By voting down an ordinance authorizing a 20-year tax abatement for the Cliffs Lofts project to be built near the Jersey City-Hoboken border, then reversing their vote and passing the ordinance.
The ordinance also rescinded an abatement that the council had previously approved in 2004, which included an agreement from the developer of the Cliffs project to make a pre-payment of taxes to the city before construction commenced.
The pre-payment is a payment of taxes owed on a building before it is completed, but that money becomes a loan the city has to pay back.
The Cliffs project will turn the old Koven Stone Works building, also known as the Bookbinders building, on Paterson Plank Road into 124 market-rate housing units with 88 parking spaces. The developers will also reconstruct the 100 steps leading down the Palisades from Jersey City to Hoboken. Currently, demolition of the building is taking place.
Work on the project took nearly two years to start because of nearby residents' concerns about construction near the Palisade Cliffs. During that time, there was also a change, as several partners in the project's development team opted out.
However, Ward A City Councilman Michael Sottolano voiced his objection to approving a new abatement for the project until there was a discount on the pre-payment amount.
Sottolano said the city shouldn't have to pay back the whole pre-payment since the city waited two years for that money from the project, which could have gone toward plugging shortfalls in past city budgets.
A first-time 4-3 vote for the ordinance resulted in defeat. Five council votes are needed for approval.
Sottolano, Ward B Councilman Mary Spinello, and Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop initially voted against the abatement, while City Council President Mariano Vega, Ward D Councilman Bill Gaughan, and city councilpersons at-large Peter Brennan and Willie Flood voted in favor of it.
Ward D Councilman Steve Lipski and Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson were absent.
That soon prompted the attorney for the project, George Garcia, to make phone calls to his clients, and calls for a reversal of Gaughan's vote. A flurry of negotiations ensued to get it approved as Vega tabled the ordinance at one point for a future council meeting.
What resulted was that the abatement was approved, with the developer's pre-payment for the new abatement reduced by $100,000 from $441,427 to $341,427. The city will pay back that amount to the developer over a four-year period.
The vote was 6-0, with Sottolano and Spinello joining the second time around to vote with Vega. Fulop, however, abstained, as he said he couldn't go along with a process where "in 20 minutes, [the city] came into $100,000."
Vega admitted the negotiations that led to a negative vote becoming positive made for "a clumsy process," which he viewed as "democracy at work."Aiming at gun scofflaws
Also, on Wednesday the council voted to strengthen the city's gun laws, which came on the heels of a press conference on Monday when Mayor Jeremiah Healy spoke about his continuing campaign to stop illegal guns from coming into Jersey City.
Joining Healy at the press conference were Police Chief Robert Troy, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, and Bryan Miller of Ceasefire New Jersey, a gun control advocacy group based in Trenton.
At the press conference, Healy was asked if, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he would pursue litigation against out-of-state gun dealers whose guns have been used in violent crimes in New York. Healy said he would like to do so but he does not have the resources now to investigate gun dealers that he would eventually sue.
However, City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis said he is looking into possible litigation.
The council introduced three ordinances drafted by Healy and the city's Law Department: requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen gun to the police within 48 hours, prohibiting the possession of low-grade, lightweight firearms known as "Saturday Night Specials," and prohibiting the sale or purchase of more than one handgun every six months.
If passed at the next City Council meeting on June 12, the ordinances would further the gun control efforts Healy has made since coming into office in November 2004.
Healy's gun buy-back initiative created last January caused approximately 900 guns to be turned in at various sites in Jersey City.
Last March Healy joined DeFazio, U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken), and Congressman Steve Rothman (D-Fairlawn) at a City Hall press conference where they all urged the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to release information on guns used in violent crimes in Jersey City.
Since 2003, the Bush Administration, through a congressional amendment, has barred the ATF from releasing that information to the public. According to a 2000 ATF Report, 85 percent of guns used in violent crimes in Jersey City came from out of state. Only 15 percent of guns recovered and traced that same year were from New Jersey.
And in April, Healy was one of 12 mayors invited to a gun summit that Bloomberg organized. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com