New buildings, green pastures
Residential development, open space projects surge around county
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Mar 10, 2013 | 9573 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
URBAN BEACH – When the LeFrak Organization unveiled the final phase of its two-decade long Newport project in April, the Newport Green park was the central focus, signaling a rise in the importance of parks and open space to residential development around Hudson County.
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The past year has been a special one for Hudson County developers, especially the firms that have focused their efforts on luxury residential development. Luxury high-rises are popping up in the few remaining untouched pockets of downtown Jersey City and north Hoboken, while on the other side of the county, Secaucus is seeing major residential growth thanks to several new apartment and condominium complexes.

After years of debate, North Bergen recently approved a luxury complex on its Guttenberg border, and Weehawken’s waterfront continues to surge.

And while the rapid growth of new residential real estate is something Hudson County residents have gotten used to over the past decade, a new trend is emerging: Developers and municipalities alike are embracing open space as a crucial component to a citizen’s quality of life, with parks being unveiled, renovated and revolutionized throughout the county.

Jersey City

Several projects are spouting in Jersey City that include open space as a key component.

Last April, famed developer Richard LeFrak unveiled the final phase of his Newport project in Jersey City, indicating the culmination of one of the most successful urban developments in recent history. The final phase of the project, on the waterfront near the Hoboken border, is to be made up of seven apartment high-rises and one or two office towers on a pier. The first of the seven residential buildings is already being built.

In a New York Times article, Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University, praised the feat as “extraordinary.”

“It’s getting harder and harder to do something this big,” he said. “But this is the right kind of dense, transit-oriented development.”

And the fact that urban dwellers crave open spaces and the opportunities they allow for has not escaped The LeFrak Organization’s engineers.

At the center of the final phase is Newport Green, a 4.5 acre park at the center of a cluster of high-rises on a large swath of land just south of the Hoboken border. The park, which opened last spring, is notable for its sloping lawns on the Hudson riverfront, its urban beach and its playground, all of which are open to area residents year round. Of course, the park will be a welcomed component of recreational life in Newport, which already boasts a skating rink.

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“Smart growth projects like this give residents what they are looking for.” – Robert Menendez

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But LeFrak isn’t the only developer who continues to make a name in downtown Jersey City. While he focuses on building anew and developing previously untapped properties, Paul and Eric Silverman have long directed their attention to revitalizing existing neighborhoods. They are credited with the leading the renaissance of the Hamilton Park neighborhood and the restoration of the Majestic Theatre near the Grove Street PATH station.

The brothers were a subject of a Jersey City Magazine article in 2011, and described the renaissance they have witnessed throughout the city over the course of the past three decades.

While they described the nineties as a period of slow growth, the past decade has been nothing but progress for residential development. Paul described the possibilities for the downtown area as endless.

“Our slogan, ‘Building Neighborhoods,’ says it really well,” he said. “We’re very holistic developers.”

And so they are.

Already responsible for developing the JC Lofts, Hamilton Square, Majestic Theatre Condominiums and the Schroeder Lofts, the brothers announced in 2012 plans for a new 7-story development will be located on the corner of Grove Street and Montgomery Street, and in addition to luxury apartments on the upper floors will contain retail space on the ground floor and office space on the second floor. The project will break ground this year.

Furthermore, Silverman has already broken ground on another building on Ninth Street, also near Hamilton Park, which will house 25 apartment units and the Scandinavian School of Jersey City.

“When we’re building a building, it’s more than just the physical building. We like to think we’re building a relationship with the community,” Paul said.

And while LeFrak and the Silvermans are certainly the deans of Downtown, they are not alone in capitalizing on the available real estate the area has to offer. Less than a mile from Newport, on the corner of Jersey Avenue and 18th Street, the 155-unit Cast Iron Lofts opened in February, and is being marketed as the first step towards the development of a new neighborhood known as SoHo West.

The project is being built by City Home and Gardens, a group that previously constructed several luxury complexes in Hoboken and Jersey City such as The Courtyard at Jefferson and The Cliffs in Jersey City. The building has many features, such as a large courtyard picnic area, dog run and dog washing station, bocce court, indoor parking, shuttle service to PATH stations and 24-hour concierge service.

And while the downtown waterfront may be the future of Jersey City, the Journal Square neighborhood just across town is on the cusp of a renaissance after two high-rises were approved by the city’s zoning board in December.

