Dozens of Jersey City residents spoke their minds during a special council meeting on the proposed $180 million Bayfront development project Wednesday night, which could dedicate one-third of their units to affordable housing.
For over two hours, public speakers discussed an array of concerns: some focusing on financial transparency with complete community involvement for the 95-acre property, and many focused on 1,400 units of affordable housing, retail spaces and other socioeconomic projections.
During the hearing, Jersey City Redevelopment Agency Acting Executive Director Diana Jeffrey confirmed affordable housing would reach between 20 to 33 percent of the units within the West Side region.
“We applaud the fact that you’re taking a step to say we need affordable housing in Jersey City, we need upscale retail on the other side of town,” said Rev. Dr. W.W.C. Ashley, Sr., the founder and a pastor at the Abundant Joy Community Church, noting the reflection of diversity in Jersey City.
“We need places where teachers and firefighters and veterans and people, who have served our city and our country, can live and find green parks and places where they could take their family,” said Ashley, who reminded the council of Jersey City Together’s repeating initiative to dispose chromium contamination in search for affordable housing.
The site in the spotlight of this week’s meeting has been in limbo for decades.
First going through a major contamination cleanup by Honeywell in the early 2000’s, and then coming to an agreement with the City in 2008 for a large-scale residential development to occupy the land post remediation, most of the land still needs to be purchased before the city can move forward.
Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2) questioned the possibility of litigation if the city ran into issues acquiring the property.
“Under the current situation, you could have potential litigation; you could have a potential stalemate, which could stall any redevelopment from this project for many, many years,” said O’Dea.
Since Jersey City is 38 percent owner of the Bayfront, with HoneyWell owning the rest, the city is at a disadvantage, which O’Dea equated to having an unequal voting partnership.
Years ago, the city took a prepayment of $25 million from HoneyWell, which needs repayment after the property is sold to a redeveloper, including $80 million infrastructure costs and remediation.
While purchasing the property from Honeywell is a bold initiative, residents approved the redevelopment, but also suggested affordable housing throughout all wards, as opposed to being ward specific.
For good government advocate and former council candidate Esther Wintner, transparency remained key.
“What has been done to look to the future so that we know this is not going to add to the problem we already have,” said Wintner, mentioning the lack of details in the redevelopment plan.
Key points she addressed included: how the bond will be issued, interest costs, and what guarantees does the public have that jobs will go to minority companies, laborers and women.
Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley expressed excitement about the city’s commitment to reenergizing the south side, though emphasized that the affordable housing plan needs to be given more thought.
“While affordable housing is something we can all agree is needed, it is very unfair to the people of Ward A to lump a large portion of affordable housing in one location separated from the rest of the City by a four lane highway with no adequate means of transportation,” she said.
“The southern end of the City has been over taxed for years and now we are being asked to take on a large portion of the affordable housing in an area that is already the most affordable in the City. Affordable housing should be spread throughout the City. The City looks at examples from other cities on smaller issues.”