Despite potential amenities that would include a rec center, super market, and on-site parking, Ward F residents say a five percent affordable housing component would make a 409-unit project already expected to infringe on Berry Lane Park a non-starter.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“ … We do want affordable housing, a supermarket, and a youth center. But I hear so much frustration from our community that an area originally planned for park space is being utilized to do it, rather than the MANY other parcels in Jersey City that are sold off to high-end developers that current city residents can’t afford,” Lala Jackson said on a Zoom call yesterday.
“We DO want the resources for the community. We ALSO want the park as originally planned. There IS space for both if we don’t prioritize so many other parts of our city for majorly for-profit developers.”
The call, primarily hosted by Jersey City Senior Planner Matt Ward and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, lasted for about two-and-a-half hours and had over 60 people dial in.
Part of the reason for the heightened interest was that the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation sent out an email blast asking residents to “help us save our park!” since a portion of the Communipaw Avenue development had previously been designated as green space for Berry Lane Park.
“To find out that there’s discussions to sell this property to a private developer as early as March is shocking to us … This is supposed to be a community driven process,” said MCCDC President June Jones.
While Ward noted earlier that there was a well-attended meeting in March, hosted by Jones prior to precautionary measures for the coronavirus being implemented, many voiced frustrations that they were unaware of a public hearing taking place before last night.
Nevertheless, Ward recapped that the proposal in March considered feedback for a 16-story residential tower, a community center along Communipaw Avenue, as well as the notion that the site should serve as an extension to Berry Lane Park.
The project is being developed by Skyline Development, which is owned by Lou Mont – who was also on the call – and is now asking for a 20-story residential tower, despite being zoned in a neighborhood that traditionally allows only five.
“The reason why I’m scared of 20 stories is its going to set precedent in that area, and before you know, it we’ll have developers trying to build their own homes adjacent from the property,” stated Frank “Educational” Gilmore.
“I understand that people have to make their money, but it can’t be on the backs of the residents of Jersey City.”
Barbara Williams added that city officials need to take a firmer stance when negotiating new construction projects, exclaiming that “developers are getting away with murder” since they’re usually in the driver’s seat when discussing community givebacks.
The financial analyst for the project, NW Financial, came up with the five percent affordable housing component, according to Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, who clearly expressed displeasure with that figure.
” … I’ve disputed their financial analyses in the past, in particular for affordable housing. A fair financial analysis should be completed as soon as possible, but I think the community and the city council deserves it – certainly before it’s presented to us.”
Mont spoke at the end of the virtual meeting, indicating that he had done dozens of projects in Jersey City in Hoboken, and stressed that he emphasized that he wasn’t the type of person that was in this strictly for the money.
“I’m not a hit and run developer: a guy that comes in, tries to make a few bucks, and just leaves. I have a commitment to this community,” he explained.
He added that the idea of constructing a taller residential tower was to address community concerns, particularly connecting Communipaw Avenue to Berry Lane Park.
While the project also calls for nearly 500 parking spots at the moment, Mont indicated that he’s willing to be flexible and work with the residents any way he can.
“I continue to be open to any suggestions you have and ready to redesign and ultimately make this a project you can all be proud of,” adding that the affordable housing units would likely rent for around $1,000 a month, despite costing the same to build as all the other units.
Although Robinson voiced concerns over the five percent affordable housing component, he indicated that the deal Mont was offering for this project was still second to none – largely due to a new rec center that would be run by the center.
“We could get 20 percent [affordable housing], but then we lose the entire rec center when we have kids in this area that are saying we need something to do.”
Additionally, Ward reminded residents that the affordable housing component wasn’t set in stone, noting that the planning board and/or city council could push for changes prior to approval.