Victory for JC artist housing
Court says developer must comply with 2004 agreement
by Ricardo Kaulessar
Reporter Staff Writer
Feb 15, 2009 | 1427 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COURT SAYS SEVEN UNITS – The New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a recent court decision forcing a developer to include seven work/live artists units in the 11-story luxury residence known as Washington Commons, located at 311 Washington St. in Jersey City.
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While several developers want to build in Jersey City’s budding “Powerhouse Arts District” downtown, they don’t always want to comply with restrictions for height and affordable housing, activists say.

Some developers have even sued to compel Jersey City to place their projects in special sub-districts to protect them from the Powerhouse Arts District’s stipulations.

However, not all of the developers’ suits have been successful.

Recently, the New Jersey Appellate Court upheld a trial court decision allowing the city to force a development company to include seven units of affordable housing for artists in their 11-story, 68-unit luxury residence known as Washington Commons, at 311 Washington St.

The building is two blocks away from the old Hudson and Manhattan Powerhouse, an electrical building that is the focus of a new community in downtown Jersey City. The Powerhouse Arts District is an 11-block area that stretches east to west from Marin Blvd. to Washington Blvd., and north to south from Second Street to Bay Street. In 2004, the district was officially designated for redevelopment by the city, and is slated to include 10 percent affordable housing, particularly for artists.

In the recent lawsuit, Washington Commons, LLC, challenged its obligation to set aside the seven units as artist “work/live” units and convey them to the city for $1 each.

However, as the trial court and then the Appellate Division ruled, in 2004, the Jersey City Board of Adjustments approved the developer’s site plan and granted several variances partially based on a promise of affordable units for artists.

“This decision is a victory for the city and its artists.” – Mayor Jerramiah Healy

Those units were considered by the Board of Adjustment to be “inherently beneficial” to the community, and the developer promised to convey them to the city for $1 each, the courts said.

“This decision is a victory for the city and its artists,” said Mayor Jerramiah Healy last week. “Not only is it a top priority of my administration to promote the development of affordable housing, but it is also critical that we foster opportunities for artists to live, work and prosper in Jersey City.”

In the suit, the builder also had demanded payment for the units, claiming they were valued at more than $400,000 each.

Supreme Court may be next stop

According to a published report, the developer is now planning to contest the Appellate Court decision in state Supreme Court. The lawyer for the developer, James Serritella, could not be reached for further comment.

Usually, when private units are designated as work/live spaces for artists, the city holds a lottery drawing to select the artists, then sells the units to the artists at below market rate.

So far, the city has done that with 21 units scattered in three residential buildings also located in the Powerhouse Arts District.

Sets a precedent

Kathryn Klanderman, a Jersey City artist who was formerly the president of the local arts organization Pro Arts, knows something about the Washington Commons situation.

Klanderman in 2004 testified in front of the Jersey City Board of Adjustment when the developer of Washington Commons came before the board to get variances approved for the project. The document for the Jan. 22 Appellate Court decision shows Klanderman commending the developer for setting aside the seven units.

Klanderman last week said she was “flabbergasted” that the developer would challenge their obligation to provide the seven units when they were fully aware of their obligation.

Klanderman also said the seven units will help keep artists in the city, but lamented that developers are trying to build in the Powerhouse Arts District without being bound by its stipulations, such as setting aside artist units and complying with a height restriction.

Developers such as Toll Brothers, with their proposed three-tower project spanning Warren and Bay Streets, and Lloyd Goldman, with 111 First St., have sued to be placed in subdistricts with different rules.

Litigation by the Powerhouse Arts District Neighborhood Association is currently pending to force the city to compel Toll Brothers to comply with the Powerhouse Arts District zoning.

“The doors have already opened for Washington Commons to put up this sort of opposition,” Klanderman said.

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