Jersey City Council tables Morris Canal Manor plans

The Jersey City Council oversaw legislation from the Morris Canal Manor to council member aides. Screenshot via Jersey City TV.

The Jersey City Council’s  Feb. 9 meeting focused on the Morris Canal Manor plan, and ordinances for council aides and the Arts and Culture Trust Fund were adopted.

An ordinance that would have made amendments regarding the Morris Canal Manor was tabled at the meeting, after concerns were brought up over the lack of community input on the plan and how it would affect the area.

The amendments would have laid out the plans for a 17-story residential mixed-use building and community center on 417 Communipaw Ave., the former site of Steel Technologies, which would come with a recreational center, incubators for women or minority-owned businesses, and a public plaza.

The plan, which had been initially introduced in 2020, had been halted by a Hudson County Superior Court judge last August, following a lawsuit by the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation. Judge Anthony D’Elia ruled in favor of the MCCDC and said that the project did not present enough evidence to move forward.

After the court ruling, an amended plan for the project was approved by the city Planning Board in December and sent to the City Council. It passed the first reading 7-2, with Council members James Solomon and Frank Gilmore voting no.

“I don’t think anyone is opposed to any of the community benefits and givebacks, I just think that we have to really, really have the community dialogue,” said Gilmore at the meeting, who has been critical about the project. “At some point, we have to make sure that the community voice is being considered and not just heard.”

Renee Steinhagen, the executive director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center and co-counsel of the aforementioned lawsuit, said that the amendments “were the product of an unlawful paradigm, where there’s a trading off of so-called community benefits for affordability.”

She was critical of the low amount of affordable housing for the project, which was only at 5 percent compared to the city’s new rules of 10-15 percent for new developments.

June Jones, the president of the MCCDC, said that they had a meeting on Tuesday with the developer of the project, Gilmore and Councilwoman Denise Ridley, which she called productive.

She noted that a few of the people in the meeting were community architects, who saw another vision on making the project work without having the 17-story height, which she and other community members were not a fan of.

“The height is really offensive – 17 stories towering over two and three story buildings that exist here is just not right,” she said. “The community doesn’t want it, it changes the whole face and charm of our neighborhood, and there’s an alternative way of having that done.”

Jones urged the council to table the ordinance, noting that the developer is committed to more meetings, and so that they can have time to make an agreement for what’s being built.

Ronald Shaljin of Schumann Hanlon Margulies LLC, who represented the developer at the meeting, said that he wanted to clear some “misconceptions” regarding the court order and the community input.

“Nothing in the amendments there before you tonight are different from the amendments which were passed previously by this council,” he said regarding the project. He also argued that the developers have had a number of community input.

Gilmore put forward a motion to table the ordinance, which succeeded 5-4, with Council members Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera, Denise Ridley and Yousef Saleh voting no.

Other legislation

Other legislation overseen at the meeting were new rules regarding council member aides and their salaries and the city’s Arts and Culture Trust Fund, which were all adopted unanimously.

One ordinance will allow council members to hire more aides as well as increase their salaries. Members can hire either up to four full-time aides or eight part-time aides, and can divide a full-time position into two part-time jobs that will be counted as one for the ordinance’s limit.

The aides’ salaries will also increase, from $22,500 to a range of $15,000-$35,000 for part-time aides, and from $45,000 to a range of $50,000-$85,000 for full-time aides. A new amendment also stipulates that part-time aides will work 15-20 hours a week, and full-time aides will work more than 25 hours a week.

“There’s real limits on what we can do with either one full time or two part time staff members,” said Solomon, who had worked on the ordinance with Watterman. “I think this will really help all of us, and in some ways it should increase the expectations for us and what we can deliver for our residents.”

The purpose of the ordinance is to make the city code consistent with state laws and will match the salary ranges in Newark, with Jersey City’s population nearly equal to Newark’s after the 2020 Census.

A combination of both an ordinance and a resolution passed unanimously adjusts the language regarding the city’s Arts and Culture Trust Fund but does not change it whatsoever.

The fund was created last year following a voter-approved referendum to help finance the city’s art community. This year’s tax levy for the fund was set for $0.0025 per $100 of property value via the resolution, while the ordinance removed the language in the ordinance that made the rate annual.

Budget Director Kyle Greaves said at a caucus meeting on Jan. 24 that the reasoning for changing the ordinance was because the state advised them to set the levy by resolution, so that they can establish the level every year as such rather than going back to amend an ordinance with two readings.

He later said at the Feb. 7 caucus meeting that the rate will generate about $1,023,000  this year, which is based on the current year evaluation of all property that is at $40.9 billion.

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