Residents, religious leaders, and civic activists clashed at a public hearing on June 20 over the city’s plan to issue bonds to buy a 95-acre parcel of land along Route 440 from Honeywell International.
The city hopes to become the master developer so it can require developers to build up to 1,400 desperately-needed affordable housing units on the site.
The city has struggled to require developers to build more than the minimum legal requirement for affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
Diana Jeffrey, of the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority, said the plan could generate as many as 4,100 total units, 33 percent that could be affordable housing.
The project could allow city workers, police, firefighters, and other blue collar workers to live in Jersey City rather than being priced out by high rents.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who represents that portion of Jersey City, said failure of the city to acquire the property could lead to a very long delay in development. He suggested that the city establish a community advisory board, saying issues such as traffic will also need to be addressed.
City would need to bond for purchase
The buildout of the entire property would take at least 20 years because the city will be required to construct roads, water and sewer lines, and other infrastructure.
The city has proposed to bond for $180 million, with $105 million to purchase the portion of the property Honeywell International currently owns. The rest would be used to build infrastructure. Honeywell owns about 70 percent of the property and has indicated that it wants to sell it by the end of the year. The city owns the remaining 30 percent.
Those commenting on the project fell into three categories: those who objected to the city’s bonding, those who support the project because of the need for affordable housing, and – the vast majority – residents of Society Hill, who oppose the project’s affordable housing component and other impacts they say could be negative.
“This is bold step, a game changer.” – Rev. Dr. Willard W. C. Ashley, Sr.
Pros and cons
Religious leaders, many of whom were involved in a class action lawsuit to force Honeywell International to clean up the chromium contamination on the 100-acre site, celebrated the project as a godsend to working people who are being priced out of the city.
Rev. Dr. Willard W. C. Ashley, Sr., pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church, called many of the objections a case of “not in my neighborhood.”
Many residents from the nearby gated communities protested against the development while trying not to disparage the need for affordable housing in the city.
Some appeared to confuse affordable and workforce development with public housing, which is run and federally subsidized by government agencies rather than developers.
Busy area already
Some were concerned about the negative impact on property values by “dumping” a massive amount of affordable housing in one place. Some said the quality of life in an area is already under significant stress. Route 440 is already a parking lot during rush hour, impacted not just by residential cars but a flood of trucks going into and out of the nearby Global shipping terminals.
The area, these objectors note, has a significant lack of public transportation. While the county and state hope to have the Hudson Bergen Light Rail extended to Route 440 from its current terminus on West Side Avenue, this project has yet to get funding, which means any development will require people who live there to have cars.
Some residents also expressed frustration with the fact that although they are a luxury residential area, they receive many fewer city services than their counterparts downtown and along the Hudson River waterfront.
Local public schools serving Society Hill have not received many of the same upgrades as schools in other parts of the city. This has forced a number of parents to send their kids to private schools.
James Symes, an architect and resident of Society Hill, said the proposal was “a step back” from what was originally proposed and will further isolate Society Hill from the rest of Jersey City.
“You can’t put all low- and middle-income housing in one neighborhood,” he said, comparing this to segregation.
The city cannot require affordable housing beyond the bare minimum on projects unless these projects require a tax abatement, and city officials believe the Honeywell project provides the best opportunity to mandate a number of units beyond what could be allowed elsewhere in the city.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.