The area between the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and the Jersey City/Hoboken border looks like a no-man’s land, compared to the luxury developments and pricey housing further south and north on the waterfront, including Newport, downtown Jersey City, and Hoboken.
But despite the hodgepodge of industrial warehouses, older housing, nondescript gas stations, and liquor stores, new businesses have opened in recent years near the tunnel, such as Home Depot and Buy-Rite Liquor Store, both on Manila Avenue in Jersey City. And new developments are in the works.
The first major development for that area, Van Leer Place on Hoboken Avenue – the site of a former chocolate factory – started construction last month, and others are on the drawing board.
“It is a challenge for the city to figure out a way to motivate these property owners to go from just holding on to the property to development.” – Steven Fulop
“There is no logical reason why that area has underachieved as it has over the years,” Fulop said. But he laid some the blame on property owners who he says have acquired properties over the years and are just “sitting” on them until the economy improves.
“It is a challenge for the city to figure out a way to motivate these property owners to go from just holding on to the property to development,” Fulop said.
Fulop said opportunities await developers in that area. He pointed to successful residential projects such as 700 Grove St., built by national developer Toll Brothers, and Zephyr Lofts at 689 Marin Blvd. He also commended Hoboken developers Danny Gans and George Vallone of Hoboken Brownstone Company for finally getting their Van Leer Place development on Hoboken Avenue off the ground.
Chocolate factory to energy-efficient residence
State and local officials – including Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th) and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy – were on hand for the June 21 groundbreaking at the soon-to-built Van Leer Place development. The 7-acre site is located at 110 Hoboken Avenue near the Jersey City-Hoboken border. The project has been over five years in the planning.
Before it was a chocolate factory, the site also served as a fuel oil facility and a pesticide plant.
Hoboken Brownstone Company says they will transform the land into a sustainable development expected to become a model of energy efficiency for new urban mixed-use residential projects in the Northeast and beyond. Van Leer Place will be the first development in the state to be developed within the Urban Energy Technology Demonstration Project program under the New Jersey energy master plan.
When completed in early 2015, the project will include more than 480 homes in two buildings, 8,700 square-feet of retail space, and on-site parking. A walkway will be built by NJ Transit to lead north to the Second Street light-rail station in Hoboken.
At the groundbreaking, Van Leer Place developer Vallone said the project was delayed because he and partner Gans were looking into various energy-efficient technologies they wanted to utilize. That includes a venting system for recycling groundwater for heating and cooling the buildings, and utilization of energy-efficient building material and solar panels.
“The project is special because of the array of energy-saving technologies being deployed, which is so different from the business-as-usual approach to constructing buildings of this nature before this day,” Vallone said.
Sires commended the developers for embarking on such an ambitious project.
“It takes innovative developers using state-of-the-art technology to accomplish these goals,” he said.
After the event, Vallone said investigating energy-saving technologies for the Van Leer Place project took three years. He said the remaining two years of delays resulted from “reading some economic forecasts” about the impending housing collapse, which made them hesitate for a bit. However, those forecasts predicted that the economy would improve around this time, so the developers are now going forward.
“We wanted to start build now so that when the project is complete, the economy will have improved and there will be a demand for housing,” Vallone said recently. “I think the unique project we will be bringing into the market will be a great alternative for the public.”
Other properties delayed?
Cars driving by the empty, fenced-off lot at 833 Jersey Ave. may not realize a luxury condo project was once slated for that location.
Approval was given by the Jersey City Planning Board in 2006 for an 84-unit building to be built on the site, situated across the street from the old Erie Lackawanna warehouse. The units would range in size from 834 to 2,339 square feet, with 10-foot high ceilings. Amenities include on-site parking and a gym.
The project is listed on the website of Wavestone Properties, a development company listed at First Street in Hoboken. But when a call was made to them last week, their phone service had been disconnected.
An Internet search led to a brief item on a blog, New York Sixth, from June 2008, saying the property was up for sale for $12 million.
The seller, Union City realtor Robert De Ruggiero, said recently that the property was put on the market by Wavestone, but has not attracted a buyer.
One block north of the 833 Jersey Ave. site is 843 Jersey Ave., an empty lot that abuts NJ Transit property under the light rail tracks running along the Jersey City-Hoboken border. The land is owned, according to city tax records, by ‘NEWPORT CITY DVLPT.C/O LEFRAK’ in Queens, N.Y. – as in the LeFrak organization, the builders of the Newport community in Jersey City. Calls to the New York offices of Richard and Jamie Lefrak, both principals in the LeFrak organization, were not returned by press time.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.