Fussa presented justifications as to why a section of Broadway Town Center bounded by East 19th to 21st streets and Broadway and Avenue E should be redeveloped, and why a section of Route 440 bounded by East 22nd Street, Hook Road, Route 440, and New Hook Road was ripe to become a redevelopment zone as well.
When an area is designated for redevelopment, a city can pass new zoning regulations, get cleanup funds, and seek out developers for parcels that need it.
The Planning Board, after more than four hours of reports and comments from the public, voted to move ahead with the Route 440 proposal. They deferred for further discussion the redevelopment proposal for the Town Center until their October meeting.
Both proposals would take Fussa's recommendations for the City Council, which would review them and possibly agree to move ahead with the development of a more comprehensive redevelopment plan.
The Town Center plan focuses primarily on the block along the north side of 19th Street and the south side of 21st Street, with a handful of properties outside of this block - encompassing a total of 41 properties or about 6.7 acres.
Fussa said an initial study showed the area had significant underused property, numerous deteriorating buildings, and some land with contamination, allowing the area to meet the state's requirements for establishing a redevelopment zone.
Of the 41 properties, 20 are non-conforming for a variety reasons. Two properties - one containing a banquet hall and the other a former oil company now used as a trucking terminal - have uses not allowed in that area under current zoning.
Twenty-one of the 41 properties are vacant or are parking lots, uses Fussa said do not live up to the potential of the otherwise valuable downtown property - especially because this block is very near the 22nd Street Light Rail station.
While Fussa cited the Housing Authority senior citizen building as out of step with current development styles, citing the large open space around the building, he also noted that the building and property were well maintained.
Mayor Joseph Doria, in an attempt to dispel rumors, said unequivocally that the senior citizen building would remain where it was.
"We are not going to tear down that building," he said.
Dawn Castro, a resident of the north side of 21st Street, asked if this zone would affect her property, citing the expense of recent improvements to her property. Several other residents on that block raised similar questions about whether or not they would be impacted.
Doria answered the concerns about possible eviction of residents to the north side of 21st Street, saying that the only properties under consideration are at the corner of Broadway - the group of vacant lots once proposed for the construction of a movie theater and the newspaper/lottery store next to it.
"Can you promise that?" one resident asked.
"This board can't make that promise," Doria said. "But I can and I am making that promise."
Fussa said with the exception of the senior citizen building, the value of buildings in the proposed zone is very low, another indicator of possible redevelopment.
With 18 different owners possessing the 41 parcels, Fussa believed a coordinated redevelopment was unlikely without the city's move to make it a redevelopment zone.
Old industrial site approved
The second bookend of the redevelopment plan concerns a 35-acre tract east of Route 440, a former industrial site the city rezoned in 2001 as highway commercial with hopes that this would encourage owners to redevelop.
"That hasn't worked," Fussa said, presenting his argument to justify the redevelopment designation.
Fussa noted that nearly all of the property violates zoning in one way or another, and large tracts are contaminated and in need of environmental cleanup prior to development. Currently, two property owners have ongoing operations, one running a junk yard and the other conducting recycling operations. Both fail to fit the new zoning. Many of the properties are undersized, lack frontage, or have no access to public roadways. While the area has access to utilities, no new project has been proposed or approved for construction since the new zoning was established.
By establishing the region as a redevelopment zone, the area would be able to apply for brownfields cleanup funds for the state, covering 75 percent of the cost of property cleanup.
Fussa said he envisioned the eventual construction of "big box" stores similar to those found in other parts of the state, like Clifton Commons on Route 3. Although some residents were concerned about the competition these kinds of developments would pose on the Broadway shopping district, Fussa said the competition will come eventually, if not to this redevelopment site, then to areas outside of town. He said the city could seek to restrict the kind of businesses that come into the redevelopment zone in order not to directly compete.
Since the Bayonne shopping district has emphasized restaurants, entertainment, niche stores and professional offices, the city might seek big box stores emphasizing other products.
Doria said the issue is important because last year the Bayonne Bridge toll booths saw 3.2 million vehicles, most of which likely accessed the bridge via Route 440. He said getting those cars to stop into stores on that highway would provide jobs for local residents and a boost to the local economy.
He also noted that the entire tract currently pays Bayonne a total of $7 million in taxes per year, far from the potential that section could or should be paying to the city.
At the request of a property owner, the Planning Board approved a provision that would increase the size of the Route 440 redevelopment zone to include the AGC property on the southeast corner of the original plan. The town council at its Sept. 15 meeting voted to allow Fussa to develop more comprehensive plans for the 440 redevelopment.