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Bayonne Planning Board adopts redevelopment plan for former Seahorse Express property

The building will be demolished and likely replaced with another warehouse use

The current state of the former Seahorse Express property. Image via the redevelopment plan.

The Bayonne Planning Board has adopted a redevelopment plan for the former Seahorse Express property in Bayonne, now that the City Council has introduced an ordinance to authorize the plan. Both took action at their respective December meetings.

The site is located at 69-73 LeFante Way, in the Constable Hook industrial area of the city.

In the works for some time

In February, the City Council passed a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to conduct a redevelopment study of the area. The site was designated an area in need of redevelopment by the board in June, followed by the council that same month. At the same time, the City Council directed the Planning Board to draw up a redevelopment plan.

In July, the City Council introduced an ordinance that would have referred a redevelopment plan to the Planning Board for a consistency review with the Master Plan. The ordinance would have also authorized the adoption of the plan by the council after the review by the board.

The proposal was initially slated for a consistency review with the city’s Master Plan before the Planning Board on August 9. After that, the City Council was set to adopt an ordinance approving the redevelopment plan on August 17.

However, the plan was put on hold at the Planning Board meeting at the request of City Planner Suzanne Mack. She said that since the plan had been noticed to the public, some “responsible parties in the area” raised points that the administration had previously not considered and asked it be adjourned.

The Planning Board adjourned it, and following that, the City Council had postponed the public hearing and adoption of the ordinance in August, September, October, and November. The board had to conduct the consistency review before the council could give its stamp of approval.

In November, Mack told the Bayonne Community News that there were many changes made to the redevelopment plan since the ordinance was introduced, so it was reintroduced in December as a redevelopment plan before the Planning Board.

Mack said the intention was for the site to remain industrial in nature. It is located in an industrial area being in Constable Hook, surrounded by other industrial uses, as well as the South Cove Commons shopping center and the Bayonne Golf Club.

Objectors’ concerns heard and changes incorporated by city

According to Mack, the delay was the result of two objections from the Alessi Organization that owns the shopping center and another from the Bayonne Golf Club. They took issue with aspects of the redevelopment plan, and thus, the city sat down with them to work it out.

Mack said the golf course had some existing agreements regarding views and easements, and had asked their planners and lawyers get involved. The city coordinated with them, as well as the Alessi Organization, to resolve any issues.

Regarding the Alessi Organization, Mack noted they were more concerned about traffic. Also operating on LeFante Way, they were concerned where vehicles would enter the site from, which was determined not to be on that street but Avenue J.

In addition, there were a number of other minor changes, involving where the air conditioning units would go on the top of the building and how much noise it would make, and whether or not a blank wall would face the golf course, among others.

Another, perhaps more major change, was the permitted building height. It was 80 feet in the initial plan, but Mack said that after consultation with the golf course, the height was reduced to 50 feet to preserve views.

The 6.42 acre site is currently home to a two-story building formerly occupied by Seahorse Express, a business that specialized in heavy machinery and transport for many years, and the property has been vacant for approximately 10 years.

The redevelopment plan intends to revitalize this vacant underutilized industrial site and reverse its ongoing stagnation.

Redevelopment occurring in Constable Hook

The site to the west is the South Cove Commons shopping center, to the north is the Bayonne Golf Club, and to the south and east are other industrial properties. Some surrounding “desolate” and “derelict” industrial sites and other neighboring areas are also seeing revitalization, akin to what is being proposed at this site.

A new warehouse facility is under construction at the Delta Self-Storage site across LeFante Way, another new warehouse is planned on the adjacent lot at the Accem Warehouse at 63 Hook Road, and warehouse renovations have been approved for Royal Wine at 63 LeFante Way, according to the redevelopment plan. The South Cove Commons shopping center is also currently undergoing renovations and is the subject of an “ambitious redevelopment plan,” according to the redevelopment plan.

The former Seahorse Express site is zoned for heavy industry, as well as some light industrial uses, and will remain that way under the redevelopment plan. In fact, the redevelopers have already made clear their intentions, with attorney for the redeveloper Michael Miceli previously telling the City Council in June that they want to build a new warehouse on the property.

“They want to knock this building down. It’s really dilapidated… We’re getting to the redevelopment plan stage… This will be a nice new facility,” Miceli said, confirming the site would likely be redeveloped into an industrial warehouse.

