Poll: Who do you blame for Bayonne bar’s struggles with eminent domain?

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The former Texaco site in Bayonne has been on the city’s redevelopment radar since 2003, with administrations under Mayors Joe Doria, Mark Smith and Jimmy Davis all approving some form of redevelopment plan or agreement related to the Avenue A property. 

The Starting Point Bar & Grill in Bayonne. Photo via Google Maps.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Under Mayor Joe Doria in 2003, the city began a redevelopment study on the 70-acre piece of land that used to be home to the old Texaco station.

The study ultimately concluded that the site and some surrounding properties were “blighted” and were in need of improvements.

The following year, the city council adopted a redevelopment plan in 2004 and the Highland Park-based developer Kaplan Companies was designated the developer in 2007.

From there, it wasn’t until June 18th, 2014 that the city council, in the last meeting of the Mayor Mark Smith administration, approved another redevelopment agreement between Kaplan Cos. and the city, according to the official minutes published from the meeting.

Then-Business Administrator Steve Gallo signed off on the agreement the following day, though it provided few specifics at the time, with the exception of “Kaplan shall be responsible for providing relocation assistance to all residents and businesses displaced by the project.”

While it appeared the project was finally making headway, on June 9th, 2015, the Bayonne Planning Board, now under Mayor Jimmy Davis, unanimously approved yet another  redevelopment study of the former Texaco property, meeting minutes show.

Finally, the city council passed a resolution “authorizing and directing the planning board … to solicit requests for proposal for a study/preliminary investigation of the property commonly known as the Texaco site” on April 20th, 2016.

That study was completed about a year ago and the city had not taken any other formal action on the property since then.

Recently, the owner of the Starting Point Bar & Grill, which falls within the redevelopment zone, has expressed concerns about the property being taken over via eminent domain, as The Jersey Journal has reported.

Expectedly, both the Davis and Jason O’Donnell campaigns were quick to point the finger at their political adversaries.

“This poorly drawn redevelopment plan was passed in the last days of the Smith-O’Donnell administration in the final months after their defeat in 2014 and it required the city to conduct a study into the use of eminent domain if requested by the developer, which later occurred,” said Davis campaign spokesman Phil Swibinski.

“The study was quickly completed as required and it showed that eminent domain would not be appropriate and no condemnation action was ever taken. The fact is that the city has never sought eminent domain on this property or on any other privately-owned property in Bayonne during any of the development agreements executed during Mayor Davis’ first term.”

In response, O’Donnell called that interpretation of events “more campaign nonsense from the Davis team.”

“More campaign nonsense from the Davis Team. The original Jersey Journal story last week stated clearly that Mayor Davis has not signed the final agreement to remove the threat of seizing the Starting Point owner’s property through eminent domain and his law director says they are ‘in the process of negotiations right now’ and that they hope they won’t have to resort to litigation to resolve the matter,” the challenger said.

“That means they are leaving the option open to close down the Starting Point and seize the land after Election Day. This is more of the same from Mayor Davis and his Council. Why would anyone in the First Ward or anywhere else in the city believe their campaign lies at this point? Four years ago during their first campaign they said abatements were bad for the city and then they immediately gave away forty of those multi-million dollar long term tax breaks to their rich developer friends.”

 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with comments from the Davis and O’Donnell campaigns.