Jersey City Council discusses Master Plan update allowing accessory dwelling units


The Jersey City Council discussed a Master Plan update that will allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at yesterday’s caucus meeting in hopes of easing affordability concerns.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

Jersey City Planning Director Tanya Marione discussed what was up for second reading on Wednesday. The council considered the measure back in July, but changes were made since then to get everyone on the same page.

“Initially, we proposed more opportunities for commercial,” she noted, indicating that they wanted garages to have the ability to be used as storefronts at first.

“There was a lot of opposition, so we changed it to a conditional use to only allow corner commercial where there’s already commercial at that intersection.”

Marione further explained the revised ordinance includes a lot of feedback received over the course of several meetings.

“We capped the height of the buildings, this is R1 (residential neighborhoods), from 44 feet to 35 feet,” she continued.

“We have design standards, and they’re not that easy to enforce. Now we require a variance, and it’s way more enforceable.”

Also, if someone is denied a demolition permit, they can add more units to their building. The administration sought to discourage demolition and breaking up blocks in Ward D after she spoke with their council representative, Yousef Saleh.

“If there’s a block and it has a lot of driveways already, this is not going to apply,” she added.

The plan also incorporates space for electric vehicles and more public parking.

“We accommodated the request from [Ward B] Councilwoman [Mira] Prinz-Arey to remove the five-foot yard setback on lots greater than 5,000 feet,” Marione stated.

Lower Communipaw and Baldwin Avenues will become more commercial, she added, claiming that they’re streamlining design standards in general.

“We wrote the ordinance for new historic districts that were using the R1 as overlays. This includes Sherman Place. But it also includes West Bergen. I don’t think there will be any hidden messages anymore. It’s clearly in the ordinance … It is a nationally recognized Best Practice to increase affordability,” Marione added.

“We also allow for subdivisions that mimic the zoning from before 1970 for the townhouse complex developments. They’re sprinkled all over Jersey City … It is the culmination of listening to the community, at least for me, over the last 17 years. We’re providing ways for people to afford staying in their homes.”

She said they’d work with Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore’s
office on outreach and education on the parts of the plan that can benefit them.

“Zoning is already something that can go over people’s heads,” Marione admitted.

Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano expressed concerns about parking.

“All you’re doing is creating more problems for parking in the streets, which is already a disaster. Most of the people have been chased out of this city already, and everybody’s leaving the city,” he exclaimed.

“You talk about extra income. A house in back of a house is ridiculous. We’re destroying communities and we’re destroying neighborhoods.”

Gilmore replied that while he understood his colleague’s point of view, he this concept is more like an additional apartment unit than a new house. He also commended for Marione for soliciting feedback and making changes.

“I’m going to move to support it. It’s not perfect,” he stated.

Boggiano still expressed disdain for the proposed amendments.

“New Yorkers are gonna do like they do now, buying houses, renting them out, letting the property fall apart. They’re gonna end up buying your house and building a house in back and charging. It’s not going to be affordable. Nothing is enforced in this city,” Boggiano stated.

Council President Joyce Watterman took a different tone, thanking Marione for her work.

“Tanya, thank you. With that third unit, it will keep families in their house. The cost of living is so high. College students cannot move out of their parent’s house because they cannot afford it,” she said.

“I know you thought this through. It’s how can we keep more people in Jersey City. Everyone is not going to agree. I think it will help us in the long run. We need to move forward.”

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey praised the planning department for their outreach efforts, adding that ADUs have helped ease severe housing problems in San Francisco, where housing is a serious problem.

“The fear doesn’t necessarily equate with the actual reality on the ground. Thank you guys for your due diligence,” she said.

Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera had questions about egress or exiting a property with an ADU in an emergency.

“You have to have immediate access to the right of way. You need to be able to leave your building and go right out to the sidewalk. You can’t even have an area of refuge in the backyard,” Marione replied.

She explained Boggiano reached out and asked to waive the 45-day waiting period for enforcing the Journal Square mandatory affordable housing amendment he proposed.

“It’s something in the state law that says you refer something to us. We have to give it back to you in 45 days,” Marione said.

“That was on the advice of the law department. Thank you Tanya,” Boggiano said back.

The Jersey City Council convenes for their regular session tomorrow at City Hall, 280 Grove St., at 6 p.m. and the meeting will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.

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