The Jersey City Council discussed the 6th Street Embankment Redevelopment Plan and capping cannabis dispensaries at 55 total citywide at yesterday’s caucus.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The council passed a condemnation of the embankment property last year, though the matter remains tied up in litigation for the moment.
“Has the lawsuit been settled?,” asked Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano.
“We’re working towards a settlement agreement,” Senior Planner Mallory Clark-Sokolov said.
Boggiano expressed dismay that the lawsuit has been ongoing for about 14 years and has cost the city around $16 million.
“We really hope we’re moving the process forward,” Clark-Sokolov replied.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who represents the ward where the embankment is located, said a closed session with the corporation counsel may be helpful here.
Clark-Sokolov said passage of the ordinance, which would settle the lawsuit and establish a public bikeway and walkway, would make a significant impact on moving things forward.
She also noted they completed a study and have been working with the Embankment Coalition and other stakeholders on the details.
“The embankment is key to a larger piece of connectivity in the region,” she said, pointing out that the Hudson-Essex Greenway and Bergen Arches projects would connect to it – later stating two large public meetings had been held via Zoom.
Clark-Sokolov indicated that one was held in May with 120 people and one in September where 127 people called in.
She further stated the city is planning to preserve certain parts of the eight-block stretch.
“Is there a reason for that?,” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh asked.
Clark-Sokolov said the goal is to “protect historic assets.” They want it to be an open space to make an overhead trail that is a “continuous elevated walking and biking trail.”
They also want to leave room for a light rail or a trolley for a longer-term plan use.
“There’s obviously a lot of long-range work to be done. We’re really trying to perverse the embankment as it stands today … We’re not here to design a park today,” Clark-Sokolov replied.
“The embankment structure is staying more or less as is. This is such a unique structure within the city … We’re not looking to make a glass box here,” Senior Historic Preservation Specialist Maggie O’Neil, who added that he plan includes some concession stands and storage sheds.
They would also permit the construction of a building with 400 rental units subject to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO), which means a 15 percent affordable housing requirement in this instance.
“The redevelopment plan … does it not go into effect until the settlement is effectuated, and the land is transferred?,” Solomon asked.
“Correct,” Clark-Sokolov said.
Boggiano again asked for clarification on how much the litigation has cost, to which Clark-Sokolov said she didn’t know. Corporation Counsel Peter Baker said he could get him that number.
“You weren’t around Peter several years ago when this started. I don’t see any settlement in the suit for a quite a while,” he stated.
“We are working toward an agreement,” Baker replied.
“We’ve been hearing that for five years,” Boggiano quipped back.
Embankment Preservation Coalition President Stephen Gucciardo thanked the city planning department for their work. He noted that the prior settlement failed due to railroad operator Conrail backing out.
“We agreed to move forward as if the settlement is going to take place. I am party to the settlement talks. There is a very good chance we are there. It’s all about timing,” he stated, also noting the city has to give up certain rights and the property has to be transferred.
“That’s the most difficult thing to get done,” Gucciardo said.
Along with the embankment, the governing body is poised to cap the number of adult-use cannabis dispensaries at 55, with an ordinance up for first reading on Wednesday. The majority of municipalities in New Jersey have implemented a cap of less than 10.
The narrow rules governing cannabis company locations and limited real estate throughout the state are serving as an unspecified de facto state cap.
“How do we arrive at 55?,” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore asked.
“I think it’s more the number of applications, and this was a choice by the administration,” Assistant Corporation Counsel John McKinney answered.
“Can we get a report from the CCB (Cannabis Control Board)? We were supposed to get a report on a quarterly basis. I’d like to know how many are minority-owned; how many are Multi-State Operators. I’d like to know how many we applied so far,”
“I’ll reach out to the CCB,” Baker said.
“Whatever the remainder is, we need to have at least 50 percent for minority-owned applications, similar to New York City. We should definitely look into that,” Saleh said.
“What happens if all the dispensaries are one ward?,” Gilmore asked.
“We gotta come up with a number. It seems everyone is coming to us. We need to know how many are approved. Other municipalities capped it,” Watterman added.
Gilmore said if they hypothetically put the cap at 55 and someone loses their license for whatever reason, would there be a reserve pool of applicants who would be eligible for that license?
“There should be,” Watterman said.
“Can you sell this [license],” Gilmore questioned.
“No. There’s a possibility some could lose their license,” McKinney replied.
Jersey City Business Administrator John Metro said the council would be presented with additional information before Wednesday and the 55 figure may be subjected to change.
Commerce Director Maynard Woodson also noted the adult-use cannabis dispensary Garden State Greenz is poised to be approved with their resolution on Wednesday. They were one of several who participated in a recent cannabis job fair.
The Jersey City Council will convene for their regular meeting at Wednesday at 6 p.m., which will also stream live via Microsoft Teams.