The City Council voted on May 14 to approve a redevelopment plan that will advance two different projects while curtailing large video displays on the side of a proposed tower to be built by a local college.
The McGinley Square East Redevelopment plan covers an area of about 10.2 acres and includes a proposed 22-story St. Peter’s University building, which will contain residential units, a movie theater and retail, as well as possible dormitories, classrooms, and child care facilities. The approval contained a change prohibiting the use of large video displays on the sides of the 22-story building.
The city has required St. Peter’s to build a park as a giveback to the historic community.
McGinley Square, located at Bergen Avenue and Montgomery Street, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. But it is also significantly run down, something city officials hope will change by allowing St. Peter’s to construct the new building there.
The developer has proposed installing large video panels on four sides of the building, which would display art. But residents in the neighborhood protested, at one point showing just how large these panels would be by using display tape in the council chambers.
“Nobody is going to raise a family in 470 square feet.” – Eugene Sarbu
Lavern Washington, a community activist, spoke out in support of the redevelopment plan, saying such projects are needed in the central part of the city, to create jobs and improve areas away from the waterfront.
Should neighboring properties benefit?
Left unresolved, however, was a significant issue involving nearby properties. Owners of those properties might get the benefit of the rezoning – meaning they can now build higher – but might not be required to give back anything to the neighborhood. With their property more valuable and zoned more favorably, they could build up, “flip” their property, and move away.
City Planner Robert Cotter said that the owner of a property currently used for a parking lot had proposed to construct only a five-story building. But City Council President Rolando Lavaro said he believes the owner is looking to sell the property to a third party. Lavaro said the sale would be conditioned on a change of zoning that would permit a 16-story building.
Property owned by nearby Hudson Catholic High School would also benefit from the change. Several people representing Hudson Catholic attended the meeting in support of the change in zoning.
The ordinance alters an original redevelopment plan to avoid the use of eminent domain, and imposes a graduated zoning plan instead, allowing property owners to cobble together multiple properties that would qualify for increased height. Cotter told the council that the city would not use eminent domain.
But the plan has one exception. An existing store in the area designated for park use would fall under a public use provision, allowing the city to take the property.
Lavaro and other council members – especially Councilwoman Candice Osborne – raised concern about this spill-over zoning, and the inability of the city to ask for community givebacks in exchange for the increase in height.
As a result, one of the city’s initiatives would impose a penalty for each floor above the currently allowed height. So anyone taking advantage of the new zoning would have to pay more per floor.
Council members debated whether to alter or delay approving the redevelopment plan in order to remove rezoning that would spill over onto neighboring properties. But this would have required the council to seek re-approval from the Planning Board and reintroduce the ordinance, delaying the ability of the St. Peter’s project to move ahead.
The council may modify the ordinance later to limit the zoning to the one building.
Abatement for first condo development in six years
At the same meeting, the council also voted to approve a 20-year abatement for what may be the first new development of for-sale units (rather than rentals) since the economic downturn in 2008.
The proposed condo property located at 160 First St. is in the Powerhouse Arts district. The developers would construct a 14-story building with 159 residential condominium units, of which about 152 would be market rate, and seven moderate and/or workforce affordable housing. The project would also have slightly more than 3,800 feet on the ground floor for retail. The site would also provide about 64 parking spaces.
The site currently generates slightly more than $26,000 in annual tax revenue. The abatement would generate about $781,000 to the city annually, and just under $40,000 to Hudson County. The developer would also pay a one-time fee of $254,852 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Councilman Michael Yun said he opposed giving the project a 20-year abatement, claiming other taxpayers would be forced to pay for school tax and the balance of county taxes. Jeremy Farrel, council attorney, said this isn’t completely accurate, noting that the city gets more as a result of the abatement so that other taxpayers get some relief in municipal taxes.
Under the abatement, the developer will be able to offer larger units for less money than they would offer without it.
Marc Simon, a resident of the neighborhood, spoke in favor of the abatement.
“This is being done by a local developer,” Simon said, noting that it will bring a positive change the area and residents who may become long-term, rather than renters who tend to drift off after a year or two.
Craig Frieberg, a 15-year resident of the area, saying that there are more than 4,000 rental units under construction.
“Many of my friends are moving away,” he said, attributing this to lack of available units.
Eugene Sarbu said the current land is largely abandoned. By redeveloping it, the city will see additional revenue.
“This project will bring in more families,” he said, noting that many of these units are larger than some existing Jersey City rental units. “Some rental units are a small as 470 square feet. Nobody is going to raise a family in 470 square feet.”
Yaron Zussman said a lot of his friends have also left the city and that if an abatement will provide units people can buy, than he favors the abatement as well.
Others also spoke up in favor of the project, including a local real estate agent and other residents.
Patrick Kelleher, president of the Hudson County Building and Trade Unions, along with a few dozen trade union members, also appeared in support of both developments, saying they will provide jobs to local residents.
The lone dissenter was Yvonne Balcer, who raised concerns about the abatement putting more burden on other taxpayers. She questioned the density in the area, especially in regard to traffic and parking, and asked the city to look into developing parking for residents who live in these areas.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.