Jersey City Zoning Board approves 5-story, 40-unit building at 475 Communipaw Ave.

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The Jersey City Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved (7-0) a mixed-use building with five stories and 40 units despite some critical remarks from the community.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The proposal for 475 Communipaw Ave. by applicant 475 Communipaw Ave JT, LLC would also include, 6,177 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, 22 parking spaces, and 40 bike spaces. There would be a green garden and a deck on the roof as well.

10 percent, or four units would be affordable housing, that would be 50-80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and the applicants were seeking a height variance for the project.

“A lot went into this application,” said attorney Nicholas Cherami, representing the LLC for the development.

Cherami noted that land is on a very irregular-shaped corner lot of 11,700 square feet on a peninsula of HarmonS treet, Garfield Avenue, and Communipaw Avenue.

It’s also topographically challenging since the site slopes, Cherami explained. Currently, the development site is home to the Perfect Touch Car Wash and Lube Center.

The applicants made presentations to the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation last June and subsequently amended the project.

The Sherwood Claremont Community Association, who live in the jurisdiction the lot lies, also wanted to learn about the project so they met with them in January for a community meeting.

“All these meetings were in addition to our applicants literally walking down Communipaw meeting with business owners, meeting with residents,” Cherami said.

He added they met with Wad F Councilman Jermaine Robinson and his team regarding the building.

“We are requesting a five-story structure where a max three-story structure is required,” explained Charles Heydt, the director of planning services for Dresdner Robin, who is consulting on the project.

He called the neighborhood diverse with great public transportation, including Garfield Avenue’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station stop, along with bus stops on Grand Street that would serve the building’s customers.

There are also several five-story structures on nearby corner and larger lots.

“That’s what really led us to supporting such an application tonight. It’s a far better alternative than the car wash.”

“I’m extremely excited. I think this will add a lot of value to the neighborhood,” said Tiffany Johnson, who said she lives nearby and that the development would enhance the neighborhood.

However, not everyone on the Zoom call was on board with the proposal.

“I feel like it’s being rushed. We were under the impression that they were coming back to the table for community input,” said Frank “Educational” Gilmore, who is running for the Ward F council seat.

“More thought and more engagement needs to go into this project. Another meeting should be held.”

He also had concerns with the claim it would decrease traffic and did not need to be car-friendly.

“We’re seeing uncontrollable buildings throughout the city,” said Carol McNichol, calling many of the new structures “cookie-cutter buildings.”

Ali Kenneson also came out against the potential new construction, noting that the applicants said a supermarket would be on the ground floor at the community meeting where it was presented.

“This space doesn’t allow for a real supermarket. It doesn’t provide enough parking,” she added.

“I am all for developing the area around here … [but] I want more homeowners and fewer renters … I don’t approve,” added Alika Mohammad.

Virginia Kipps said during her remarks that she didn’t like how all the new buildings in the area were gray and didn’t really mesh with the neighborhood.

Additionally, Chris Perez said the Junction neighborhood group only met with the developer recently while the Morris Canal CDC was solicited last summer.

He added two bedrooms should be made into affordable housing, as well as one-bedrooms.

“We’ve been working with the city staff,” Cherami said on the affordable housing.

He also said that getting rid of a car wash would naturally decrease car traffic.

“This would be more akin to a Key Foods,” Chermai said, explaining that they’re envisioning a smaller supermarket component than say Trader Joe’s or ShopRite.

“There’s no market in that area that’s convenient beyond a coffee shop market. There is no particular proposed tenant.”

Board Vice Chair Kate Donnelly wanted to hear more from the developers about how they engaged the community.

“Is there some kind of content or reason behind that?” she asked.

Cherami admitted the Sherwood Claremont neighborhood is large, and they did not realize it was in that neighborhood. When they did, they held a community meeting and postponed their scheduled zoning board hearing.

“Did your applicant give any consideration to give any of the family-based units affordable?” Donnelly asked.

Cherami noted they were working with the city’s affordable housing staff and plan to follow the same regulations as everyone else.

“They’re not small one-bedrooms,” he continued regarding the affordable housing units, noting they have home office space.

Projects only have to start complying with the IZO requirements after January 1st, while this project was in the works starting early last year.

“I do take to heart some of the comments that some of the neighbors made. However, I do think that the significant amount of commercial space is a big win. The Junction is a very important corner in Jersey City, and the affordable housing units certainly kind of get us over the hump in the positive criteria area,” Donnelly said before the vote.

“No one project is perfect, but on the whole, this will provide some of the things to the community [that] they’re looking for,” concluded Board Chair Josh Jacobs.