Many residents criticized the lack of affordable housing in a new project at 356-360 Central Ave. during a community meeting held in the Jersey City Heights.
Developer Jimmy Gindi explained he owns Kennedy Department store, which has been open at 270 Central Ave. for 40 years.
“We are from the community. We understand the community’s needs, and we are confident that this project will bring in a lot of value to the Central Avenue community,” Gindi expressed at the meeting held inside 356 Central Ave. last night.
Project architect Russell Bodnar, of Long Valley based-Bodnar Architectural Studio, explained that they want to build a five-story building with a partial sixth story.
Their proposal would have 52 units, including 14 two-bedrooms apartments, 26 one-bedroom apartments with a a study, and 12 one-bedroom apartments without a study, as well as 22 parking space, one more than what is legally required.
Additionally, Bodnar said they want to have a Trader Joe’s supermarket on the ground floor of the 15,500-square foot property.
In order to make that component work, they are seeking a variance for a loading dock and a loading zone for the grocery store, along with a height variance exception since most buildings on Central Avenue reach a maximum of 55 feet.
“It’s needed in order to make the project work,” Gindi said.
“What’s the plan for the cost of the units, and is there any plan for affordable housing?” asked Patrick Ambrossi, a Heights resident and the president of the Leonard Gordon Park Conservancy.
“We have no way of knowing that. It just depends on what the building costs,” Gindi said, adding “that’s not required” when Ambrossi asked him about affordable housing a second time.
This appeared to be the catalyst that got local residents going, pressing the development team on what benefits this would bring to the community.
” … Apply to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund they have in Jersey City … and do 20 percent of your units as low- and middle-income affordable units then we’ll believe you care about the community. If not, it just seems like pure greed!,” said Heights resident Kern Weissman, who is also a member of the Riverview Neighborhood Association’s development committee.
He later asked to see their books, and when told that information was not available, replied that they shouldn’t be asking for a variance.
“This is our first opportunity to even show the public what we’re planning. So what we’re going to do tonight is get those comments, which is a good one, and maybe come back,” Eugene O’Connell, the attorney for the project, said as he tried to calm the crowd.
However, his efforts ended up being unsuccessful.
“Can you make a commitment that this building will be 20 percent affordable housing?,” Ward D Council candidate Danielle Freire asked to the delight of the crowd.
“Unfortunately, I cannot make that commitment,” Gindi said.
A few minutes later, Gindi said he would need a tax abatement to include affordable housing, which led to him briefly being booed.
A Hudson County judge struck down the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance two weeks ago, so project without any affordable housing component are theoretically possible but still unlikely.
“We get a lot of developers here, and there’s a culture here with no affordable housing,” began Council-at-Large candidate Elvin Dominici said.
“We want moving forward, to establish … that people in Jersey City can stay in Jersey City because it’s an issue, right. People get displaced. If you care about this community for 40 years, if you’ve been working with this community for 40 years, it would be great for you.”
Ambrossi reiterated there are different funding sources to acquire and expressed that their team was looking for the easy way out.
“I think what we really want to see is someone actually try. No one is trying, and you’re just saying it’s impossible,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the math is a problem,” Gindi said.
“There’s funding sourcing that helps with your math. You just saying it doesn’t work is not good enough anymore,” Ambrossi replied.
Weissman chimed in that non-profit lenders are available to lend developers money for affordable housing.
“ … And so the assumption is that people who will live in this unit, they won’t want that parking spot because they will take Uber? I’m trying to understand that rationale,” Freire said.
“A lot of people come to this area, to Jersey City, they don’t bring a car,” Bodnar responded.
After Weissman stated that COVID-19 concerns stifled the turnout of the meeting, Bodnar indicated that the next meeting could be held online, though he lamented receiving less input during virtual meetings.
“I know for a fact you were denied demolition of building number 158. How do you you think you’re going to circumvent the city on that decision?,” exclaimed Pershing Field Neighborhood Association President Paul Amatuzzo.
Bodnar said they would appeal to the city’s zoning board.
“Typically, if the city denies an application for demolition, zoning usually doesn’t go against the other department,” Amatuzzo aded.
“That’s a good issue, and we have to resolve it,” O’Connell remarked.
The zoning board has already rejected a seven-story proposal that included affordable housing, according to Bodnar.
After the meeting, Bodnar told HCV it is often difficult to build affordable housing in terms of getting a loan and coping with the high price of land, material, and labor.