The Jersey City Planning Board approved a project at 124 Glenwood Ave. at last night’s meeting, three months after the same board voted the proposal down, despite several residents speaking out against it.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
124 Glenwood Holdings, LLC was again seeking a four-story, four-unit building, which had several community members confused since it was voted down 4-2 back on July 25th.
“This is a motion for reconsideration. The board has the ability, if requested, to reconsider a decision it’s made if there is a reason why the applicant feels the board should reconsider,” Board Counsel Santo Alampi explained.
“We are not rehashing … the entirety of the application. This application was a minor site plan heard in March and July. There was some revisions to the application over time. When a new building has more than 5,000 square feet, it triggers the minor site plan approval.”
Benjamin Wine, counsel for the project, acknowledged this was an unusual situation and sought to provide further clarity.
He said that since being voted down, his client has sought to further conform with the Master Plan and met with neighbors for feedback as well before making changes.
Board Chair Christopher Langston noted they want a condition of approval where they must rebuild a retaining wall that was demolished by accident before doing any further construction.
“I believe that to be a reasonable condition … What’s being proposed is permitted in height, width, size, number of units, parking. None of that is open for discussion,” Alampi stated.
Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2) said the project was wrong for the neighborhood and the board should not entertain the applicant again.
“The members of this board knew what they were voting on. They should stand by what they believed,” O’Dea said, arguing that demolition of the wall reflected “wanton disregard for what was represented by counsel at a previous meeting.”
Eric Carter echoed that point, stating that the wall’s demolition “shows a lack of respect for the community.”
Pam Andes, an aide to Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, spoke at length about why this project was not a good fit.
“Consider protecting your friends and neighbors from negative development. A lot of this development going on is hurting good people. They need protection. [Boggiano’s] office received a large number of complaints, perhaps the largest amount of complaints, about this proposed development,” she exclaimed.
“124 Glenwood has historical significance and was demolished in an irresponsible manner. The Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission was not aware of the historic significance and approved this demolition. We asked for the stones to be kept and re-used. They were not. They were carted away. Demolition began without immediate notice to the neighbors.”
Andes said the demolition caused leaking, therefore the developer can’t be trusted to act in good faith, also questioning if they submitted an application to be heard again in the proper timeframe.
“I appreciate that the condition is to rebuild the wall and rebuild it first. This developer has not acted in good faith. I’m asking you to stand by your vote. There are design standards they could have adhered to. I received a lot of complaints about this project,” declared Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey.
She added that people do not feel it conforms to the aesthetic of the community.
“It wasn’t right from the beginning. The approach was wrong. We’re hearing it feels wrong. Is it even legal? From the start, we asked for a smaller building, one that respected what was there,” Shirin MacCormack declared.
She also alleged that they forged signatures on a document and then taunted residents by saying that they should sue them if they had a problem.
Wine seemed taken aback by such an accusation.
“That’s the first time I’ve had a potential ethics complaint lobbed at me. I reviewed the plans with the project architect. The wall … was, in fact, to remain and to be repaired and restored. That is not what was conveyed on the demo permit,” he responded.
“He applied for a demolition permit … and didn’t even know the wall that was something that was outside that. All I can do is apologize. It was never my intent to be deceitful. A conforming site plan must be approved with those potential conditions.”
He also said that while they only have 45 days to request another hearing, those 45 days do not start until their decision as a resolution is published in the paper of record. Therefore, they fell well within that window, which Alampi agreed with.
Langston wanted to be notified when the wall was completed, also noting that the board doesn’t have the ability to punish “a bad actor” and that would have to come via a stop work order from the city’s building department.
“The better condition is that the wall be constructed and then inspected and then certified … the wall has been constructed,” Alampi stated.
“You agree on those conditions are appropriate?” Langston asked, to which Wine said yes.
Alampi explained that the board was voting on a motion to reconsider with the conditions they had just laid out.
“We have to kind of look at this being a conforming side application. We are not a punitive board. We are not an enforcement board. I’m going to vote aye,” Vice Chair Dr. Orlando Gonzalez said.
“If the law tells us we need to review something over again, then we have to review it. I’m pretty sure most of us don’t want to. We don’t do enforcement. There’s a lot of contractors out there. I’m here to look at what they present to us. There’s a lot of projects I didn’t like that I had to vote yes for. I’m going to vote yes,” explained Commissioner Joey Torres.
Commissioner Steve Lipski called the situation “disappointing,” but said they don’t have the ability to deny an as of right project, noting those are easy lawsuits for developers to win. Therefore, he begrudgingly voted yes.
Despite that take, Commissioner Vidya Gangadin said the process was disrespectful from the beginning and voted no.
“I was an aye on the last vote. It is a minor site plan with no deviations. Demolition was approved by the historic wing of the planning department. They approved the demolition permit. We did place the condition to get that wall be rebuilt before anything else is constructed,” Langston explained, also stating such a condition is unprecedented.
He also said the board can’t decide which developers are up to par and that residents with concerns need to get acquainted with the municipal building codes, also recommending lobbying the city council to change the zoning in this area before voting yes.
The Planning Board approved it 5-1(1), with Gangadin voting no and Commissioner Patrick Stamato abstaining since he was absent from the last hearing.