Jersey City Planning Board approves 152 Ogden Ave. project despite fierce opposition


The Jersey City Planning Board approved an application at 152 Ogden Ave. for an eight-story building with 14 units at Tuesday night’s meeting despite fierce opposition.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

After reviewing other matters, the public portion continued from the prior meeting around 9 p.m.

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, who represents the Heights where the development is located, was the first person to testify and he came out staunchly against the project.

“I am not anti-development. It has to be done consistently with our values … Having this development is going to put further stress on our system!” he exclaimed, continuing that it would be a constructed in a flood-prone area.

“The community is also concerned with the development being so close to the cliffs due to issues of soil erosion. This would be very catastrophic if the building were to fall over the cliff. The community is near unanimous opposition to this. I hope the planning board does us justice.”

Mark Miltner, who lives next door to the potential construction site, agreed with his councilman’s assessment, throwing in his own two cents as well.

“The proposed development … threatens the character of the street, but also in some visceral way, the identity of our community. We urge the developer to reconsider the sheer height and mass of the plan,” he said.

Diana Sarmiento said she also lives in the building at 154 Ogden Ave. and said the problems this project would cause are numerous.

“It will absolutely cause me to lose sunlight. It will disrupt our peace. I’m worried about the added traffic and congestion,” she explained.

Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin does not live in the neighborhood, but he still felt compelled to speak against the proposal.

“Allowing developers to build so close to the cliff’s edge can cause harm to the palisade cliffs geological wonder by increasing the chance for rockslides: It does not fit the character of Ogden Avenue.”

“The Palisades are a national and natural landmark,” Lynn Mullins argued, adding that many buildings nearby are more than 100 years old and only three stories high the most.

“Erasing our past for monetary gain is not always good planning. This proposed building would dwarf the two adjacent buildings.”

Pershing Field Neighborhood Association President Paul Amatuzzo said construction could hurt the historic building next door, also echoing sentiments about the building not fitting in with their neighborhood.

“This project … just does not fit the realm of what we have supported in the Heights in the past. It’s way too large. We don’t want to lose any of our historic resources. They are way too important. We don’t need an eight-story glass tower sticking above the other homes,” he declared.

Project attorney Chuck Harrington eventually came to the podium to issue a rebuttal.

“We’re not conceding it’s a major development. My client advised he would agree to develop the property under the major development standards under the stormwater ordinance. There would be an underground detention [of water],” he said.

During her closing statement, Heights resident Cynthia Hadjiyannis, an attorney who was representing the Riverview Neighborhood Association, said if a stormwater chamber was added, it would significantly alter the site plan.

“I don’t think you can vote on a plan you haven’t seen: Please do not make this a condition of your approval.”

Hadjiyannis noted the RNA worked to pass state legislation to protect the palisades in the past and this project would be in direct violation of that.

“They’ve seen erosion of the Palisades in their backyards and at least one collapse,” she added.

She continued that they are suing to ensure there is at least a 30-foot setback from the mountain, which is independent of the planning board process.

“It’s something JCMUA (Jersey City Municipal Utility Authority) won’t like because it shows water going in between the pavers. Based upon the … inadequacy of the stormwater plan, there is enough reason to deny this application,” she declared.

Harrington argued the project plan complies with all the regulations designed to protect the Palisades.

“There’s been some comments it doesn’t fit in the neighborhood. We are complying with the R-3 standards,” he also asserted.

Supervising Planner Matt Ward said they received an engineering memo in the R-3 zone, which allows a range of buildings, including “large buildings on large lots.” He also said that the project does not request variances.

“The applicant is saying that they’ll comply with major stormwater regulations. I have full faith in the MUA … they’ll make those calculations,” Board Chair Christopher Langston said.

“If any digging has to be done into the bedrock, I think this is a completely different application, and they would have to come back. That’s a significant change in the application process.”

Board attorney Santo Alampi said it’s up to the board to determine if the applicant is going to design the stormwater management system as part of the aforementioned ordinance.

“That system requires the excavating of bedrock. Then it is determined to be a substantially different application and would have to come back to the board … I think it could be dictated that way,” he further stated.

Commissioner Joey Torres expressed support for the idea of the water retention system.

“There’s a lot of talk of the building sliding. But there’s bedrock in a lot of places in Jersey City, and I haven’t seen buildings sliding,” he explained.

Commissioner Patrick Stamato wanted to hear the opinion of the MUA, who he said they had not heard back from yet.

Alampi noted that it must comply with the MUA’s regulations and also meet major development criteria.

Vice Chair Orlando Gonzalez said they have to review projects as they relate to the Master Plan and municipal code, not on neighbors concerns about views and bird migration patterns before voting yes.

Commissioner Vidya Gangadin said she heard the concerns of those opposed, but said the legal justifications to reject the project weren’t there and for that reason she voted yes.

Torres noted the great opposition to the plan was nearly unprecedented.

“I don’t want to offend nobody but there’s a Master Plan. You got our hands tied. This is what happens when they start changing neighborhoods,” he added before voting aye.

“Do I love 8 stories? I don’t know. It complies with the R-3 Zone. That’s the oath I took to uphold zoning. Development is a business. Before it gets to us… look at the zoning. RNA is going to think they lost this.,” Langston said before voting in favor.

The governing body ultimately approved the plan unanimously (7-0).

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    • Eight stories is double the size of most buildings in that neighborhood, but the bigger issue that was expressed at the meeting is the fact that it is being built right on the Palisade Cliffs.

      • 8 stories is nothing compared to what’s going on in Journal Square and the developers just get their way anyway despite neighborhood complaints. Aesthetics aside, if there is soil erosion on the cliffs and the building is in danger of a collapse in the future, the insurance companies would not (and should not) insure the property. If the engineers say it’s safe there’s nothing anyone can do about it (not that they are always right).