The Bayonne City Council has tabled an ordinance that would approve the Marist redevelopment plan until its Feb. 16 meeting, following discussion of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s (NJTA) plans to construct a new and wider New Bay Bridge that would impact the Marist property.
Resident Pat Desmond asked why the council is allowing the redevelopment of the property when the NJTA is eyeing the former Marist High School property as necessary to acquire to construct the new Newark Bay Bridge. City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski said she wasn’t sure why the city is moving forward with it.
“I didn’t know about it,” Ashe-Nadrowski said of the NJTA’s plans for the former Marist High School. “Surely some officials knew about it for a while.”
Ashe-Nadrowski, who is running for mayor against Mayor James Davis in the May 10 municipal election, has come out in favor of the bridge project. So has Davis, albeit Ashe-Nadrowski has called for a more proactive approach in the project.
City officials unaware of NJTA’s plans?
Law Director Jay Coffey then interjected that the city was involved in potentially purchasing the property on behalf of the Board of Education before it was found to be too “cost prohibitive” to remove asbestos and other contaminants. The city then exited negotiations with the Marist Brothers, reassigning the purchasing agreement for the property to Peninsula Court, LLC.
Coffey said that the city was unaware that the NJTA was going to seek the former Marist High School as part of the plans for the new Newark Bay Bridge: “I don’t believe we knew that that was the case. I don’t think Marist knew either. We were going through with this transaction for well over a year.”
Coffey added that the NJTA is still only in the planning stages for the new bridge and that it may not come to fruition. Desmond asked if the city was going to pass the redevelopment plan and then have the area built out only to have the NJTA come in and seek the land.
Ashe-Nadrowski said she did not want to do anything to hold up the new bridge project: “This has been in talks for a long time. Given that we all know the importance of the expansion of that Turnpike Bridge or to have a Turnpike Bridge that is not under construction constantly for those people like myself who travel out of town to work and have to go over that bridge because you have to go west. We don’t have mass transit that goes in that direction. It’s important and I wouldn’t want to see this delayed in any way.”
NJTA can still seize property
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa said that even if the city approved a redevelopment plan, it didn’t mean that the NJTA couldn’t come and take the property through eminent domain.
In response, Desmond said: “If you know that they’re coming to use eminent domain and you put a redevelopment plan out there and redevelop property, the developer is going to make more money on the property. That’s common sense.”
When La Pelusa questioned the relation to the topic at hand, Desmond alleged “that becomes a crime.”
“You’re telling me nobody knew this was going to happen?” Desmond said. “Somebody knew this was going on. And somebody is making a lot of money on this and it’s not the taxpayers of Bayonne. This don’t pass the smell test.”
Officials fired back that they were unaware of the NJTA’s intentions to acquire the Marist property.
“I didn’t know this was going on,” La Pelusa said.
“Why would we have pursued the purchase of Marist if we knew that was the case?” Coffey said. “Why would we expend a year of our time and spend $100,000 dollars?”
Desmond reiterated some of his aforementioned claims and asked the council to table the ordinance.
Redeveloper favors approving plan
John Stolz from the law firm of Lowenstien Sandler, who is representing the property owner, addressed the council in favor of the redevelopment plan.
“Our client 1241 JFK Boulevard, LLC, formerly known as Peninsula Court, LLC, they are the owner of this property,” Stols said. “Marist High School has been closed since 2020. Since that point in time, the site has fallen into severe neglect and disrepair.”
Following the school’s closure, both the city council and planning board have designated the site as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment, and a redevelopment plan has been drawn up for the redevelopment area. The redevelopment plan was introduced at the council’s December meeting before it was up for a public hearing and vote in January.
“In the intervening weeks, both the city and our client discovered that the Turnpike Authority expressed some interest in acquiring the Marist property in connection with the Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension project,” Stolz said. “Notwithstanding that this was discovered in the press to everyone’s surprise, the goal this evening is to simply reaffirm our client’s commitment to the Marist project, and remind the council that it’s still important to proceed with the anticipated redevelopment of the Marist site.”
Stolz said it’s unclear when or if the Turnpike Authority will actually proceed with the project and what the scope of that project will be. He said that his client has not received any notification from the Turnpike Authority “as to any potential condemnation.”
“When properties are conceptually identified in the press as possible future use for condemnation or for some sort of roadway expansion, it should not be forced to lie fallow and should not become unproductive and fall into further disrepair or in further neglect as the Turnpike Authority spends the next several years trying to figure out a path forward,” Stolz said. “To do that would only exacerbate the very conditions which led this council to declare the area in need of redevelopment in the first place… Our client has already spent a significant amount of money to acquire this site and they’re prepared to move forward on the redevelopment without any delay.”
Stolz said the redeveloper is in the final stages of environmental and asbestos mitigation, preparing the building for demolition. He said that 1241 JFK Boulevard, LLC is actively preparing an application for final site plan review before the planning board.
Council postpones vote
In response to the situation with Marist, Ashe-Nadrowski said she reached out to the NJTA “to understand what their vision is and their timetable” regarding the project. While she works on meeting with them, Ashe-Nadrowski asked the council to postpone adopting the ordinance for a month until that could happen.
La Pelusa was okay with waiting, but wanted to put a timetable on it to prevent the site from sitting in limbo for too long. Marist is located in the Third Ward which La Pelusa represents.
“I’ve had several issues with things being dumped on the lawn, things being dumped on the sidewalk,” La Pelusa said. “I don’t want to see this just go to waste. And it’s not a matter of who gets the property, who gains money. I don’t have an interest in this school. So if we want to table it, that’s fine by me. But I don’t want to see this go for a year or two. We had redevelopment plans fall through before.”
First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll said the site is going to be redeveloped regardless, but didn’t mind postponing the vote: “That roadway is one of, if not the main artery in and out of this town. It’s important that it get completed in a way that’s going to benefit the city of Bayonne at the moment. I don’t see how one issue impacts the other, but I don’t mind waiting to get more information and get educated on the matter.”
The council closed the public hearing but voted unanimously to postpone a final vote on the ordinance until its February meeting. The Bayonne City Council will meet next on Feb. 16 in the council chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C. Residents can attend in person or remotely. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org and click on the link on the calendar webpage.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.