Only a week apart, the City Council and Planning Board approved plans for two separate residential high-rise apartment complexes, including the long-discussed Journal Squared (J2). With 112 floors between them, the projects are expected to break ground in 2013.

The projects will be a symbol of redevelopment of the long-beleaguered neighborhood, once the city’s economic epicenter.

A divided council approved a controversial measure to allow the construction of a 42-story residential development near Summit Avenue, an amended version of the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan. It will allow the developer to add 17 more stories than zoning laws allow. In return for granting the variance, the city will receive slightly under an acre of land for a municipal park.

Originally designed as a three tower complex, the revised Journal Squared development will be one cohesive building holding 540 apartments, 36,000 square feet of retail space and 920 parking spaces. Part of the plan, developed by the KRE Group, will include a pedestrian community space similar to Grove Plaza at the Grove Street PATH station.

In August, the administration of Mayor Jerramiah Healy announced major plans for a new park in the Morris Canal neighborhood, at 1000 Garfield Ave. Berry Lane Park, as the project is being called, is, at 17 acres, slated to be the city’s largest municipal park in one of its most densely populated areas.

“Recreation is vital to the quality of life and has been a focal point of my administration,” said Healy in his recent State of the City address.

Hoboken

The mile-square city is more popular than ever, and developers are scrambling to accommodate the new residents with new housing and new parks.

With NJ Transit and City Hall offering up different visions for the transit agency’s 52-acre rail yard south of Observer Highway, focus has shifted to the industrial north end of town.

Last month, the city released a study that identified several properties in the neighborhood as potentially in need of redevelopment, the first step in a long process that could possibly end in the area being re-zoned to allow for large-scale projects. The next step in this process is the Planning Board’s vote on the city’s proposal.

In recent weeks, the Park on Park garage located between 14th and 15th streets was demolished in spectacular fashion, prompting many to wonder what will replace it. Bijou Properties, a development company owned by local magnate Larry Bijou, announced plans for 1415 Park Place, a 12-story, 212-unit residential and commercial unit building for 2014.

The Rockefeller Group also owns quite a bit of northern property under the name Park Willow LLC, including the former Stahl Soap factory, a former Enterprise Rental Car location, Burlington Coat Factory, Riverfront Car Wash, and other sections of Willow and Park Avenues. In 2010, officials indicated that Rockefeller Group had plans that included an office tower somewhere in the vicinity of 40 stories, but no formal proposals have been submitted.

Elsewhere in Hoboken, developers came before the zoning board in the summer to request variances that would include leveling around 10 existing structures near Jackson Street and Observer Highway in the southwest corner of the city. The proposed development would contain 280 residential units, 7,000 square feet of community space, 3,000 sq. ft. of open space, a large indoor plaza, a parking garage, 3,000 sq. ft. of office space, and roughly 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

The city is also renovating parks and working on new ones. In April, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner joined Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer to cut the ribbon on the new Hudson River Walkway Pavilion at Park Avenue and 15th Street, where the two municipalities meet.

Funded by a combination of Open Space Trust funds provided by the County Board of Freeholders and federal grants, the 600 foot section of walkway connects two independent walkways in Weehawken and Hoboken, filling in another piece of the puzzle that is the ongoing plan to run a walkway from the base of the Bayonne Bridge all the way to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee.

The walkway also borders 1600 Park Avenue, the location of a future park in Hoboken also funded by the County’s Open Trust Fund. Zimmer said the walkway complements that project.

Secaucus

If Jersey City and Hoboken have long been the golden children of development in Hudson County, then Secaucus is the unsung hero. The town, which formerly was almost entirely industrial, has seen a renaissance in recent years, piquing the interest of development giants such as Hartz Mountain Industries and Roseland Properties.

Xchange at Secaucus Junction, a residential and commercial site that opened as a counterpart to the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station, expanded in 2012. In March, the site’s developers, Atlantic Realty Development Corporation, announced Phase III and IV of their plan, which will include a marina on the Hackensack River waterfront with restaurants, stores, and a recreation center.

Phase III of Xchange, which holds 317 residential units, opened on April 1, and construction began on Phase IV over the summer.

