Jersey City Council approves special improvement district for West Side Avenue

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After hearing from many West Side Avenue business owners, many of them opposed to the adoption of a Special Improvement District in their neighborhood, the Jersey City Council voted 7-1 to approve the measure. 

During the discussion, a verbal confrontation broke out between Council President Rolando Lavarro and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, with Lavarro calling Yun “a grandstander” for making a lengthy speech and City Clerk Robert Byrne instructing him not to carry on a question and answer with a speaker at the podium.

Additionally, several West End Avenue business owners expressed frustration over a new SID because after the recent reval and payroll tax, there is already a heavy economic burden on them and they fear they wouldn’t be able to afford paying an additional hundreds of dollars per month, per square feet of their property – as required by a SID.

Stella Margetis, whose family owns the Ms. America Diner on West Side Avenue, told the council that the SID amounts to more fees businesses have to pay the city.

“This is not the right time to burden the small business owners with additional mandatory fees. The SID is a charge which by no means will benefit the West Side at the present time. Small mom and pop businesses are economically suffering with rising cost increases with everything that pertains to operating a business,” she said.

“I spoke with a few friends who own businesses in other SID wards. I asked them what does the SID for you. All gave me the same reply, ‘absolutely nothing.’ One told me that he pays $2,900 a year for his portion of the SID, and there is no municipal parking in his area for any prospective customers. If anything, he usually pays the parking fines for those people who are given parking tickets so as not to lose the customers.”

Still, there were some business owners who said that they are in favor of the SID because they believe that their business will benefit from a collective association with other businesses, as well as marketing and investment help from the city.

Jake Gergues said he’s in favor of an SID because West Side Avenue needs to improve, but believes that it should be contingent on a number of factors to aid businesses.

“One of the things we feel is needed to aid businesses is with new storefront facades, tailored to the particular business instead of making them all the same. Perhaps business consulting that may help existing business owners bring new ideas, innovation and strategies based on the analysis [the city] conducts,” Gergues said.

Parking is a big issue for many of the businesses, which Gegues also noted.

“In order for all theses businesses to survive, they require more parking. How is it that a city like New Brunswick, far smaller than ours, is able to have parking every aspect of their business district. If they are able to achieve it, I think it’s not a stretch for Jersey City to do the same.”

After hearing from business owners, Lavarro made a motion to table the SID ordinance so that there could be more time to get input from businesses about how the SID should be modified.

However, he didn’t get one, so the ordinance went up for a vote and as the last council member to speak, he rationalized his decision for nearly a half an hour.

He explained he’d be voting no since he feels this will ultimately lead to gentrification that will only benefit big developers.

“Not all change is not necessarily good change. I urge you all, despite this outcome, to stand against this gentrification, and I urge you to continue to oppose the forcible imposition upon you,” he said.

“Stand against it and remember these votes that came before you and the tax upon [you]. I’m going to stand with you and we’re going to make sure that West Side Avenue is lifted up, but it’s going to be on our terms.”

The measure passed 7-1, with Lavarro voting no and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson absent.

In a statement released this morning, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey and Mayor Steven Fulop expressed their support for the initiative.

“The SID will bring additional support to businesses on the West Side, revitalizing the neighborhood with increased beautification and increased safety measures, attracting more people to shop and dine in the area,” said Prinz-Arey.

“The West Side is the only major commercial corridor in Jersey City that is not a part of an SID and will bring an overall improvement to the community.”

Fulop added that the West Side remains high on his administration’s priority list.

“One of the top priorities for this administration is the transformation of the City’s West Side,” Fulop stated. “I am confident that the improvements made throughout the West Side SID will help this revitalization and continue to move our City ahead.”