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What’s the plan for the condemned houses on Manhattan Ave. and Mountain Rd.?

For nearly a decade, residents have been petitioning for improvements to the area

Even from ground level, there are views of the New York City skyline.

According to a survey conducted by SmartAsset that used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Union City is the easiest place to sell a home in New Jersey. The average time a home spends on the market, from listing to sale, is 36.6 days, according to Census data collected over a five-year period.

While about a dozen homes on a stretch of Manhattan Avenue and Mountain Road have been in poor condition and completely vacated, residents feel that, by now, something should have been done about the boarded-up, low-rise residential buildings that have been languishing in the neighborhood for well over a decade.

One of the buildings experienced a structural fire. Little is left beyond a burned-out exterior.

The houses sit on the Palisade Cliff with panoramic views of the New York City skyline, making this site an investment gem.

Several residents have complained at municipal meetings, which led to the city deeming the area as “in need of redevelopment.”

The homes on the 3.34-acre property are currently owned by one party, Sky Pointe LLC. According to prior public notices, it’s seeking to build a high-rise residential development, with a public park.

Lucrative spot is languishing

It’s unclear why the developer hasn’t leveled any of the condemned houses. It could be that they’re waiting until an agreement with the city is reached before beginning construction.

The planning board has adopted a resolution recommending that the Board of Commissioners designate the area as a “non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment.” This designation will allow the area, which is zoned for mid-rise residential buildings, to be used for more lucrative high-rise apartments.

Most of the houses are in violation of the city’s building code, according to a 2009 redevelopment report written by City Planner David Spatz.

Spatz wrote that the properties have defective utility connections and mold problems.

Spatz also wrote that “vagrants and vandals who continue to illegally trespass, damage the building and parcel, engage in illicit drug use, and engage in verbal altercations with one another.”

A few dozen residents created an online petition a few years ago demanding that the city use its policing powers authorized in the Union City Code to demolish the buildings.

The city isn’t obligated to demolish condemned homes unless there is an imminent risk of the structures collapsing.

“Vagrants may live there, animals may dwell there, one building is a burned out shell,” the petition reads. “They present an unsafe hazard to the health and well being of our neighborhood.”

Petitioners cited concerns that the vacant housing is also detrimental to property values in the area.

Could change be coming soon?

A public notice was issued on the city’s website which indicated that a community meeting was going to be held regarding Sky Pointe’s plans for the property on July 18, according to Jared Kofsky, a reporter at Jersey Digs, a real estate website.

A subsequent notice was issued on July 17 to announce that the meeting was cancelled. Shortly thereafter, the public notice was no longer available on the city’s website.

Kofsky reported that the notice revealed a plan that may call for 99 residential units in a variety of sizes.

Kofsky reported that the notice indicated the developer would be dedicating an 8,500-square-foot public park to the city, including an “expansive viewing platform from the Palisades cliffs providing views of the Hudson River.”

It’s currently unclear if any of the units are designated as “affordable housing.”

There aren’t any upcoming meeting agendas posted yet that indicate whether the Board of Commissioners will be voting on a redevelopment plan in the near future.

All aspects of Sky Pointe’s construction are subject to change, and are largely unknown since the city hasn’t entered into any developer’s agreements or redevelopment plans for the site.

At press time, Mayor Brian Stack had not responded to email requests seeking comment.

In past meetings Stack said that the city has no intention of entering into a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement if the city does sign a contract with the developer.

“I can guarantee you that the City of Union City will not be subsidizing a private developer, nor has any tax abatement been given,” Stack said in a Board of Commissioners meeting a few years ago. “Under my administration there’s been no long-term tax abatements given in 15 years.”

Stack said that the only abatements he’s given are for a five-year construction period, in which developers pay 20 percent of their taxes the first year, 40 percent the next year, and so on until a developer pays the full property taxes five years after breaking ground.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.

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