Bayonne officials are defending the current pause on most major residential redevelopment despite recent approvals by the Bayonne Planning Board.
The redevelopment pause was initiated by Mayor James Davis in February during his campaign for the 2022 municipal election. Although it was not necessarily a sentiment he expressed in the past, Davis paused most major residential redevelopment, excluding certain areas such as the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) and commercial and industrial redevelopment, pending the completion of a study to determine the impact of the city’s nearly decade-long redevelopment boom.
The pause, which initially included “development projects currently in the pipeline,” also called for the council not to approve financial agreements to support these projects. In July, the City Council passed a resolution authorizing the study on all redevelopment in the city since 2015, although council officials noted that projects currently in the pipeline would be excluded from the halt on redevelopment.
Despite the pause, after months of postponement the Planning Board approved 18-story and six-story buildings as part of the next phase of the Silk Lofts redevelopment with a total of 286 units, as well as the next phase of the Woodmont Bay Club redevelopment for a four-story residential building with 85 units.
Davis had singled out the Silk Lofts project in his pause announcement, however, the project still moved forward without the completion of the much-anticipated redevelopment study.
Members of the City Council defended the pause at its August 25 meeting amid the latest residential planning approvals.
Residents speak out on supposed redevelopment pause
The council also approved resolutions furthering two redevelopments, and beginning the process of another.
One of the resolutions designated Adam Enterprises, LLC as the developer at 1207-1211 Kennedy Boulevard for a seven-story residential building with 42 units to be constructed on two vacant lots, and another resolution designated the Gamal Group, LLC as the developer of the eastern lots of the former Caschem site at 35 Avenue A per the Gamal Group East redevelopment plan.
The other resolution authorized the Planning Board to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether 235 West 1st Street, the current site of White Glove Moving and Storage, constitutes a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment. Former city employee and outspoken resident Gail Godesky questioned how this resolution and the others could be approved amid the pause.
“None of these projects have started as far as I know,” Godesky said. “Even the Silk Lofts. There’s not even a groundbreaking. So I think you need to take these all off… You passed a resolution… There was a study that was supposed to take place. You were halting all development that didn’t get started until the study took place… You’re actually rescinding what you told the people… You were going to count the vacancies, the rents, and everything was going to be halted.. Don’t go back on your word. A recall can be done July 2nd. And I’ll start it.”
“We’ll vote you out, the whole lot of you,” resident Joe Matousek shouted from the audience.
Council addresses redevelopment pause inconsistencies
In response, Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer made a statement claiming that the residential projects were approved by a “prior administration,” an odd reference to the City Council under former City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski.
“These are projects that were previously approved by the prior administration,” Weimmer said. “These projects are not being introduced for the first time now. This was a commitment the city made and approved by the prior administration… I am very anxious as Miss Godesky to receive that study, I do want to see the impact that this development is having on our city. But if it was previously approved, I don’t know… if we have the ability to rescind that. And if that would financially be a good move for the city.”
Godesky pointed out that one of the aforementioned resolutions was a preliminary study to determine if the White Glove property was a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment, the first step in the redevelopment process.
Weimmer responded, “If we have committed or if our prior administration has committed to a project, whether we agree, right or wrong or indifferent, that was a decision that somebody else made.”
Weimmer then called out Ashe-Nadrowski directly, who was in attendance at the council meeting, telling Godesky: “Perhaps you should be having a conversation with the person sitting next to you.”
Ashe-Nadrowski responds to Weimmer’s digs
After the meeting, Ashe-Nadrowski told the Bayonne Community News that Weimmer’s comments about the prior administration were interesting given that the majority of the current council or administration was part of the prior administration.
Only Ashe-Nadrowski and former Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace are no longer on the council, and Davis is still mayor, making the use of the term “prior administration,” usually reserved for different mayoral administrations, somewhat of a cop out.
“She referred to commitments made by the prior administration, which is funny because three people sitting up on that dais with her are part of the prior administration,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “So if she had questions, I guess she could direct it towards them.”
Ashe-Nadrowski also refused to take the blame for the redevelopments, noting she voted no on them since the pause was announced by then-electoral foe Davis.
“Once there was a halt on redevelopment until the study was done, I continuously voted no with the explanation that the study had not been done yet,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “So for a number of those that she referred to, I actually voted no. It’s in the minutes, they can go back and check.”
Commenting on the new resolutions passed by the council in August, Ashe-Nadrowski noted that while some followed previous approvals, one of them was for the first step in the redevelopment process. And regarding prior commitments, Ashe-Nadrowski said that “there’s no such thing as a prior commitment” and “everything is conditional upon approval. If you’re saying it’s pre-decided, then what was the purpose of the public meeting?”
Ashe-Nadrowski concluded: “I wish them well. Good luck to her… If she wants to learn how to do the job, she can call anytime. Because apparently they’re not telling her how the development process works.”
La Pelusa says pause in effect, study not in motion yet
In response to the questions and confusion, La Pelusa told the Bayonne Community News that the redevelopment pause is in fact in effect and that the study of all redevelopment is in the process of being set up. Once it gets going, the study is estimated to take 60 to 90 days to complete.
“We would have to hire the company, so right now we’re getting that done,” La Pelusa said. “Then the company would have to come back to us with the results. And of course we want to let the public know as well what the results are and everything.”
When asked if there would need to be a contract for the study and if it would go out to bid or not, La Pelusa said that depends on the amount of the contract. The council recently raised the minimum threshold of how much a contract needs exceed before being sent out to bid with a Request for Proposals (RFP) to $44,000.
Addressing the Silk Lofts 18-story tower, La Pelusa said the as-of-right application was recently approved by the Planning Board but that the City Council had already voted for the redevelopment plan back in 2021. Now, the discussion pertains to the a payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement supporting the project.
“Now it’s just the financial agreement that will be voted on,” La Pelusa said. “I voted no on this project back when. I was not a fan of the height of this. It changes a lot of different things… But there are good points to these buildings. They fulfill obviously a need for housing, they help the city financially… So there’s good points and bad points to these projects. I thought the bad points would outweigh the good points for the people in that area.”
In response to the resolution authorizing a preliminary study to see if the White Glove property qualifies as areas in need of redevelopment, La Pelusa said this does not mean redevelopment will happen but will just study it to see if it is in need of redevelopment.
A number of industrial redevelopments approved
Amid the residential redevelopment pause, the city is also seeing a slew of industrial redevelopment approvals in recent months. According to City Planner Suzanne Mack, residential redevelopment plans are on pause but some projects that were already before the Planning Board when the pause was enacted are hard to put on hold since the planning process already started and a redevelopment plan approved. This includes the Silk Lofts buildings, which were on the board’s agenda when the pause was announced.
Given that planning officials have said that residential redevelopment plans are on pause, the resolution approved for the White Glove site may be for industrial redevelopment. Regardless, officials swear the redevelopment pause is in effect and the study is in the process of being set up.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.