The original Caschem redevelopment plan is no more, and a new redevelopment plan for the eastern side of the site has been moved forward, according to City Planner Suzanne Mack. The clarification comes after the plans were changed at the December meeting of the Bayonne City Council.
An ordinance regarding the plan for the property at 35 Avenue A, which had been approved by the Planning Board in September, was introduced at the council’s November meeting and was slated for a public hearing and vote at the December meeting.
Previously it had been tabled by the council because the redeveloper voiced objections and was seeking the council’s approval of an alternate plan.
Nevertheless, the original redevelopment plan came up for a public hearing before the city council. Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski moved to open the hearing since members of the public were there to speak on it, but no other members of the council seconded the motion, without explanation.
New plan permits taller buildings
Then near the close of the meeting the council voted 3-0 to introduce an ordinance for a new redevelopment plan for a portion of the site. Ashe-Nadrowski abstained from voting as part of a protest against the add-on items not disclosed to the public on the meeting’s agenda and Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace was absent.
That handling of the slated public hearing for the original redevelopment plan has since led to a lawsuit seeking a hearing for the original plan in January before the council takes any action on the new plan.
At the December council meeting, Special Redevelopment Counsel John Wyciskala said the new plan was drawn up in early December and encompassed only part of the original redevelopment area dealing with two lots on the east side.
A maximum height of three and four stories that were allowed on the lots under the initial redevelopment plan and the original ordinance. But Wyciskala said the new redevelopment plan was prepared on Dec. 8, provides for a mix of residential and commercial uses, and increases the maximum allowable height to six stories or 75 feet.
The changes in the plan are in line with suggestions from the redeveloper when the original plan was before the planning board for approval. The Gamal Group had previously sought to increase the permitted height for buildings on the two lots on the east side of Avenue A, abutting the Bayonne Bridge.
Wyciskala said the new plans will be referred to the planning board for review and comments before returning to the council for a public hearing and vote in January.
‘Gamal Group East’
In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Mack confirmed the new plan drawn up in early December was for the eastern part of the site: “It’s called Gamal Group East and it only handles the east side. The project is on both sides of Avenue A. The plan that the council asked to be prepared, to substitute the earlier one which was both sides, is just the east side.”
This applies to two properties on the east side of Avenue A, between 2nd Street and 3rd Street and intersected by Gertrude Street.
“It’s capped at six stories,” Mack said of the new plan. “Buildings can’t go any higher than that.”
While redevelopment plans are normally authorized by the council, then drawn up by the City Planner, and approved by the planning board before returning to the council for approval, Mack said that is not always the case.
“Normally we go and we get an authorization from the council to create a plan,” Mack said. “Then I prepare a plan and we have it before the planning board. Then we take it to the council for first reading. The following month is the public hearing and the second reading. That’s one way of presenting plans, and that’s the way we do it like 90 percent of the time. But you can introduce the plan at the council, you don’t have to do it at the planning board. You can actually go to the council and then have the council refer it back to the planning board. We’ve done that in the past when there’s been a timing issue. You save a month.”
However, this time there will not be a typical public hearing held during the presentations of redevelopment plans before the planning board. Instead, the new plan will be reviewed by the board to make sure it is consistent with the city’s Master Plan.
“It would come to the planning office, somebody would have to say if it’s consistent with the master plan, and then that finding has to be presented at a planning board meeting,” Mack said. “Then they would have to vote on it.”
While it may not necessarily entail a public hearing before the planning board, the new redevelopment plan will be up for a public hearing before the city council in January. The public will still have an opportunity to comment, but this is potentially one less opportunity than what would have been afforded the public through the traditional way.
“In January will be the second reading, so that’s when the public hearing is for this plan,” Mack said. “If it gets approved by the planning board, it would be the second reading.”
According to Mack, new plans for the rest of the site to the west of Avenue A haven’t been drawn up yet.
Complimenting Texaco site plans
Despite having a redevelopment plan essentially thrown away, Mack said it isn’t any less ideal because the owners of the former Texaco site, Togus Urban Renewal, have nearly completed site plans.
“It makes some sense in some ways now that Togus has their site plan,” Mack said. “They have their conceptual site plan done and they’re moving towards getting it to the city.”
Mack said it will be easier to write a more compatible redevelopment plan for the western half of the Caschem site now that it is clear what exactly Togus would be seeking to construct as part of the film studio on the former Texaco site.
However, Mack said that considering the size of the Texaco site, any plans would take anywhere from two to three months to review. She estimates further action to be taken on Togus’s plans around April or May.
“If we do go back and do a Caschem plan for the western side, what uses we would put there that would be complementary to Togus’s plans,” Mack said. “Last summer, we thought they would fit a lot of stuff like hotels and that into the Texaco site. They did not. They’re using it primarily for the studios, which makes it very interesting.”
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