The Bayonne Planning Board has approved a controversial redevelopment at the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY).
On Election Day, May 10, the board approved an application by Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal, LLC for preliminary site approval of all three phases and final site approval of the first phase for a portion of what is now known as the “Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor,” with this site specifically called “Bayonne Bay East.”
MOTBY redevelopment becomes election issue
Previously, the applicant had received approval for a final major subdivision at the site, as City Council President and mayoral candidate Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski sought to void the redevelopment deal, re-list the property for sale, and rescind the financial agreement that supports the project.
Ashe-Nadrowski wanted to get a better deal for the land, which she said was agreed to be sold for $35 million but did not close, and the value had since risen to $95 million. However, the rest of the Bayonne City Council, except for Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace, who were running on Mayor James Davis’ ticket in the municipal election, did not agree and the ordinance and resolutions which were on the April agenda of the council failed to get a second on the motion to approve them.
Meanwhile, Davis has defended criticisms from Ashe-Nadrowski that the redeveloper was a subsidiary of Boraie Development and that its Vice President Wasseem Boraie was a friend of Davis who got a “sweetheart deal.” She noted Boraie was a donor to both the Davis campaign for $2,600, and the Government for the People Super PAC created by former state Senator Ray Lesniak to support Davis’ reelection for $25,000, corroborated by reports from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. The donations occurred prior to the planning board hearing on the redevelopment, and this, among other campaign donations throughout the 2022 cycle, sparked talk of pay-to-play and the need for such reforms in Bayonne which all candidates agreed to pass if elected.
Regardless of the political controversy that has developed around the project, following the approval of the major subdivision of the site in April, the planning board opted to carry the rest of the hearing until May 10, despite it being Election Day. Officials said it is typical to hold meetings such as this even amid elections.
The application was presented by attorney Glenn Kienz. Overall, the five-building project will consist of 1,250 units with 10,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space in one building.
An overview of the massive planned project
“The primary objective was to build a walkable, sustainable, new urban neighborhood in Bayonne that had access both visually and physically to the waterfront walkway,” said project architect Ralph Rosenberg. “We want Bayonne to have a mix of housing types with varying sizes and bedroom count, as well as to become really an extension of the lifestyle of Bayonne.”
The buildings planned for the entire project range from 5 to 16 stories. They will be constructed in three phases, with two buildings in the first two phases, and one building and a park in the third phase.
“The full development of Bayonne Bay East represents five residential buildings,” Rosenberg said. “Also to support all of that, there are two, independent, free-standing parking garages.”
The four-story parking garages will hold a total of 788 off-street parking spaces within the two parking structures. Additionally, there will be approximately 97 spaces in surface parking lots.
Rosenberg said that the parking garages will be adorned with “green screens” on them will be constructed throughout the phases of the project. City Planner Suzanne Mack noted this was a good solution to a problem facing a number of redevelopments at MOTBY.
“It really address some of the public’s concerns about five-story blank walls,” said Rosenberg. “It screens both the light of the cars as well as the big voids of the empty walls… It gives each parking garage something that is not so static. It gives each parking garage a life of its own.”
Park and roadway network to be constructed
The park to be constructed in the third phase will abut the waterfront. Pedestrian walkways in lieu of roads will connect Parkside Street and Center Street, and Parkside Street and an unimproved right-of-way to the east of the property line that will be a road in the future.
“We’ve taken the streetscape for both pedestrian and vehicular, and really give it the urban quality we feel is appropriate for Bayonne,” Rosenberg said. “We tried to create a large as possible open green space, without compromising the language of the streetscape.”
The site is currently vacant land. Goldsborough Drive is to the south, although it is referred to as Center Street in the architectural plans, and Baker Company Street is to the west. To the north and east is land under redevelopment, and across Baker Company Street is the Club at Bayonne Bay Apartments, with many still under construction.
Throughout construction of this project, the redeveloper would extend Memorial Boulevard along the north of the entire property. And Constitution Avenue would be extended, but once it crosses over Baker Company Street, it would be known as Parkside Street.
A new street between the buildings in Lots 1 and 2 would run from Memorial Boulevard to Center Street, referred to in the plans as L Street. Another street similar to this would run from Memorial Boulevard but stop at Parkside Street terminating in front of the park, referred to as X Street in the plans.
