The Jersey City Council okayed the Laurel and Saddlewood Court Redevelopment Plan, which will include 800 residential units and a public school, at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“Just days after announcing the public-private partnership for the creation of the new innovative Liberty Science High School, we’re already moving forward on another brand new school to alleviate the school system’s overcrowding and long waitlists, and further our efforts to provide top-quality educational opportunities for our youth,” Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement.
“It’s important for us to ensure our community benefits from these projects, and this is the latest example of how we’re becoming a national model for smart growth.”
The 50,000 square-foot public school, valued at nearly $25 million at no cost to taxpayers, will be for PreK-5 students. The project also mandates that five percent of the units be affordable.
“Downtown Jersey City’s elementary schools are already overcrowded and that’s before up to 10,000 new homes will be built here in the next five years,” added Ward E Councilman James Solomon.
At the meeting, Solomon went into more detail, addressing the criticisms around the affordable housing component of the project.
“The criticism around affordable housing is legitimate,” he acknowledged. However, he explained that the community benefits offset were needed to solve other core issues.
“The transit-oriented Laurel-Saddlewood development will address that infrastructure challenge by building a new, public elementary school for up to 400 students. And it will do so without costing taxpayers a cent.”
The Downtown councilman also announced that the SEIU 32BJ labor union obtained a commitment from LMC that they will provide good-paying jobs at future Sandalwood projects.
The developer, Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC), will be responsible for the construction of the new school as well as the public park, valued at $2.5 million, and will incorporate stormwater capture improvements to minimize runoff.
Charles Epstein, who spoke for LMC, said the homeowners initially approached them. They worked with the project’s many stakeholders to craft an acceptable plan.
The approved amendment also requires the development to set aside no less than 5 percent workforce housing, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Workforce housing is supposed to be affordable and convenient for nearby workers rather than the city as a whole.
“We believe the proposed development will further enhance downtown Jersey City for all who live here, by providing additional affordable housing, a much-needed public school, infrastructure improvements, and greatly expanded green space,” noted Andrew Prokos of Laurelwood Owners LLC.
Nearby residents also weighed in prior to the vote on the matter.
“Our homes don’t make sense in Jersey …They’re old and difficult to maintain,” said Leigh Sellinger.
“Our house’s condition is quite bad. It was constructed very cheaply. My wall is collapsing,” noted Youwei Chen.
He continued that the houses are not comparable to nearby brownstones and should be torn down.
“My house is old and in dire need of repair … My husband and I are old and cannot really afford all the required fixing,” said Angelita Vicuna, a resident of 9 Laurel Court. She added that a fire could spread easily in her current development.
Furthermore, Susana Perlez said homeowners have been working for five years to find a developer willing to purchase their homes, while Shaheen Yadav complained about overcrowding at a nearby school and said the proposed school is badly needed.
The council approved the concept last night by a vote of 7-1, with Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro voting no and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson absent.
“There is a crisis in affordable housing and gentrification in Jersey City … These opportunities are slipping away,” Lavarro exclaimed.
He argued that the 41 units designated as affordable are hardly such with a monthly rental fee of $2,123 and this is something he plans on continuing to work on, despite last night’s vote.
“I am currently working with Councilman Solomon on the proposed replacement of the ‘affordable’ housing units with an equitable monetary contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Councilman Solomon has approached the developer in this matter,” Lavarro said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.