A planned expansion of the city’s Restaurant Row went down in flames on Wednesday when the City Council failed to approve an ordinance that would have increased the number of businesses on “the Row.” The city’s original intent was to expand the number of restaurants granted special liquor license and entertainment provisions beyond the downtown corridor where Restaurant Row currently exists. Dozens of current and future restaurants on Newark Avenue between Kennedy Boulevard and the Pulaski Skyway would have been affected, a fact that did not cause controversy last week.
Rather, it was a dispute over one downtown restaurant, the Brightside Tavern at the corner of Bright and Monmouth streets, that doomed the ordinance.
The city will now re-craft the measure in an effort to expand Restaurant Row beyond downtown.
Expanding ‘the Row’ Currently, Restaurant Row refers to a bar and restaurant-dense area of downtown on Newark Avenue, between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue, and some of the surrounding blocks and streets.
Since last year the city has been expanding Restaurant Row as a way to both encourage more restaurants to come to Jersey City and to help the ones already here compete with hot spots in Hoboken and New York.
Inclusion in the city’s Restaurant Row zoning area exempts establishments like Skinners Loft and LITM from a law that requires businesses with liquor licenses to be at least 520 feet apart. In addition to this exemption, inclusion in Restaurant Row allows businesses to offer live entertainment without requesting a zoning variance from the city.
The ordinance rejected last week was primarily drafted to expand Restaurant Row to the portion of Newark Avenue between Kennedy Boulevard and the Pulaski Skyway, in the Journal Square area, a neighborhood many believe is in need of revitalization. The area, also known as India Square, is home to more than a dozen restaurants, the Canco Lofts condo development, and the Mana Contemporary art space, but still lacks the foot traffic and panache of downtown.
“We’re neighbors. We’ll work it out.’ – Tom Parisi
But the proposed ordinance also included the recently opened Brightside Tavern, 141 Bright St., at the corner of Bright and Monmouth Street downtown. Had the ordinance passed, the Brightside, located several blocks from Newark Avenue and the heart of Restaurant Row, would have been granted the rights and exemptions given to other Restaurant Row establishments.
This did not sit well with one resident who spoke out against the ordinance, and the City Council members who voted it down.
“I understand that this expansion [of Restaurant Row] has probably been very positive on certain areas of Newark Avenue,” said Brightside neighbor Idalia Rosa of the ordinance. “And I understand this allows for increased opportunities for small businesses. Right now, [the Brightside] is a nonconforming space. So the owner has to apply for a variance for anything. This gives neighbors the opportunity to know that there may be some changes and they might affect us. But it doesn’t fit to include this one business in this whole expansion.”
She praised the Brightside Tavern for being a “positive” addition to the neighborhood since it opened last fall. Still, as a homeowner who lives right next door to the tavern, Rosa said that she was uncomfortable giving Restaurant Row status to the Brightside since she does not know how it may affect her property.
Downtown residents have occasionally expressed concerns about the neighborhood’s burgeoning nightlife that stems from local bars and restaurants in the community. While these businesses have brought vitality to the neighborhood – a vitality that neighbors appreciate – they have sometimes also brought new public nuisance problems, including noise, parking shortages, public urination, and petty crime. Some residents fear that as Restaurant Row expands, these problems will increasingly affect their quality of life and property values.
But another Brightside neighbor and homeowner, Alex Forrester, spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating that he “counted down the days” until the Brightside opened last year. Since the tavern’s debut, Forrester, co-founder of Rising Tide Capital, has become a regular customer. The Jersey City-based Rising Tide Capital helps small local businesses succeed in the community.
“I am very much in favor of this ordinance for all kinds of reasons – for Jersey City and for all of the areas that this is going to expand to,” said Forrester. “I know [Brightside owner Tom Parisi] and what he is looking to do. We’re not talking about a nightclub here. We’re talking about a very classy place. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the neighborhood would be disturbed by the kind of entertainment that would be going on at the Brightside Tavern.”
The Brightside has a baby grand piano, but Parisi can’t host live music unless he either gets a variance or gets included as part of Restaurant Row.
Forrester said he believed the success of the tavern would add value to his property.
Council: No spot zoning
Despite Forrester’s comments, the City Council voted down the ordinance by a vote of 0-6-1.
Council President Peter Brennan, a tavern owner himself, abstained from the vote, and Councilmen William Gaughan and David Donnelly were both absent from the meeting for health reasons. The remaining six council members rejected the measure.
“The sentiment is that everybody wants this business to succeed,” said Councilman Steven Fulop, who represents the city’s downtown Ward E. “If you look at the map, however, it is re-zoning an area for one block and one business. That is a bad practice for the council to change the law for one business, no matter how good the business.”
Although the ordinance would have benefitted many restaurants near Journal Square, there was no way the council could approve that portion of the measure without also rezoning the Monmouth and Bright Street-area that includes the Brightside, since both were included in the ordinance language.
After the vote, an angry Tom Parisi confronted Rosa, arguing that he’ll now have to spend “thousands” in legal fees each time he wants to get a variance from the city.
“You don’t want me to have [the variance] whatsoever. But the end result is the same,” Parisi said to her. “What’s the difference if I have it now, or I have it later? The difference is now I have to spend four grand on lawyers to get the variance.”
Later Parisi, who told the Reporter he had expected the ordinance to pass, said, “There’s no story here. We’re neighbors. We’ll work it out.”
The day after the vote, Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said the city will re-write and re-introduce the measure.
“The administration will reintroduce at the next City Council meeting a revised ordinance for the expansion of Restaurant Row along Newark Avenue to include Little India,” said Healy said. “There are several restaurants in that area and our vision for an expanding Restaurant Row focused primarily on this area. It is our hope that the City Council will see the importance of expanding what has been a successful designation to this area of the city.”
The revised ordinance will be limited to Newark Avenue between Kennedy Boulevard and the Pulasky Skyway, and will exclude the Brightside Tavern.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.