Jersey City Council okays Exchange Place Alliance SID budget

They also gave their approval to three retail cannabis dispensaries

The Jersey City Council at their July 13 meeting at Jersey City Hall. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Jersey City Council approved the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District’s budget, and approved three retail cannabis applicants putting them one step closer to opening, at its July 13 meeting.

Exchange Place Alliance SID budget

The council voted to introduce and approve the budget despite objections from the public, concerned about the fate of the historic Katyn Memorial as improvements are made to the Exchange Place Pedestrian Plaza.

The proposed $9,752,000 budget, which was approved by the Exchange Place Alliance’s Board of Directors on June 13, notably includes $5,500,000 for “capital improvements” for the plaza. According to a memorandum attached to the resolution for the budget, the Alliance is seeking to use the budget to complete the Exchange Place Plaza renovation project.

The redesign plans proposed by the Exchange Place Alliance include a new service road and pedestrian plaza, but the most contentious part includes adding a semi-circular bench and greenery in front of the memorial.

The Katyn Memorial commemorates the 1940 massacre of more than 22,000 Polish soldiers and prisoners of war by the Soviet Union. It had been planned for relocation in 2018 to make way for renovations in the plaza, but it was called off following a backlash to the plan.

The city’s Planning Board had initially voted against recommending the designs a few months ago, but reversed their decision after the Exchange Place Alliance sought an appeal. A number of people, including those from the Polish American community, have spoken against the bench as a potential obstruction that detracts from the memorial.

The opposition towards the renovations continued at the council meeting, with a number of people speaking out against it during public comment. John Czop, the Director of Policy Planning at the Polish American Congress, was one of those that spoke.

“Please do not perpetrate the second cover up of the Katyn forest massacre,” he said. “The first coverup was perpetrated by Joseph Stalin, who blamed the murder of 25,000 Polish prisoners of war on Nazi Germany. So masking the Katyn monument will in effect conceal this crime without punishment yet again.”

Polish American Congress Director of Public Policy John Czop was one of the number of people that spoke out against the Exchange Place Plaza redesigns. Photo by Mark Koosau.

Resident Jeanne Daly, who is suing the Exchange Place Alliance and the Planning Board over their approval of the designs, accused the Alliance of “violating our laws and our procedures.”

“What kind of deal making is going on here?” she exclaimed. “This is all illegal, all of it, and I get nothing from the City Council.”

Exchange Place Alliance Executive Director Elizabeth Cain said during public comment that they and the board have “the utmost respect” for the Katyn Memorial, and that they worked “very, very hard over three years” to develop their plan. “You’ll see that it’s really highlighting the statue and all the beautiful things at the waterfront,” she said.

The council voted 6-0-2 to approve the budget, with Council President Joyce Watterman (who is the City Council representative on the Alliance) and Councilman Rich Boggiano abstaining, and Councilman Daniel Rivera absent from the meeting that night.

The resolution states that following the approval of the budget, the City Clerk must schedule a public hearing on the budget within 28 days of the resolution before being finally adopted by the City Council.

Cain declined to comment on the public’s comments when asked by the Hudson Reporter after the meeting and directed questions to a press spokesperson. She later said in an email statement that the EPA “applaud[s] the council’s budget action last night.”

“The Exchange Place Alliance will continue to provide important programming for our neighborhood,” she said. “The budget includes funding for the plaza renovation, which will be a wonderful change for community residents who overwhelmingly support the project.”

Cannabis applicants receive council approval

Jersey City became one step closer to becoming greener with the council voting to give their support for three retail cannabis stores seeking to set up dispensaries in the city.

The three applicants that were approved include Blossom Dispensary at 746-748 Tonnelle Avenue in the Heights, MMD NJ at 655 Newark Avenue in Journal Square, and WR Wellness at 150 Bay Street in Downtown. All three had received prior approval from the Planning Board and the Cannabis Control Board.

Once the applicants receive state approval, they must go back to the city’s cannabis board for final approval. After they do, one of the three could become the very first legalized retail cannabis store to open in Jersey City.

Hugh Giordano, a union representative for UFCW Local 152, spoke in support of MMD NJ and WR Wellness, saying that the two had signed labor peace agreements with UFCW. “What does that mean?” he said. “That means good jobs, good wages, health care, dental, vision, prescription, retirement. These workers will also most likely come into this industry well trained.”

Resident Laura Moss, who lives in the Hilltop neighborhood of Journal Square, said that MMD had met with the community to ask about the neighborhood and how to operate their business, to which she said she was “really refreshed” that they did so compared to other interest groups.

“Am I naive enough to think there’s not going to be issues down the line? No,” she said. “But I am heartened by somebody who came in and said ‘we want to make your neighborhood better, how do we do that?’ instead of ‘we’re coming, it’s going to be better, you’ll see’.”

Resident Andres Lorenz, who lives in the Powerhouse Arts District where WR Wellness could be, was on the other hand opposed to the aforementioned applicant, saying that he was concerned about burglaries near a dispensary and the proximity of daycare centers nearby.

“Unlike Laura Moss, who spoke earlier at Hilltop neighborhood, we were not asked by WR Wellness what we, we the residents and the business owners, think of them opening a shop in our building,” he said. “The safety and well being of our neighborhood and community is a matter of extreme importance to me and my family, as well as my business, which is also across the street from this dispensary.”

The council voted 7-0-1 to approve the three dispensaries, with Boggiano abstaining from all three votes.

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.