In a reversal from two weeks ago, the Jersey City Planning Board has voted to approve the Exchange Place redesign and ruled that the overall plans are consistent with the city’s Master Plan.
The change in the board’s decision comes as the Exchange Place Alliance is looking to redesign the plaza, and after the board unanimously voted not to recommend the designs at their previous meeting on April 26.
The concerns from the board at the time came from the potential obstruction of the Katyn Memorial, where it’s proposed to have a semi-circular bench on the west side of the statue. A number of residents, including those from the Polish American community, had voiced their opposition to it’s obstruction.
The statue commemorates the 1940 massacre of more than 22,000 Polish soldiers and prisoners of war by the Soviet Union, and was planned for relocation four years ago to make way for renovations in the plaza until being called off following a backlash to the plan.
At the board’s meeting last night, Donald Pepe, who spoke on behalf of the Exchange Place Alliance, had filed a motion to reconsider, according to board counsel Santo Alampi, and that Pepe was not asking to present any other evidence or testimony.
“My point was I think that a lot of the vote that took place at the last hearing was related to design elements, specifically related to the Katyn Monument, and didn’t really get to the heart of the issue, which was [if] the plan [was] consistent with the Master Plan for Jersey City,” said Pepe.
Alampi later explained that the plan was under a Section 31 review, meaning that it’s a courtesy review on whether or not the plan was consistent, and that the applicants can go ahead with their plans no matter what the board says.
Chairman Christopher Langston, who had voted for not recommending the redesigns at the previous meeting, said that his comments back then “may be more appropriate for a site plan review rather than a Section 31 review.”
He later said that while he did have some reservations about some of the design elements, he said that the park does comply with the Master Plan. “Maybe I led the board astray with my design element concerns at the last hearing,” he said.
“I hope that your clients will look at the comments that were made by the public and adjust them, but my vote is aye for this project,” added Commissioner Joey Torres.
The board voted 5-0 to recommend the redesigns, with Council President Joyce Watterman recusing herself, as she is the City Council representative on the Exchange Place Alliance.
“We appreciate the Planning Board’s serious consideration and resulting clarification,” said EPA Executive Director Elizabeth Cain in a statement. “We are very excited to move forward with Exchange Place Plaza which will add greater vibrancy to the waterfront and become a community hub.”
Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that the vote is “great news and will be a much-improved park for all of Jersey City as it will make Exchange Place a more aesthetic and beautiful public space.”
“The plaza will significantly improve residents’ and visitors’ experience along the waterfront while making infrastructure updates and creating public space designed to safely host large community events,” she said.