After some debate, Jersey City Council approves plan for new St. Lucy’s homeless shelter


At last night’s Jersey City Council meeting, the governing body approved a measure to build a new 430-unit residential tower as part of a plan to build a new St. Lucy’s homeless shelter, despite the fact that Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano strongly opposed the idea.

“I think this ordinance should be pulled because there is now a storm rising about St. Lucy’s Church and about what they intend to do with it. I have nothing against the homeless shelter but people are really ticked off; it’s hitting Facebook and there’s a lot of people responding,” Boggiano exclaimed.

“We just went through the problem with the [Katyn] statue at Exchange Place, and what they intend to do with this church is a disgrace.”

Boggiano claimed that he and other council members were not informed until the meeting that the historic church built in the 1860s would be demolished.

His remarks came despite a press conference back in December when city officials announced an agreement between them, the developer, Claremont Companies, and Catholic Charities, which owns the land where St. Lucy’s stands, to build a 430-unit residential building and a brand new homeless shelter across the street from the current shelter.

In an interview, John Westervelt, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, said the facade of the church and its steeple will remain and be incorporated into the new building’s footprint.

“The problem is that the church property has been closed since 1980. And it was de-commissioned in 1986. No one has used the building since 1986, it was falling down on the inside back then. I would love to save the church, but there are no more parishioners downtown where St. Lucy’s is, that’s why it was closed down in 1980,” said Westervelt.

“I think the benefit to the city is that it is going to get a state-of-the art shelter, and they’re going to get a nice luxury apartment building [with] the front of the church and steeple is going to be part of the structure, they’re just taking out the back of the church and building it up. So you’re still going to see the church and the steeple, so it still has that beautification of what the architect did to make the building to continue to look like a church.”

Boggiano made a strong case to pull the second reading ordinance, but the majority of his fellow colleagues voted no, and he was quick to react.

“This reminds me with the [Katyn] statue when they all voted to move the statue because they were afraid to say ‘Yes.’ I say ‘No’ [to demolish St. Lucy’s Church]. I’m surprised our council people here don’t give a damn about the history of Jersey City.”

Westervelt was floored that Boggiano introduced a motion to table the ordinance and that Lavarro voted to abstain on the vote to build the new residential tower in light of December’s press conference.

“I think, again, we had the December press conference. People knew about it since early December what we were doing there, so I was really surprised that anybody was going to table it or vote no or abstain.”

When it came time for Lavarro to vote, he elaborated for approximately 10 minutes to explain his vote to abstain, which seemed to annoy Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera, who was shaking his head as Lavarro explained his abstention.

Lavarro indicated  he wasn’t happy with the ratio, based on previous real estate developments and upzoning in the city, that for every dollar spent on community benefit, the developer “bonus,” or the valuation, is usually 1.2 dollars in favor of developers.

“I’m still crunching through the numbers, and I had a great conversation with the [Claremont] developer and their representatives, and want to continue that conversation to make sure that many of the issues, i.e., the church, the St. Jude statue and the new shelter raised by the public here tonight is addressed,” said Lavarro.

The second reading of the ordinance ultimately passed by a vote of 7-1(1), with Boggiano voting no and Lavarro abstaining.

We live streamed the hearing on the subject live on our Facebook Page and the entire discussion can be viewed below:

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