The Bayonne Planning Board has approved a redevelopment plan for an industrial site downtown, despite objections from the redeveloper.
The redevelopment area consists of an abandoned hydrogenation facility formerly operated by Caschem, Inc. for the manufacturing of castor oil. The area is in the Bergen Point section of the city, which is being transformed with new development.
The nearby former Texaco site had its redevelopment plan amended last year to include a major motion-picture studio. Togus Urban Renewal is the redeveloper for the site, which along with the Caschem site, is envisioned as an entertainment district along Bayonne’s western shore.
“We see Caschem as an anchor for the Texaco property that could emerge as an active commercial and recreational community fit for more job opportunities, increased open space, pedestrian plazas, and recreation opportunities along the Newark Bay for residents and visitors alike,” City Planner Suzanne Mack said.
The redevelopment plan divides the Caschem site in two: Sub-district A, or Caschem East, is east of Avenue A and west of the Bayonne Bridge and covers two city blocks between West 3rd and West 2nd Streets; and Sub-district B, or Caschem West- Pier District, is west of Avenue A and narrowly extends to Newark Bay.
In Caschem East, the maximum building height for the area between West 3rd Street and Gertrude Street is four stories. For the area between Gertrude Street and West 2nd Street, it’s three stories. The maximum number of residential units in Caschem East is 156. The maximum building height in Caschem West is three stories, and the maximum number of residential units is 104.
What the developer is allowed to build
Some notable permitted uses in Cachem East include multifamily residential dwellings; retail sales; restaurants; sidewalk cafes provided the sidewalk is a minimum of ten feet; public recreational facilities; offices or shared workspace; live-work space; and mixed use of any combination of any permitted uses, among others.
Meanwhile, key permitted uses in Caschem West include townhouses; restaurants and retail sales along Avenue A frontage; assisted living facilities; aged restricted, senior, and or special needs housing; entertainment venues; movie or performing arts theater; child care and or adult day care center; educational facilities; hotel; conference center; financial institution; off-shore wind cable landing and converter station; ferry terminal; and mixed use of any combination of any permitted uses, among others. For a full list of permitted uses in both districts, go to bayonnenj.org/_Content/pdf/P-20-028-Caschem-Redevelopment-Plan.pdf.
In Caschem West, 30 percent of the redevelopment area must consist of open space, including a waterfront plaza and waterfront walkway constructed by the redeveloper. Development of a pier on the site of the current pier is encouraged, but the development of buildings on the pier will need an amendment to the redevelopment plan.
The Master Plan and Texaco Redevelopment Plan call for the extension of the light rail to the property, according to Mack, “whether that ever happens or not.” The line would run to the west of Avenue A on the Conrail right-of-way. While the property is currently owned by Conrail, the plan still has to consider the existence of it in case it is vacated or acquired by the city in the future.
After consulting the commissioners, Chairwoman Karen Fiermonte said the board would remove educational facilities as a permitted use, which could be be added in the future. Mack said that use would have allowed a technical school or educational program to have something at the site.
Fiermonte required there be percentage caps added for each type of unit in each district, such as how studio units are capped at 20 percent in Caschem East. Mack said that would be added to the plan before it goes to the city council for approval.
In response to resident questions about flooding and storm water management, Mack said the redeveloper will have to follow proper guidelines because the area is a flood zone.
“These areas are right on the water and everything has to be done to meet the standards and regulations of the city’s flood damage prevention ordinance,” Mack said. “As we build new development along the water, we have to be very cognizant that there are special conditions that should be built into these parcels so that we don’t build them and then have flooding.”
In terms of countering rising sea levels, Mack said: “The city, right now, is very actively involved in a project called New Jersey Resiliency, and we’ve been having public meetings… We’re actually going to have a listening tour going out to ask residents about it… It’s not specifically answered in this plan, but we are doing that.”
Attorney Glenn Kienz from Weiner Law Group, representing Jimmy Gamal of the Gamal Group who owns the Caschem site at 35 Avenue A, voiced objections. Gamal intends to construct two residential buildings on the eastern side of Avenue A, and a complex on the western side of Avenue A on the waterfront, potentially including hotel rooms, residential units, a community center and a restaurant.
According to Kienz, the Caschem area has a lot of potential,but is being squandered by the height limitations in the redevelopment plan which he called “unworkable if you want to get real development and you want to get density. It’s also well under the height of the bridge. The bridge is approximately 100 feet.”
Kienz suggested allowing the height of the buildings to rise to just under the height of the bridge: “We’re looking to stay below the bridge, that’s not a problem. All we are looking to do is get it raised up to at least 60 feet.”
According to Kienz, that would be more beneficial to the area than say the townhouses permitted in the plan. He also took issue with the restrictions on balconies and other specifics in the plan, such as the Caschem site being the anchor for the Texaco site. According to Kienz, there has been limited to no discussion with the owners of the Texaco site, Togus Urban Renewal, as to a unified plan between both sites.
Kienz also alleged that the maximum permitted height in the redevelopment plan was reduced at the request of Togus Urban Renewal. He asked that the board change the plan to allow taller buildings.
Mary Strugala, a resident on Avenue A nearby, said that allowing structures taller than three stories would not fit the neighborhood: “It’s mostly just two family homes down there. Going up higher is very concerning for us.”
Commissioners approve anyway
The board unanimously approved the redevelopment plan despite the developer’s requests.
Commissioner Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, who has lived in the nearby neighborhood for years, said the current height in the redevelopment plan fits that part of the city: “Just like Ms. Strugala said, that whole strip of land from the bridge down is nothing but two-family houses.”
According to Ashe-Nadrowski, there is already enough density to support the structure of the neighborhood. She also defended the decision to include townhouses as a permitted use: “Down at the base, those townhouses are flying like cupcakes… That’s what the market seems to demand.”
“Going too high in that neighborhood doesn’t really fit in with what is currently there,” Vice Chairwoman Valado said.
Fiermonte agreed: “This is a shorter, quiet, neighborhood. Some things are moving and changing over there. However, I think the height is good as presented.”
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