Over the summer, Roseland Properties and Hartz Mountain Industries made big splashes in Secaucus. In July, Hartz Mountain announced plans for a massive 500-unit rental development on a 13-acre tract owned by ORICA Rug, a commercial business. In June, Roseland opened Osprey Cover, a 116-unit residential complex on Meadowlands Parkway, which was awarded a silver award for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Osprey Cove, which is situated along the shore of the Meadowlands estuary preserve, incorporates several green design schemes. These included the use of recycled materials where possible and the installation of motion sensors on light fixtures of hallways and elevators. Additionally, each of the units was furnished with energy-efficient appliances.

But Hartz Mountain isn’t the only one in Secaucus thinking about the environment. Even beyond the new green-friendly developments, in the last year Secaucus underwent the development and restoration of several parks, and did it in such a manner that hardly cost taxpayers anything.

As part of its revitalization of both residential and open spaces, both Buchmuller Park, which encompasses the Little League Field, and Smit Memorial Park are undergoing construction.

Smit Memorial, which sits in a snug residential corner along Radio Avenue, had a number of new dinosaur-themed playground features installed, including a small Tyrannosaurus Rex slide.

Weehawken

In August, Weehawken officials and representatives from the developer Lennar Urban broke ground on the first of five luxury residential buildings dubbed “The Avenue Collection.” Four years in the planning, the $50 million, seven-story building will house 74 one, two and three-bedroom units costing an average of $1.4 million each.

Once all five buildings are finished, the area will be home to 669 glass-built condos. The revolutionary design is a noted departure from the area’s traditional wooden and brick look.

“We are in the middle of somewhat of a building boom,” said Mayor Richard Turner at the ceremony. “The future looks very bright for Weehawken.”

Weehawken’s seniors are getting a boost as well, with a new 28-unit affordable senior housing facility on 48th Street and Park Avenue to complement the township’s existing senior home on Potter Place across town. Officials broke ground for the new facility last March and it is expected to be completed by late spring. The building will be built on the former site of the Park Avenue Hotel.

In addition to the aforementioned walkway connecting Weehawken and Hoboken, two of the township’s major open space projects were announced in the last year.

When the American Legion knocked down its old building on 49th Street and Boulevard East last year, its agreement with the township was that their new, smaller building would be built on the township’s tab, and the township would receive the rest of the land so they can build a park.

American Legion Park, or “Old Glory Park II” as it will be known colloquially due to its proximity to Old Glory Park just across the street, was set to be completed by the end of 2012, but construction was sidelined when Hurricane Sandy hit in November. It is slated to be completed this spring.

The other major recreation development was the announcement that the township’s long-planned Pier B restoration project secured the necessary funding it needed in order to break ground on the project in May. A final boost of $500,000 from the county Board of Freeholders was paired with $2.5 million in grants from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection secured the project’s go-ahead. The pier will complement the township’s existing waterfront park, which consists of ballfields and playgrounds.

West New York

In densely populated West New York, much of the year was dominated by the debate over a proposed 13-story luxury high rise on the corner of Boulevard East and 67th Street.

The Le Meridia Boulevard, a Miami Beach style high rise, was approved by the town’s zoning board in December, after residents clashed with out-of-town developer Capodagli Properties over a long list of variances. The proposed building would hold 123 rental units.

Following the vote, it seemed as if things in West New York had calmed, but just recently citizens have raised concerns about a similar proposal just down the boulevard at Monitor Place.

North Bergen/Guttenberg

As in West New York, North Bergen and Guttenberg also spent the past year locked in contention over residential development. Drama continued to surround the proposed 59-unit Appleview condominium development on the North Bergen/Guttenberg border throughout 2012, but the project was approved by the city’s Planning Board in February of 2013. Much of the controversy was focused on a natural gas pipeline on the site of the proposed development.

It will be built at 7009 and 7101 River Road, just below the Palisade Cliffs.

Meanwhile, a residential development called AvalonBay opened its doors in June, with 164 residential units and 17,000 square feet of retail space, creating additional jobs for North Bergen.

Although U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez was unable to attend the grand opening, he sent a staff member to relay this message: “Smart growth projects like this give residents what they are looking for: Easy access to work and to world class restaurants, entertainment and shopping on both sides of the river.”

North Bergen and Guttenberg also announced the creation of a waterfront park on River Road shared by both towns, which, like Weehawken’s pier, will be funded partially through the county freeholder’s Open Space Trust Fund. The majority of the money will come from two New Jersey Green Acres Grants totaling $928,000, a New Jersey Green Acres Loan in the amount of $572,000, two Hudson County Open Space Grants in the amount of $1,011,146, and $338,853 in reimbursement funds.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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