Bayonne zoning hearing on art gallery set for September

The application for the gallery will be heard at that meeting or dismissed, officials said

Two matters before the Bayonne Zoning Board of Adjustment, one involving the zoning of an art gallery and another regarding the prohibition of commercial vehicles in a parking lot, are set to be heard in September.

At the July 18 meeting of the board, two commissioners also resigned. Their letters were read aloud by Board Attorney Richard Campisano.

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Two commissioners bid adieu

Campisano noted that, in a letter to the board, Commissioner Ryan Blake resigned “with regret” but was “grateful for the opportunity.” Commissioner Ehab “Jimmy” Gamal resigned from the board via email without comment.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank the two previous board members who are just leaving the board,” Chairman Clifford Adams said. “We thank them for their participation and service here.”

Also at the July meeting, an application was dismissed by the board for lack of prosecution by Margaret Sweeney for a zoning matter at 855-859 Kennedy Boulevard. It was dismissed without prejudice, allowing the applicant to refile if they get their application together.

Another application on the board’s agenda requesting an appeal of the Zoning Officer’s decision that the use of a commercial parking facility is strictly limited to automobiles and does not include parking of commercial vehicles such as trucks, tractor trailers, and automobile transporters, was postponed. The applicant is The L Group for the property located at New Hook Road and East 22nd Street, represented by attorney Matthew Posada.

In a letter to the board, Posada asked for an adjournment until September. There was no reason listed, and the applicant does not need to give new notice to the neighbors regarding the hearing. The board voted unanimously to postpone that hearing until its September 19 meeting at 6 p.m.

Art gallery in limbo?

Another application, this one regarding the Dollhaus II art gallery at 23 Cottage Street, was postponed from the July meeting until September as well. Gallery owner and art curator Emma Louise is seeking a Certificate of Non-Conformity from the board pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law to allow for the continued use of the property as a commercial gallery.

The city took issue with the zoning of the property, claiming it was not applicable for its current use after citing the gallery’s signature pink mannequins attached to the storefront as improper signage. Faced with threats of being shut down permanently if she did not obtain a land use permit and land use variance, Emma Louise sought to address the issues with the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

In the meantime, Emma Louise sought help to cover the high cost of the application and other related fees through a GoFundMe fundraiser. She eventually raised much of the money that Dollhaus II needed, and an application was submitted before the board to address the issue.

The application first appeared on the board’s agenda in January of this year. However, there has not been any movement since, with the application being adjourned to the next meeting by the board, time after time.

The final adjournment

In an e-mail to the board, attorney Paul Weeks asked for an adjournment from the July meeting to the August meeting, according to Campisano. The agenda for the meeting also noted this communication to the board.

While Weeks sought an adjournment until August, Campisano recommended the board carry it until September because the board has a “very full calendar in August and something would end up getting dumped as a result of that.” He also said that the application had been adjourned around six or seven times, at the request of Weeks.

“It was originally filed on September 30, 2021,” Campisano said. “The first hearing date was January 24, 2022, but it was not heard because all meetings were adjourned because of a COVID flare up. At that point, it then was carried to February 28, which he adjourned to April 14, 2022, which he adjourned to May 16, 2022, which was adjourned to June 17, also adjourned to this evening, which was also again adjourned. I’m going to suggest to this board that if they are to carry this matter, that we may get a try or dismiss date for the September meeting, which is September 19. So Mr. Weeks, we’ll have to either move the case forward or we dismiss with prejudice.”

The board then voted unanimously to postpone the hearing until September 19 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org. Because it was postponed, it will not have to be noticed to neighbors.

“Use it or lose it,” Adams said after the postponement.

Gallery ready for hearing

While the board is pinning the hold up on Dollhaus II and their attorney, the art gallery disputed that version of events. In response, Emma Louise said that Dollhaus II “has never stopped a hearing” and has been ready.

Emma Louise also argued that Cottage Street is an “active commercial street with a lot going on from 6:30 a.m. until midnight,” and that she was baffled by needing a Certificate of Non Conformity. She added that the gallery has limited hours and is a quiet business: “Even our openings are the usual wine and cheese ‘look at art’ civilized affairs.”

“The fact is Cottage Street is a 70 percent commercial street with one bar and restaurant, another food establishment, a huge industrial awning business on either side of the gallery, and some construction businesses,” Emma Louise said. “23 Cottage Street has been commercial since 1960!  We don’t have loud parties, we have never caused a problem and we know all the neighbors and they love what we do.”

Emma Louise continued, highlighting the fantastical shows that the Dollhaus II continues to put on in Bayonne, even after the ordeal began: “We have single handedly brought hundreds of people to Bayonne and put Bayonne on the map as a place that has interesting art. We have showcased well known artists and served as a platform for many local artists who didn’t have a space to show their creations. People get excited when we host a new show and travel far and wide and spend their money here in the local businesses in this wonderful peninsula. Some have moved here. There are many artists in Bayonne that we have met and we have had a 98 percent fully supported welcomed art gallery. And now we are the only ones.”

Outsider art hub on the brink

According to Emma Louise, Dollhaus II is running out of money to support the application process.

“We can’t fight this forever and we are running out of funds to actually go through this process of going through the city board to keep us here,” Emma Louise said. “We have built our roots here and put 100 percent into our gallery and do not make hundreds of thousands of dollars. We sell affordable art for people who want to have beautiful things on their walls. We are a little gallery and we don’t make money.”

However, Emma Louise remains hopeful that the board will allow the gallery to continue to operate from its home on Cottage Street and keep its signature pink mannequins.

“We hope that the outcome of Dollhaus II stays here in our home and beloved Bayonne, providing this platform for people who make art and who are interested in art,” Emma Louise said. “Let’s not keep the peninsula insular! With all the new buildings and condos that are going up here and where everyone financially benefits, our little gallery serves the tastes of the new world as well as the old and we have a saying here at Dollhaus II ‘If it comes from Bayonne bring it home!’ The old saying was ‘If it is from Bayonne leave it alone!'”

The Dollhaus II is poised to be the last art gallery in Bayonne with the closing of The Bridge Art Gallery on July 23, meaning there may be deep implications for the local art scene if the gallery is not allowed to continue operating at its current location due to the zoning issues.

“We hope that the whole board can come over here to see what a wonderful magical platform we have here and enjoy one of our openings like many of the residents of Bayonne have,” Emma Louise said. “We hope it all works out. We would hate to close down and move somewhere else.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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