LETTER: Save Center Street in Jersey City from hostile developer takeover

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In a letter to the editor, Center Street Block Association President Natalia Ioffe wants to rally fellow Jersey City residents to prevent a “hostile developer takeover.”
Dear Editor,

We live along Center St. which makes up about 4 semi-industrial blocks along the Turnpike overpass, marking the border of Downtown Jersey City and Bergen-Lafayette. Our neighborhood is sometimes referred to as Ward F Downtown.

The properties along Center St. are both residential and industrial, some of which are vacant lots about to be developed by owners, and many are family homes both owner-occupied and rental, as well as active small businesses such as auto body shops, a licensed dog day care, and a popular Dominican cafe.

Situated by the turnpike ramp, Center St. serves as a natural gateway into Downtown Jersey City, making it a coveted location for developers.

It is close to many great schools, parks, churches and supermarkets as well as Jersey City Medical Center, all of which are important for our residents that include families with school-aged children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Our residents have always been very active in trying to take care of the neighborhood. We volunteer to clean sidewalks and catch basins, we have cameras installed on most of our homes ensuring an effective neighborhood watch, keeping the area crime and mischief free.

On the streets that previously had outdated signage and no street sweeping, we worked with Traffic and Engineering and DPW to create alternate side parking and regular sweeping.

Finally we have built a strong relationship with JCPD and JCPS Truancy police to decrease student loitering during school hours and decrease violent incidents among the youth. To make our efforts official we formed Center St. Block Association in March of 2017.

Despite our best efforts at building a community, today we are all under the threat of possible eminent domain, thanks to the actions of a designated developer who has the sights set on the entire length of Center Street.

Bates St. Redevelopment Plan that was drafted in 2006 and recently updated, outlined the potential development that could happen in our neighborhood. Under this plan properties sized 15,000 sq. feet or more could be developed by current owners and anyone with smaller lots was designated as “to be acquired.”

Needless to say, not all property owners were consulted when the plan was originally created. Most people with smaller lots have also had plans to develop their own land or simply wish to continue living peacefully in their own homes.

Those homeowners who are open to the idea of selling their properties one day, hope to do it on their own terms and at a time when they are comfortable with.

On Nov. 21, 2017 – JCRA designated a developer – Sanford Weiss of Manhattan Building Company, under the name “Bates Redevelopment LLC.”

According to resolution 17-116 that appointment presently expired with no evidence of an extension provided to our residents at this time.

In the past four weeks our community has been contacted by representatives of Decotiis Law Firm on behalf of the “designated developer,” vigorously campaigning to buy up properties along Center St.

The overall message the residents are receiving is that – it is better to negotiate as soon as possible, because the wholesale purchase of our land is inevitable, and if we do not cooperate we will be forced to accept the lowest end of the “fair market value” which will be determined by the developer or the JCRA, either through litigation or eminent domain.

We are being told that the only way the infrastructure in the area will improve is – if the area will be cleared of its current residents and the developer will pour in sufficient resources to make improvements.

This heavy handed approach is offensive and discriminatory to the homeowners who wish to keep their homes or develop their land themselves. Residents do not appreciate being viewed as a pestilence that needs to be eliminated in order for the area to improve.

We feel that we have more than proven our ability to invest into our city and our neighborhood. We pay our taxes, we clean our streets, we look out for one another and we hope to preserve our rights to live in our own homes on our terms. We object to the city’s plan to sell us off to the highest bidder and we ask to be allowed to keep our land.

More than half of the property owners along Center St. are first generation immigrants who have made sacrifices and endured a great deal in order to make a better future for our children.

The right to own property and build a home for our families is a fundamental part of our American Dream. At a time when when immigrants in our country are treated like second-rate people we hope that Jersey City will be the sanctuary it professes to be and stand up for us.

The Planning Board meeting which will decide the fate of our neighborhood will take place Tuesday, July 10, at 5:30PM, Caucus Room #204, 2nd Floor, City Hall, 280 Grove St, Jersey City, NJ 07302. (Agenda Item #12).

We ask fellow Jersey City residents to come and speak in our defense, to help us keep our homes and the right to build on our own land. We thank you in advance for your support.

Natalia Ioffe
President
Center St. Block Association

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