But in the end, the only voices that counted were the six councilpersons who voted in favor of amendments that will allow national developer Toll Bros. to build three towers between Morgan and Bay streets at the site of the old Manischewitz factory - towers rising much higher than they could have otherwise.
The towers will stand at 30, 35, and 40 stories. If they were built according to the original plan, they would more likely be built between 10 and 15 stories tall.
The amendments actually allow for the creation of what will be known as the Arts Theater Residence Overlay Zone to accommodate the three towers. Conditions to be met include 11 work/live units for artists and 32 units of workforce housing, a "black box" performance theater, and a public plaza to be constructed over a historic cobblestone street.
A total of 950 units and 950 parking spaces are proposed.Thirty eight against it
Thirty-eight people spoke against the amendments, and there were two dissenters on the council: Downtown City Councilman Steven Fulop and City Council President Mariano Vega.
A neighborhood group called the Powerhouse Arts District Neighborhood Association (PADNA) is going ahead with plans to file a legal complaint in 30 days against the city, challenging the amendments to the plan. The plan itself has been in effect for less than four years.
The group has fought an uphill battle to find out about the Toll Bros. project, and then tried to appeal to city planners and officials for this project to be built in compliance with the district's zoning. Video shows original vote
Before the speaking portion on the amendments, there was a screening of a nearly 10-minute video showing the City Council's vote on Oct. 27, 2004, when the district was officially designated for redevelopment by the city. Four of the people who were on the council at that time are still on the council.
In the video, then-council member and current Mayor Jerramiah Healy can be seen giving an affirmative vote.
The Powerhouse Arts District (PAD) in Downtown Jersey City is an 11-block area that stretches east to west from Marin Blvd. to Washington Blvd., and north to south from Second Street to Bay Street.
The 38 people who came out against the amendments were a mixed group: residents directly impacted by the proposed Toll Bros. project, longtime community activists, historic preservationists young and old, heads of neighborhood associations, and those attending the meeting for another issue who decided to speak on this one.
Their dissention on the amendments included concerns that it would destroy the PAD by allowing the towers to render the city's zoning laws moot.
Jill Edelman, the president of PADNA, was one of the last of the 42 people to speak, but she posed pointed questions to the council that summed up how these amendments even came to fruition.
Edelman also requested the council table the vote on the amendments so neighborhood representatives, Toll Bros., and other community groups could meet and come up with a new development plan that would respect the historic character and "neighborhood diversity" of the district.
"I keep coming back to [the fact that] Toll Bros.' attitude towards the neighborhood association was dismissive at best," Edelman said to the council. "Did you promise them something when they bought that land?"
Fulop received a standing ovation after he explained his vote against the amendments, pointing out that there was easily a "10 to 1" ratio of those who opposed the amendments at the meeting.
He said the new changes were "deceitful" to those who previously voted and supported the Powerhouse Arts District Redevelopment Plan.
Fulop said sharply, "We're literally throwing out 15 years of work in the last year, between [approval of 111 First St. settlement] and this, and we're doing it with a smile, so I vote no." There was 'no pressure'
Some of the City Council members who gave their vote against the amendments took issue with comments from the audience that political pressure played a role in how they voted.
City Councilman-at-Large Peter Brennan was one of the councilpersons who scolded the audience. He said his vote was based upon the precedent set by the legal settlement between the city and the owner of 111 First St., which allowed for a major zoning change in the Powerhouse Arts District to allow for two 60-story towers on that area.
That change came as part of a legal settlement between the city and the developer of 111 First St., who earlier had forced artists out of his building.
City Councilman Bill Gaughan remarked, "Trust me, I don't feel any pressure" as he cited his service of nearly 15 years on the council.
"I believe that these amendments are good for the Powerhouse Arts District and good for the city as a whole," Gaughan said.
City Councilman Steve Lipski, who also serves on the Planning Board, spent five minutes citing various excerpts from the city's master plan and the report done in 2002 by the Urban Land Institute that recommended the creation of what would become the Powerhouse Arts District, before voting for the amendments.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy commended the vote for the amendments, saying, "It is important to keep investment coming to our city, particularly at this time when the market is down, while also preserving and moving forward with the centerpiece of this district - the Powerhouse."
Ben Jogodnik, senior vice president for Toll Bros., said there was no truth to the rumor that they will sell the rights to the property now that they've obtained approvals. Otherwise, he was ecstatic about the vote.
"Toll Bros. is enormously excited, thinks it a fantastic project and it is a fantastic opportunity," he said. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org