The owners had been trying to better the property, working to remediate the contaminated brownfield land with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, according to Mack. The site was badly flooded during Superstorm Sandy and other storms, with the former Seahorse Express building suffering damage that is “financially infeasible” to repair. Additionally, the flooding also unearthed contaminants in the soil, making remediation necessary.

Mack previously said the site could only be further remediated and redeveloped with a redevelopment designation.

City Planner presents new redevelopment plan

At the December meeting of the Planning Board, Mack noted how this project evolve from a consistency review presented to the council first to this new redevelopment plan presented to the board.

“It was originally presented at City Council. Then it was going to be heard here as a consistency review,” Mack said. “However, after the City Council meeting, there were some community concerns and some input from adjoining neighbors, particularly the South Cove Development Corp., which is the Shopping Center, which is just to the west of this site, and also the golf club. So it was decided by the administration and the developer of the property, that we would work with the neighbors. And we did for a few months to come up with what I believe is a very acceptable and very nice plan.”

Mack noted how the project and others similar to it were advancing amid the pause on most residential redevelopment pending the completion of a study on the already constructed buildings in the city, although some residential projects did move forward during the pause due to prior planning approvals which officials defended. Previously, the council approved a resolution and contemplated another to advance redevelopment at the Constable Hook industrial area.

“We have taken a brief pause on residential development while we’re doing the absorption rate study for the city,” Mack said. “But we are very anxious to move ahead with the industrial properties within the city.”

Mack said the site is now owned by Link Logistics, LLC. She said they worked diligently with the city to adjust the plan based on the neighbors’ requests.

“Link was very progressive in working with the golf course, their next door neighbor, in order to come up with a compatible plan,” Mack said. “The Link organization has really worked hard to make this property economically viable but still understanding the need to have an environmentally friendly appreciation of the resource of the Golf Club being right adjacent to it.”

Mack said the site is located in the I-H Heavy Industrial Zone. As such, the new redevelopment plan contemplates permitted uses for a speculative warehouse, which means a tenant hasn’t been identified yet.

Permitted and accessory uses in the plan

Mack said uses include those for warehouse, wholesale, flex, research labs, utilities, streets, rail crossings, data centers, equipment sales and services, green infrastructure, interim uses and also recreation on the site that would be for the employees, not for the general public.

In addition to those uses, accessory uses would be a guard house, outdoor storage, business offices, parking area, fitness centers for employees, showrooms, silos, liquid bulk storage, signage, landscaping, utilities, electric vehicle charging stations, weight scales, refuse, bike racks, green roofs, and wireless communications.

Bulk regulations would ensure the property is a minimum lot size of two acres and a maximum height of 50 feet. The height permitted is a decrease of 80 feet allowed in the previous proposed redevelopment plan after negotiations with the Golf Club.

“They felt that 50 feet would be more appropriate, so it’s not overhanging the golf course,” Mack said. “Because they have to raise the elevation to 19.5, the actual site could be 69.5 feet and that is acceptable to all parties.”

The warehouse is only 50 feet from the golf course on one side, Mack said. That prompted the need for the discussions with the golf club.

“We’re trying to protect the golf course,” Mack said. “The golf course is a contaminated site that was reclaimed by the NJDEP and by the owners of the property and has become a national site which we want to preserve. We want to show that in urban areas, you can actually have a world class golf course and a world class industrial park next to each other.”

To ensure the golf club remains unperturbed by the new redevelopment at the former Seahorse Express property, Mack said that the permitted building height was adjusted. That way, views on the golf course would not be interrupted.

“This is something where we’re trying to put out the visual,” Mack said. “Normally, you allow people to do more in an industrial area, but this will make everything work together so that outdoor storage would be 20 feet. That would be lower than the building at 50 feet so that there wouldn’t be a visual intrusion.”

Commercial vehicles to use Avenue J, not LeFante Way

The site is also a block away from the South Cove Commons shopping center. Mack said one of the concerns of the shopping center was how many trucks were going to go through.

“What was worked out was that there shall be no access from Route 440 through the Shopping Center that the trucks will go through Avenue J, which is the legal truck route,” Mack said. “The area is also part of highway access permit. Going through Avenue J puts the city more in line with that anyway.”

Mack added that the plan ensures walkability between that site and the former Seahorse Express site.

“We talked about, if you go out there, there are currently no sidewalks,” Mack said. “You can walk on it, but there’s really no safe walk area there. So what we’ve done is we’ve worked with the developer to ask them to put in a sidewalk in front of their site.”

