Residents are questioning a proposed development near Berry Lane Park after the developer and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson held a roughly three-hour virtual community meeting to showcase the proposal.
Skyline Development Group wants to construct a building of roughly 17 stories called Morris Canal Manor with 361 rental units on Woodward St. near Communipaw Ave., a historically industrial area.
In exchange, the developer would provide various community givebacks, including 40 free public parking spaces, one acre of public open space, a new STEM Recreation Center, a Minority Business Enterprise Success Incubator and Micro Plaza (MBE), and 18 affordable housing units.
The proposed development would be constructed on about three acres of land on the current Steel Tech property.
The residential building on the western portion of the site would be 17 stories, then steps down to 11 stories, and again to eight stories.
A three-story parking deck with its entrance and exit on Woodward St. would include 334 parking spaces, 40 of which would be free to the public.
The recreation center and MBE would sit on either end of the residential building with roughly one acre of public green space in front of it.
The proposed Fredrick Douglass STEM-Recreation Center would be two stories tall and about 22,000 square feet.
It would be constructed along the northern border of Berry Lane Park to the south of the residential building near the baseball field for more than $5.5 million by the developer.
It would include state-of-the-art classrooms; computer labs; and music, art, and dance studios. The fitness area will include a rock-climbing wall, elliptical and weight rooms, sauna, and concession area.
The recreation center building and land it sits on would be deeded over to the city.
The MBE would be constructed along Communipaw Ave. on the opposite side of the residential building, and house 10 businesses.
Eight of these businesses, each at about 800 to 1,000 square feet, would be affordable and reserved for minority business owners at a reduced rent which could be as low as $7 per square foot.
The neighboring Steel Technologies Building to the MBE’s east would be potentially transformed into a fine-dining eatery.
“The overall project will help revitalize Ward F at no cost to Jersey City taxpayers,” Robinson said. “This community giveback is a game changer for Ward F. The development supports minority business owners, creates additional green space, and most important, provides a place for learning and development for youth and families through the STEM and recreational center.”
In August, he commissioned an online survey which showed that 82 percent of the nearly 250 respondents felt Ward F was left behind in the revitalization of Jersey City, and the need for both youth recreational centers and affordable housing was a top priority for community givebacks from developers.
Council President Joyce Watterman and Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley supported the plan as did Hudson County Freeholder Jerry Walker in a press release from the developer.
“We have to be vigilant about both responsible design concepts and community givebacks,” Ridley said. “We are accomplishing both with the Skyline Steel Technologies project. We should be seeking to duplicate this type of community reinvestment approach on other sites around Jersey City.”
Walker called the project a “big win” for the community, citing the recreation center and noting that the development would help increase property values.
“Providing our kids and their families with a STEM Recreation Center is what good government is really about,” said Watterman.
“I love the concept and name of the Rec Center,” said Raven Smith-Parris in the chat room of the virtual meeting. “Our youth need to know their history.”
Other members of the public said 18 affordable housing units amounted to only about five percent of the total units, and the development was too large for the neighborhood.
“How does a 17-story building fit with the character of the neighborhood?” asked one resident. “That’s a bad precedent that now makes 17 stories an acceptable height for new developments. This will greatly accelerate gentrification and push even more people out of the neighborhood.”
“A STEM/ Rec Center is a great idea, but it will need ongoing funding to keep it up in running, or it’s just an empty building,” said William Wychakinas.
Robinson said he would look to create a recreation fund, similar to the city’s open space trust fund to help fund programming as well as work with the Liberty Science Center to collaborate on the STEM programming.