At the City Council meeting this coming Wednesday, the council will take a second look at various pieces of legislation that were tabled (or put off) at past meetings and decide what to vote on before the new council is sworn in on July 1.
There are 16 ordinances to be considered, and most are expected to be voted down. But some of them, according to City Council President Mariano Vega, stand a good chance of being reintroduced in the future. One of the more important tabled ordinances, certain to have a life beyond July 1, is Ordinance 09-012.
A smaller Journal Square plan
For those keeping score, Ordinance 09-012 is for the adoption of the Greater Journal Square Redevelopment Plan, a redevelopment plan that has been touted by recently re-elected Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
Vega said the plan needs more discussion, and he anticipates a number of amendments before it is finally approved by the council.
The currently plan would add 10,000 to 15,000 new residential units within a 244-acre area including the Journal Square transit station.
The proposal also envisions development of thousands of square feet of commercial and retail space and 9 acres of park space.
The centerpiece of the plan broke ground on April 7. This is the two $400 million towers, one 68 stories tall and the other 50 stories, to be privately built on land adjacent to the Journal Square Transportation Center by longtime Journal Square businessman Lowell Harwood and Washington D.C.-based pension firm MEPT.
The ordinance for the plan was up for final adoption at a Feb. 25 meeting. Instead, it was tabled after members of the public and the council expressed concerns over eminent domain that would allow the city to condemn homes to widen streets. They were also concerned over towers that will grow taller than existing building codes allow, and over financing within the redevelopment area.
The tall towers and financing aspects are intertwined, due to a special fund for improvements to the Journal Square area tied to the redevelopment plan. The fund is known as a DIB (district improvement bonus), in which developers pay a certain amount per square foot if they build a structure that exceeds the floor/area ratio (FAR) allowed for the building.
Some council members were concerned because the revenues will be devoted only to Journal Square, rather than going into the city coffers for improvements across the city.
After the measure was tabled, Robert Antonicello, the executive director of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, told the Jersey City Reporter there could be changes in the plan, such as shrinking the area it encompasses.
Last week, City Councilman Bill Gaughan, who represents the Heights area, agreed with Antonicello’s sentiment.
Specifically, Gaughan believes a new Journal Square redevelopment plan – his version of a clean slate – should be developed in a reduced 11-acre district covering Summit Avenue from Pavonia to Sip avenues. This new plan would allow for the owners of property in that area, such as Joseph Panepinto, Jeff Persky and Lowell Harwood, to start developing very soon, because these developers can spur further development of Journal Square, and they already have a track record of completing projects in Jersey City.
“The reality of the issue is, there are too many unanswered questions with the current plan,” Gaughan said. “My suggestion is, let’s start all over, new four years, new redevelopment plan, smaller plan and one that is manageable.”
Gaughan said he has already spoken to the city’s deputy mayor Rosemary McFadden and the city’s corporation counsel Bill Matsikoudis about the smaller plan.
Another issue to be addressed, Vega says, is adding a stipulation to the redevelopment plan for financing the improvements to the Loew’s Jersey Theatre. The council at its May 20 meeting approved an ordinance amending the lease between the city and the Friends of the Loew’s volunteer group, which operates the theater, to allow for renovation work to go forward.
“You don’t enjoy a lot of support from me if it’s not in there,” said Vega of the Loew’s stipulation.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.