Despite a public groundbreaking in April 2009, no work has been done to restore the historic “100 Steps” on the Palisade hills near the border with Hoboken, as promised by an area developer. Now, the Riverview Neighborhood Association in Jersey City Heights has begun a grassroots campaign to pressure the developer to fulfill an agreement to provide an updated version of the stairway.
The original structure was built in the early 19th century. It was closed in the 1920s, then torn down in the 1990s after it had deteriorated considerably.
Approximately seven years ago, an agreement was reached between the Hoboken-based Brass Works Urban Renewal Company, builders of a condo development called Cliffs Lofts, and the city of Jersey City. The developers agreed to rebuild the “100 Steps” in order to get approvals for requested changes to the Cliffs site plan as well as the city’s final certificate of occupancy. The agreement was prompted by the urging of the Riverview group.
“The developer is not living up to the agreement, and the city is not holding the developer accountable. “ – Becky Hoffman
The stairway would enable pedestrians headed for Hoboken (and for Hoboken’s Second Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station) to descend easily rather than taking a long sidewalk on Mountain Road, a wooded and secluded area where vehicular traffic passes and which in the past has been the scene of muggings.
However, now, the developers say they don’t have the money.
The Cliffs Lofts were completed in 2008 and include 120 rental units. The building, once a bookbinding warehouse, is almost fully occupied.
Developer hasn’t lived up to the deal
Brass Works is a company run by Hoboken developers Sanford Weiss and Robert Greer. Calls for comment to representatives of Brass Works Urban Renewal were not returned. But a local councilman said they have told him it’s a financial issue.
“At the groundbreaking, we were pretty confident it would go forward,” said Councilman Bill Gaughan, whose Ward D includes the site of the future stairway. “But the fact is; now the developer does not have the money to pay for the project.”
Gaughan said he worked with the city to apply for a $400,000 state grant to jumpstart the project. Brass Works claims the project’s cost has increased since last year due to changes in the design requested by the city’s Engineering Division, according to Gaughan. Also, Gaughan said the grant is currently frozen on the state level due to funding cuts by Gov. Christopher Christie.
Gaughan introduced a resolution at the May 26 council meeting to give the developer six more months, starting June 1, to start work on the “100 Steps” project and to live up to the agreement. The resolution was approved by a 9-0 vote.
Residents who live above the cliffs are concerned that only baby steps are being taken to get the project done.
Want ‘100 Steps’ now
Among them is Becky Hoffman, president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association.
“The developer is not living up to the agreement, and the city is not holding the developer accountable,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the RNA is planning a “grassroots” campaign to compel the city and developer to rebuild the steps, but she declined to be more specific.
One Jersey City Heights resident who asked to remain unnamed said the steps would be a “benefit” for commuters who travel to work using the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Second Street station located a few blocks away.
The resident also said the stairway will also provide safer travel since the area isn’t well-lit and is hidden by heavy vegetation on the steep cliffs.
“I hear stories of people being mugged and there are also cars traveling up that road,” the resident said.
Hoffman agrees with the resident, saying the steps should already be in place. She said this would make for a “much safer” situation for people walking Mountain Road.
Those benefiting would include residents of the Cliffs Lofts, she noted.
Although the developer did not get a permanent certificate of occupancy, the city’s construction department has issued the building a temporary certificate.
That situation has left Hoffman and other residents skeptical about the developer’s intention to build the stairway, and whether the city will enforce the agreement.
“Not to be cynical, but last year’s groundbreaking looked to me like a photo-op for reelection purposes,” Hoffman said. The groundbreaking happened about two weeks before the municipal election in which Mayor Jerramiah Healy and several council members, including Gaughan, were reelected.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.