Project engineer Josh Kline said that final street naming conventions could be changed, to which Mack said that the Historical Preservation Society had some ideas regarding street names that the city council can authorize via resolution.
Phase One gets final site plan approval
Phase One of construction calls for two buildings and a parking structure. All of the buildings in the project may vary in height, but they each have four-story component built into them.
The first building, referred to as Building A, is a 12-story residential tower with 250 units. It would be located between Memorial Boulevard and Parkside Street, and Baker Company Street and L Street.
The parking structure would have four stories of parking and 268 spaces, and surface parking would be constructed too. It would also be constructed in the lot between those streets and behind Building A, and would be surrounded by surface parking spaces. Between Bulding A and Building D, Parkside Street would have on-street parking.
The other is Building D, a 10-story residential with 274 units. It would be located between Parkside Street and Center Street, and Baker Company Street and L Street.
In addition, the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway to the south would be constructed, as well as necessary roadways, sidewalks, and utilities, among other things.
Phases Two and Three get preliminary site plan approval
Phase Two calls for a 12-story building with 267 units known as Building B. It would be located between Memorial Avenue and Parkside Street, and L Street and X Street.
The second phase also proposes a five-story building with 150 units and 10,000 square feet of retail space. Known as Building E, this would be located between Parkside Street and Center Street, and L Street and the proposed park.
Phase Three proposes “the pinnacle of everything” according to Rosenberg, which entails a 16-story residential with 309 units known as Building C. This would be located between Memorial Boulevard and Parkside Street, and X Street and the other land to the east.
A four-story parking structure with 232 spaces would be constructed in the lot between those streets and behind Building C. Additional surface parking, and more roadways and sidewalks, as well as other essential infrastructure would be constructed during these phases.
Unique to the third phase would be the completion of a landscaped park, open to the public. It would be located between Building C and Center Street, and Building E and the other land to the east.
Kline said the project would see the addition to a number of trees that previously weren’t there, specifically in part through the use of a grass road median on Parkside Street that will feature street trees: “We’re going to be bringing more trees into the overall design.”
Other aspects of the redevelopment project
Amenities would be featured in each building, as well as the rooftops, according to Rosenberg.
“We are proposing rooftop amenities, some recreation rooftop activity, for all the residents of all of the buildings that would be further developed based on needs of the market,” Rosenberg said. “Every rooftop would have access for views and recreation both north to New York City and south to the Bayonne Golf Club.”
Additionally, the area will be elevated and a storm water management plan enacted. A traffic study determined there was not any detrimental impact, according to traffic engineer Matthew Seckler.
“The existing condition does not generate anything,” Seckler said. “Now you’ll have these big tax ratables, and new jobs both in construction and permanent jobs to maintain the buildings, as well as vibrant recreational opportunities. Combine that with the neighborhood-scale streets and open space, we have a well-design community that balances on its unique location of being on the water.”
The project experts also agreed the redeveloper would work with city professionals on parking during the phases, as well as any other outstanding notes in their reports on the redevelopment.
Unanimously approved by the board
In closing, Kienz said it was “a great project.” Kline added: “What we have is a great opportunity to improve this area. The existing condition is used a staging area or active construction area.”
Chairwoman Karen Fiermonte noted that applicant would come back for final approval for Phases Two and Three. She said the project would also be subject to the condition of approval suggested by Consulting City Engineer Andrew Raichle regarding the need to ensure adequate parking throughout all phases of the project.
The application was approved 5-0, by Fiermonte, Commissioner George Becker, Commissioner Jack Beiro, Commissioner Michael Quintela, and Commissioner Ahmed Lack. Davis, Davis’ designee on the planning board Ramon Veloz, Ashe-Nadrowski who is the city council’s designee and the board’s Secretary, and Board of Education President and Ashe-Nadrowski running mate Maria Valado, were absent despite sitting on the board themselves.
In the wake of all the controversy, the project was approved in an anti-climactic ending as Davis declared victory on Election Night while Ashe-Nadrowski said it’s still too close to call. Meanwhile, redevelopment continues unabated at MOTBY, which was not included in Davis’ pause on most major redevelopment.
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