Are the Jersey City Police Headquarters and Public Information precinct at 8 Erie St., and an adjacent parking lot, a dilapidated site in need of redevelopment?
Most members of the City Council think so and approved the 8 Erie Street Redevelopment Plan by a vote of 7 to 2 on May 25.
The controversial plan was recommended by the administration of Mayor Jerramiah Healy and was referred to the city Planning Board earlier this spring, but has been slammed by some residents and members of a civic organization as out of sync with the surrounding community.
Under the redevelopment plan proposed by the administration and approved by the council, a mixed use development will be built on the site which will include a parking garage.
The financially strapped city sees the site as a lucrative cash cow that can fetch much-needed dollars on the real estate market.
The Erie site is, however, located on a residential street and block in a designated historic district. The city typically restricts the construction of parking garages in such areas.
The financially strapped city sees the site as a lucrative cash cow that can fetch much needed dollars on the real estate market.
But downtown residents and members of the Harsimus Cove Association, a community activist organization, have argued that the plan runs roughshod over the character and flavor of the community.
City: 8 Erie is a valuable ratable
Under the approved redevelopment plan, the city would sell the current 8 Erie site and the adjacent parking lot and allow the site to be used for the construction of a four-story residential rental apartment building on First Street, and a 25-foot wide four story townhouse on Bay Street. Both First and Bay border Erie Street.
The entire site could accommodate as many as 30 residential units of housing, according to the Planning Board, and sale of the site could generate $1.35 million or more for the city. Preliminary numbers from the city Tax Assessor indicate the site could garner $160,000 or more annually in property taxes.
Since the redevelopment plan calls for new residential construction, by law parking must also be included in the plan. City planners acknowledge the 125-foot by 100-foot site is too small to build a typical parking garage. Thus, the redevelopment plan calls for the construction of a robotic garage that allows cars to be stacked on top of one another mechanically using steel pallets.
The city sees the robotic garage concept as a “low volume” parking facility that will not overrun this quiet neighborhood with lots of traffic.
Noting that the police building at 8 Erie Street has “outlived its usefulness,” City Planning Director Robert Cotter said the redevelopment plan “respects the character of the neighborhood.”
Residents: Not convinced
But Harsimus Cove residents told the council the redevelopment plan will change the feel of the neighborhood and is not consistent with the historic district.
Civic JC President and former mayoral candidate Dan Levin, who lives on Third Street and is also a member of the Harsimus Cove Association, told the council the Erie Street Redevelopment Plan “scraps our existing zones and existing zoning laws.” The plan, he added, sets a bad precedent that could open the door to other zoning laws being curtailed or overturned.
“I didn’t see a copy of the 8 Erie Street Redevelopment Plan until a couple weeks ago, and I live right across the street from that area,” said one resident. “I notice that cars will be entering and exiting the parking [garage] across the street from my house. So, this is something that I would have liked to have a good look at. But I would prefer to not to even make this into a redevelopment zone. We do have very good zoning in this city and we have very good methods for developers who need to adjust it to come in and adjust it in a very public way.”
Other residents of the area also said they felt excluded from the city’s process when the redevelopment plan was being drafted.
At-large Council woman Kalimah Ahmad expressed concern that local residents appear not to have been brought into the city’s planning process for 8 Erie.
“These people live in the community. They have a right to be heard. They have a right to have input into what is going to be put in their community,” Ahmad said. Although she said she was “disturbed” that residents feel they were excluded from the process she still voted in favor of the Redevelopment Plan, expressing “confidence in Bob Cotter and his staff.”
Council President Peter Brennan said, “Right now, 8 Erie Street is not on the tax rolls. There’s an adjacent parking lot that’s not currently on the tax rolls. This plan gets this property back on the tax rolls so that it becomes a long-term ratable for the city.”
Like Ahmad, Brennan also voted with the majority to approve the plan.
Council members Steven Fulop (Ward E) and Nidia Lopez (Ward C) were the lone votes against the Redevelopment Plan.
Fulop said the proposed sale of the site might bring in quick cash, but isn’t “an adequate solution to the city’s long-term budget problems.”
Some Harsimus Cove residents also wondered whether developers will be given abatements to build on the site. No members of the City Council chose to speculate about what tax incentives the city might give developers of the site.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.