluate the ordinances,” Mr. Kubiske said. “I understand what they were trying to do. They wanted to give these [commercial developments] personality, and we applaud them for that. But some of the requirements are contradictory.”

Keith Gere, an employee of Mr. Kubiske who has helped design several commercial projects in Bedford Township, said that even with the additional rules laid down in the ordinances, the township remains a great place to develop property.

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