Here’s a recap of highlights from the most recent Bayonne City Council meeting. Advocate Edward “Lefty” Grimes demanded swift action enforcing wheelchair accessibility where it’s required throughout the city. A redevelopment plan for the now-defunct Our Lady of Assumption Church was adopted. And a contractor was selected for the planned Newark Bay waterfront walkway.
Advocate demands action on wheelchair accessibility
During the public comment portion of the Sept. 25 meeting, East Hanover resident Edward “Lefty” Grimes voiced disdain over a number of commercial buildings in the city that lack wheelchair accessibility. It’s not the first time he’s come to city hall to do so.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, persons with disabilities must have equal opportunity to access a number of spaces.
Those spaces include all government agencies, any business that relies on the general public or works for their benefit, any privately run company that has 15 or more employees, and any nonprofit organization that either has 15 or more employees, or operates for the benefit of the general public.
In 2010 it was stipulated that older buildings usually cannot be “grandfathered” as they exist if they’re out of compliance. All barriers to anyone with a disability must be removed if such removal is “readily achievable.”
The U.S. Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing ADA compliance. It does so based on complaints that are filed with the agency.
Grimes has posted several videos online in which he takes wheelchair tours of Bayonne, his former home town, to point out commercial properties and public spaces that fall under ADA jurisdiction but are not accessible.
He demonstrates that, in many cases, those properties can’t be entered by someone in a wheelchair.
Often, he confronts property owners, and he has had only limited success in pushing business owners to buy portable ramps or install permanent ones.
“I’ve been [to city hall] four times at least, and nothing has been done about the wheelchair access in this town,” Grimes said at the meeting. “I’m shocked to have seen what I’ve seen. I found two places last year that still have no access, and since then, I’ve found plenty of new places that have no access.”
Grimes called for city officials to report ADA violations to the Department of Labor.
He flagged a number of businesses as inaccessible, some of which were recently built or renovated.
“The times that I fight with people are the times in which things get done,” Grimes said. “I got 14 ramps by being a jerk. When I ask people nicely, they smile and lie to me.”
“A step is a wall [for people with disabilities],” Grimes said. “You guys need to do something about this. You have people with all kinds of disabilities here, and you need to put them first.”
Here’s what’s coming for a former Catholic church
The council unanimously adopted a redevelopment plan for the site that once served as the Our Lady of Assumption Church and School.
The school and church ceased operations and were sold by the Newark Archdiocese in 2016, and have stood vacant since. The parish was in operation for more than a century, and, according to numerous police reports, the only use the site has seen in recent years has been for vandalism.
At a prior Bayonne Planning Board meeting, consulting planner Malvika Apte gave a synopsis of the redevelopment plan for the 2.12-acre site.
It’s likely that the current school building won’t be torn down but rather renovated and converted to townhouse units. The site will have to comply with affordable housing requirements.
The church itself will likely be taken down by a developer.
Bayonne resident Mark Rubino said that he has concerns regarding stormwater drainage at the site. As a nearby resident, he said that he and his neighbors have been experiencing flooding.
Any flooding concerns will have to be addressed at a later planning board hearing, Councilman Sal Gullace said. Nearby residents will receive written notice of when that hearing will be held.
The development calls for sustainable design standards, including a green roof, that come close to meeting full LEED certification.
The city also adopted an “area in need of redevelopment” study for a property at 1207-1211 Kennedy Boulevard. The site currently consists of an abandoned three-story apartment complex and an adjacent house.
Should the city later use that study to declare the “area in need of redevelopment,” it can create a redevelopment plan that provides incentives to developers in exchange for building something else on the property. Another option, which would be less likely for a single lot on John F. Kennedy Boulevard, would be eminent domain condemnation.
Step taken on western waterfront walkway
Officials also awarded a contract to Persistent Construction, Inc. for the Newark Bay Waterfront Access Project Veteran’s Park. The company submitted a bid to pave a waterfront walkway along the western edge of the city that will span a stretch from Rutkowski Park to 1st Street.
In 2017, Bayonne received $1 million from the DEP to add the waterfront walkway, as a result of a controversial $225 million settlement Exxon paid the DEP to remediate its industrial contamination of waterways and wetlands in Bayonne and a refinery on the border of Linden and Elizabeth.
While there are roadblocks to creating public access to the Hudson River waterfront in Bayonne, the Newark Bay waterfront is seen as a bastion for developing public space in years ahead.