Who do our elected officials really represent?

typewriter

Dear Editor:

Senator, Sandra Bolden Cunningham
Assemblywoman, Angela McKnight
Councilwoman, Joyce Waterman
Councilwoman, Denise Ridley

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Dear Ladies, My Sistah’s:

I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing you all, but I’d like to take this opportunity to re-introduce myself to you and share with you my journey as an activist, in the community.

My name is June Jones, and I was born and raised in Jersey City. I have been a community activist in my neighborhood in the Morris Canal Redevelopment Area, located in the Lafayette section of Ward F, for more than 35 years. Whenever something adversely affects our community, we organize, plan and take action to improve the outcomes. We are not always successful, but we put forth our best efforts. I co-founded the Lafayette Neighborhood Association (LNA) and the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation (MCCDC), Both organizations started out as a community neighborhood groups. However, MCCDC evolved into a 501c3 missioned to be a catalyst for economic and community development and become the vessel of change we were advocating for to empower residents to preserve a legacy that continues to build upon generational wealth through entrepreneurship and home ownership.

Through advocacy and dedication, our organization worked with the city planning department to create the Morris Canal Redevelopment plan and amidst the process, our participation was a key factor that enabled Jersey City to be awarded a total of $10,000,000 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Pilot Program that the JCRA won in 1997 to acquire and remediate several sites in the Lafayette / Morris Canal area. The program guidelines dictated that MCCDC select these sites for investigation, remediation & development, 3 for which MCCDC was designated in 2003 to re-develop. These 3 sites were:100 Monitor Street; 317-319 Pacific Avenue; and 408-422 Communipaw Avenue.

With the assistance of Commissioner William O’Dea as our pro bono consultant, who wrote our Request for Proposal (RFP) and the JCRA who evaluated each RFP Candidate on responsiveness and capacity, Landmark Developers was selected to become our for -profit partners in this scattered site development.

Landmarks inability to perform under the MCI, Operating Agreement established to facilitate the development of the 3 sites, along with pressure from JCRA, prompted MCCDC to move to dissolve its relationship with Landmark in 2016 Landmark Developers got 100 Monitor Street and MCCDC ended up with the substantially less valuable site, 408-422 Communipaw and a compensatory monetary settlement. The settlement enabled Morris Canal to absorb some of its debt obligations from its independent development of 317-319 Pacific Avenue, which provides 8 Affordable units for families, and because of Glen Cunningham, serves as the organization’s current headquarters. The settlement also enabled MCCDC to fuel the planning and development its ownership project on Communipaw Avenue, despite opposition from the City in favor of rentals. Our Communipaw Crossing (CCX) is designed to be a 46-unit housing project with 1,2,3, & 4 bedroom condominiums for ownership, with ground floor retail, investment vehicles needed in our community. More importantly CCX will empower its residents for this generation and the next. This project will launch marginalized families into the economic mainstream of Jersey City’s thriving real estate market.

MCCDC’s plan to develop 408-420 Communipaw Avenue is a solid one. Our team of professionals consists of locally based businesses with expertise in development and have insured that we have complied with all the mandates under the RDA within our control to this point.

The JCRA and the City have made roadblocks causing delay after delay. First, after we assembled a team, began our Phase 1 and environmental sitework, commissioned site plan drawings and submitted for site plan approval, we discover that the City “inadvertently” sells a parcel of the land at a city auction. After waiting for 8 months for them to negotiate it back, we decided to redesign the project without sold parcel, just so we could move forward. In 2018, we received site plan approval for the modified design within a couple of months. The JCRA finally repurchased the property and opting to give buyers the best, we resubmitted our plans and received a 2nd site plan approval in 2019, based on our original plan design in 2017! Aside from money, it cost us time. Amidst this situation, the purchase price of the land rose from a nominal fee to 950K, the JCRA did not resolve an open DEP issue involving an oil spill created from JCRA’s removal of a UST tank. Besides these delays, there were other issues pertaining to the finalization of the RDA agreement and getting our 2.1MM award restructured and deposited with the construction lender to finance the deal. The lack of cooperation to meet bank underwriting requirements led to our partnership with New Jersey Community Capital. The ultimate stumbling block was thrown by JCRA when they decided to redo the environmental work completed by our professionals, this took another year and propelled us right into the Pandemic. Even though JCRA ‘s environmental findings were consistent with ours, one of the tanks along the street was sealed with cement before the test results came back causing a 2nd DEP issue! Why would an experienced redevelopment agency do such a thing! And, then put the responsibility for remedying this intentional costly snafu for this non-profit. Eventually in late 2020, with no resolution, NJCC Capital bowed out of the deal with their $1MM, leaving us to find a partner during these turbulent times. We not only found 1 partner we found 2. Both were rejected by the JCRA, leading to our termination

MCCDC maintains this was a vicious and capricious decision to discredit the organization so the project could be given to others. Our progression with CCX has been purposely mischaracterized. We have documented facts that support our claims. All delays have been created by the JCRA, not MCCDC. JCRA’s Executive Director has construed a false narrative for you to believe in order to justify the termination resolution to de-designate Morris Canal CDC on February 15, 2022, at the JCRA’s Board meeting. This is what disparity looks like!

We sent our elected officials nearly 4,200 letters, documenting the facts, expecting the majority among you to at least inquire or raise questions about what took place, Councilman Frank Gilmore, was the only one to reach out to offer his support after investigating the facts. Not one of you as seasoned officials showed care or support. The mockery of being terminated during Black History Month without just cause should be a slap in the face to all people of consciousness in the year 2022. Furthermore, in March during Woman’s Month, MCCDC would expect that the only remaining nonprofit development organization led by a woman of color in Jersey City would be supported by the female public officials representing the constituents of Jersey City. This month we should be uplifting, supporting and empowering women on a mission for progressive economic change for our communities. The change that put you in office can only be sustained by challenging the systems of institutionalized racism and disparity while you have the power and supporting local leaders that are change agents.

If you care and I believe you do! I respectfully request that you reach out to me, investigate the assertions and do not allow Morris Canal CDC’s accomplishments be tainted and discredited with mistruths, just because the system can.

June Jones
Executive Director
Morris Canal Community Development Corporation