Also at last night’s Jersey City Council meeting, they designated two dead end streets, Saddlewood and Laurel Courts, as “areas in need of redevelopment” amid a heated conflict between 37 residents and a developer who owned a property on one of the cul-de-sacs.
By Mike Montemarano/ Hudson County View
A developer who will tentatively be named for the redevelopment of the site, Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC), is seeking to construct a 50-story mixed-use development with 800 residential units.
Designating the site as an “area in need of redevelopment” allows the city to oversee and pass a plan for revitalizing the area.
Also included in LMC’s proposed plans are a public park space and a 50,000 square-foot public elementary school capable of housing 300-350 students.
With the area designated as “in need of redevelopment,” a formal plan for the area now must be drawn up by the planning board and passed by the council prior to any construction.
37 of the 38 homeowners living on the two blocks lined with ’70s era, interlocked, prefabricated homes signed contracts with Lennar Multifamily Communities, but the final homeowner did not.
That homeowner, Eyal Shuster, is a developer who was allegedly attempting to negotiate with everyone else in the area in order to purchase the properties.
By owning one of the 38 parcels, other residents said he had used his property as leverage so that LMC would not purchase the rest of the properties at a price that many area residents described as “fair and reasonable” at last night’s council meeting.
The city will now consider acquiring Shuster’s property through eminent domain, which is now on the table.
“When we started this process years ago, the most difficult thing to accomplish was to have all 38 homeowners become willing to sell,” resident Cesar Sarmiento said.
“They all came around except for one, a property owned by a developer. In the process of waiting, three elderly homeowners have since passed away, and I heard we lost a fourth less than an hour ago. I’m requesting that this redevelopment plan gets approved before anyone else goes to the pearly gates.”
Scores of Saddlewood and Laurel Court homeowners complained about the deteriorating conditions of the ’70s era homes they lived in.
“In addition to the structural problems and the obsolete design of this building, one of the developers who approached us became a holdout,” Tommy Tran, a Saddlewood Court resident said.
“Just so you understand, a lot of the families are deeply affected by this transaction, and they’ve come here from far away to seek your help. We have a developer who bought this property and said that ‘if I don’t build on this block, no one can build on this block.’ There were things we didn’t reach an agreement with, and let’s just keep it at that.”
“My children grew up in this house for two decades,” Ditas Miranda, another area resident, said.
“I observed that my house was deteriorating. I could hear my neighbor’s voices, and I could hear when they were showering. There was a fire at Saddlewood Court, and I feared every night that my children could be killed due to the hazard.”
Dustin Ng, a Laurel Court resident, said that because the townhouses on the block interlock, structural work cannot be performed on them individually.
Meanwhile, “one property in the middle of the block doesn’t keep up with maintenance,” he said.
“It’s overrun with plants that are actually growing into the house. It’s the prerogative of the homeowner to let if all apart and that’s his choice. The ability to let this block move forward is the choice we’re making.”
Shuster denounced the characterizations fellow homeowners made of his approach to developing the area. Furthermore, he argued that the city would be violating the law if they sided with the 37 other residents requesting redevelopment.
“We are in support of redevelopment here and are fully on board with the proposed affordable housing and the school that are proposed by the city, and the school was our idea. It’s also important to say that we were always willing and able to pay whatever the negotiated price was with the homeowners,” Shuster said.
“The city is unfairly and illegally favoring a competing developer and assisting its interference with our six-year effort to develop Saddlewood Court. With your vote today, you are not condemning my property, you’re condemning my livelihood and the livelihood of over 100 people who work in my office, 50 percent of which are Jersey City residents.”
“You’re setting a precedent and changing the Jersey City development landscape forever by making it unleveled and politicized,” Shuster continued. “The fine line between the private and public is brutally broken today and the city is interfering in a transaction that needs to be done between two business partners.”
Officials in support of declaring the site as “in need of redevelopment” said that the overwhelming preference to do so by residents of the area.
Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro said that many aspects of the plan may be up in the air, pending an Inclusionary Zoning Act that he and other officials are pushing through.
“I understand that you want maximum height and density, to maximize your sales price, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Lavarro said to those in support of the redevelopment plan.
“There’s potentially a school, a plaza for the Filipino Veterans Memorial, and the property is blocks away from the Grove Street Path Station. The developer stands to make truck loads of money. Meanwhile, we’re working on an inclusionary zoning ordinance, and there’s gonna be a debate over whether or not we have a school, affordable housing, a plaza, and other benefits in the area. I stand firmly on the side of affordable housing. If we can’t get that done, I would not be doing my job, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”