In passing an ordinance to amend the redevelopment plan for the former Military Ocean Terminal property on March 3, the Bayonne City Council may have opened the doors to a new high end mall development that could be built along the western boundary of the 432-acre site.
The ordinance creates an overlay for the original 2005 redevelopment plan that would allow potential developers to construct retail as well as residential development on a site previously envisioned as mostly residential.
“This ordinance allows us to move forward after a long delay on that site,” said Chris Patella, executive director of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority, which oversees development on the MOTBY.
The ordinance clears the way for the BLRA to negotiate for the possible development of a 102-acre section known as Harbor Station, which could see the construction of two hotels, 500,000 square-feet of high end retail stores, as well as age restricted housing.
“For too long, we have used smoke and mirrors to solve our problems. This is a long term solution we need.” – Mayor Mark Smith
Patella said the original concept for the property was flawed since the original redevelopment plan envisioned more than 6,000 residential units for the MOTBY.
“This plan was not doable,” he said. “It established no sites for schools. With more than 6,000 units envisioned, there would be more than 3,000 kids.”
Patella said considering that the current cost for educating a child in Bayonne is about $13,000, combined with other services a large residential community would require, the city would not gain from the development.
“So Mayor Smith asked the BLRA to look for alternative uses for the site,” he said.
He said one concern involved the Alexan, the existing luxury rental project, which has already taken residents farther inside the peninsula.
The original plans for the MOTBY development envisioned Harbor Station being developed first. But because it was not, Alexan has become an island, and the new mall proposal would help tie this to traditional Bayonne.
The BLRA is currently in negotiation with a new developer, Peninsula Infrastructure Partners, which is proposing to develop a mall of high end retail similar to the Crossings mall in Pennsylvania or Woodbury Commons near Exit 100A on the Garden State Parkway.
Patella said the agreement with Fidelco/Roseland ran into a snag when the company sought to alter its original agreement with the city from construction of “for sale” units to rental units, which would have put it in competition with a flood of rental units currently being marketed elsewhere in Bayonne.
This was a question raised by critics in 2005 when the agreement was first signed since Roseland traditionally builds rental, not for sale, units.
The company filed a lawsuit against the BLRA when their request was rejected, Patella said.
Last month, the BLRA and the developer known as Fidelco Bayonne HSN Inc. agreed to hand over rights to develop 47 acres of the 102-acre Harbor Station section of the former Military Ocean Terminal to Peninsula Infrastructure Partners, which is a development partnership with multiple investors.
Patella said the overlay the council authorized would allow for the construction of high end retail along Route 440, and potentially two hotels – one full service, the other long term stay – to be constructed near the southern most portion of the Harbor Station property. While the overlay would allow for these hotels to be as high as 20 stories, he said, the actual height would likely conform to industry standards, which is about 12 stories.
A line of stand-alone retail stores will border the rest of the property facing Route 440, Patella said. This will be an open air mall, not enclosed, so that it will not serve as a sanctuary for teens, but will allow customers to exit one store and enter another.
The new plan also calls for about 150 for-sale townhouses and condominium units targeted at residents 55 and older, and would provide a transition between the high end commercial development and the existing residential property at Alexan.
If built as envisioned, this retail would be similar to transit village style development that has housing constructed above ground floor retail, solving yet another problem Alexan residents have noted – lack of service stores, such as cleaners and coffee stores in the area.
Patella said the use of the land for a high end retail mall fits with the pattern along Route 440, which already has South Cove Commons mall, Bayonne Crossing – which is under construction – and the proposed Off Track Wagering facility, which is moving toward ground breaking later this year.
While the proposed mall for Harbor Station still needs to be flushed out, agreements forged and permits obtained, Patella said once started, the mall could be a reality within two years, with various phases coming on line at intervals.
The project would likely construct the smaller of the two hotels first, and then bring on other residential and commercial elements as the market improves.
The small hotel would provide about 125 rooms, and the larger about 250 to 300 rooms. Age-restricted housing would likely see the construction of between 100 and 120 units, officials said.
The full service hotel would also likely include a sorely needed banquet hall, and the overlay could allow for entertainment uses as well. The mall and hotels would also help frame a large open space area that would include a wetlands preservation area as well as an active recreation area, where the city’s two soccer fields would be located.
The tentative plan would also seek to relocate the proposed new firehouse further north on the Harbor State property, out of which emergency vehicles could better navigate.
In urging the City Council to vote for the overlay, Mayor Mark Smith said this move would help advance the development plans for the area, calling the original residential concept wrong for the city.
“When I took office, we had three paramount objectives for development: that it would provide rateables for the city, that services not become a burden for the city, and that it creates jobs,” Smith said. “For too long, we have used smoke and mirrors to solve our problems. This is a long term solution we need.”
Two residents – both running for municipal office in May – spoke at the public hearing. Leonard Kantor was concerned with the negative impact the construction of another mall would have on the traditional businesses on Broadway and the impact of increased traffic on the local highway. But he was told this mall would bring in businesses that would not compete with Broadway. Debra Noble, who lives on nearby Avenue E, was concerned with traffic and views, and asked about impacts. Officials said the mall would not likely create a burden and could actually reduce traffic because of its proximity to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail station.