Residents questioned a proposed 17-story development near Berry Lane Park at the Dec. 2 Jersey City Council meeting after the council voted to approve redevelopment plan amendments on first reading, which would make way for the project.
The Morris Canal Manor project, proposed by Skyline Development Group, would include 361 rental units on Woodward St. near Communipaw Ave., a historically industrial area, as well as 40 free public parking spaces, one acre of public open space, a new Recreation Center, a Minority Business Enterprise Success Incubator and Micro Plaza (MBE), and 18 affordable housing units.
Residents voiced a myriad of concerns, stating the project was inconsistent for the neighborhood, and the lack of public input.
“The project is not acceptable to the neighborhood,” said John Frohling, citing the development’s proposed height, adding “Overwhelmingly, the neighbored rejects this project.”
Morris Canal Community Development Corporation President June Jones said the corporation has been largely ignored and left out of the process. This, despite the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan, originally adopted in 1999, specifically stating that it and other neighborhood associations should be consulted.
Resident Uche Akpa echoed the sentiment.
“The main community leaders got ignored for two years,” he said. “There’s multiple red flags. Only certain people got sit-down meetings.”
Other residents took umbrage with a recent planning board meeting in which the board approved the amendments for council consideration, noting that public speakers were capped, leaving some unable to comment on the amendments and proposed project.
“It is customary that the public is granted the opportunity to speak,” said Mangelin Rivera, adding that the cap could be in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
Resident Jerome Choice said that the property where the development would be built was originally planned for Berry Lane Park, and the community was not made aware of the fact that it was no longer being considered as public open space.
According to a memo from the JCRA, the privately-owned property was at one time pursued as park space, but negotiations fell apart, and the JCRA and city decided not to move forward with acquiring the land through eminent domain.
“The Steel Technologies site was never part of the original plans for Berry Lane Park. It was an ‘add on,’ meaning, it would be nice if the City could acquire it, but not necessary,” states the Sept. 29 memo to the council president and planning board chair.
CEO of Skyline Development Group Lou Mont said there have been six public meetings to get public feedback, noting, “We have taken almost two years to design and resign our project at 417 Communipaw.”
He said he has been working with Councilman Jermain Robinson, who represents Ward F where the project would be built, adding the various community benefits the project now includes amount to millions of dollars.
The amendments, if adopted on second reading by the council at a future meeting, would create the Berry Lane Park North Zone near the corner of Communipaw Avenue and Woodward Street “to encourage a denser pattern of development where housing is within proximity to public park space and a light rail station. To create easily accessible community facilities adjacent to a public park.”
Only Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro opposed the amendment, questioning the community givebacks proposed by the developer, including the affordable housing component.
“The five percent affordable housing requirement … is insufficient given the sort of density and increases that we’re potentially granting with this amendment,” Lavarro said. “Jersey City deserves more than five percent for the kind of density and additional profit we’re providing for the developer.”
Lavarro said affordable units would begin at $1,348 a month for a studio at 80 percent API, which he contended is not in fact affordable.
“If this should move forward, there should be more affordable housing … That’s a slap in the face and an insult to Jersey City,” he said.
Lavarro questioned the other community givebacks, noting that a recreation facility does not include funding for programs that he would like to see addressed.
As for the business incubator, he said the affordable rents would remain affordable for only 10 years, and he would like to see that extended, calling 10 years “far too low” and “frankly a slap in the face to Jersey City.”