According to Mack, sidewalks will be added. The idea is to be able to allow future employees to walk to work.

“We would like them to bring in a sidewalk if possible,” Mack said. “If not, we asked if they would consider it on the other side of the street, because what we want to do is create access in that area. The Constable Hook area is very important to the residents, and as you know people walk to work. Not everybody drives. We’re also very close to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail stop at 34th Street. There will be people who will take the light rail, walk through the shopping center, and walk there… The developer was very respectful and cognizant of the needs of its employees and want to make these adjustments to the plan so they can encourage cycling, walking, or any other means of getting to work.”

Mack said that she and city engineers took a lot into account of what redevelopment looks like from the street. That resulted in a planned landscaping buffer between the shopping center and golf club.

Landscaping buffer protects surrounding properties

“We worked very hard to come up with and what we basically established was a buffer,” Mack said. “We established what we be in that buffer that would take it back, and the city and the developer agreed… All those things in the buffer area will create a LeFante Way transition area and maintenance agreement which will be between the city and the developer to maintain that area and keep it nice… It will give presence. As we all know, industrial parks are not foreign lands now, they look very attractive, they’re very welcoming, and this developer in particular went out of their way to work with the city on making it a first class site. We appreciate that.”

The building color palette will be limited to warm, muted, neutral earth tones to reduce the visual impact to the golf course property again, she said. The building will be built to be not visually intrusive to the golf course.

Generators issues due to noise, needs to be acoustically buffered alongside other building equipment and contained to meet Bayonne ordinance and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordinances. The sanitary sewer for the redevelopment area would connect into New Hook Road.

That includes improving combined sewer outfalls, separating storm water and sanitary systems where new infrastructure is installed, “which is one of the big reasons to have new redevelopment, so that we can actually provide this and also to focus our economic activity,” Mack said. She added this will be key as more redevelopment occurs at Constable Hook.

Lastly, Mack said the plan prevents branding signs from facing the golf course. Traffic and directional signs are allowed at grade level, but the city has prevented any buildings facing the course from having signage on the sides or roofs since 2017.

The site will be raised like most redevelopment sites in Bayonne due to sustainability issues, Mack said. Green roofs are encouraged at the site, and she also touted employee recreation the developer may construct there as well.

Consistent with Master Plan, Mack asks for board approval

Mack added that the plan was consistent with the Master Plan, noting that it calls for the maintenance and upgrade of the city’s utility infrastructure in regards to water, sewers, storm water management, and environmental-related things. She said that is non-existent in the redevelopment area currently but will be required to be constructed under the redevelopment plan per Master Plan standards.

“One of the big reasons to have new redevelopment is that we can actually provide this,” Mack said. “And also focus our economic activity… Adoption of the plan would be consistent with the Master Plan, and also would recognize the unique character of the area and promote development that will strengthen and reinforce market niches.”

Mack noted that this was vital part of the redevelopment of Constable Hook. The sizable portion of the city itself has been somewhat run down as many industrial entities closed and left the city.

“For us in Bayonne, which has been an industrial city for years that went though its heyday with Standard Oil and the companies that left Bayonne and left us with contamination in many of these areas,” Mack said. “The renewed interest and the renewed focus on our industrial Constable Hook area of Bayonne that’s 20 percent of the actual city.”

According to Mack, the future of the Constable Hook area will see redevelopment similar to what is planned for the former Seahorse property.

“As we get these world class industrial firms come in like Link, what will happen is they will develop beautiful office parks that have jobs, bring rateables, and bring opportunity,” Mack said. “This individual plan is consistent with the Master Plan promotion of industrial growth, diversified economic base, generated employment, increased tax rateables, reuse of Brownfields, focused economic activity on LeFante Way and the Route 440 corridor, continued industrial retention, cleanup of 82 known contaminated sites, and return of vacant sites to productive use.”

The contaminated site is already under remediation by the owner in conjunction with the NJDEP. However, the plan is necessary to allow that to continue as well as the redevelopment of the site, she noted.

Planning Board approves plan unanimously

Mack clarified that the roof equipment must also fall within the height requirement in the plan. She then asked the board to approve the plan.

“I would ask your consideration of really what promises to be a world class, first project of new use of an industrial park within Bayonne in many years,” Mack said.

During the public comment portion of the hearing, the Bayonne Nature Club’s Mike Ruscigno said that he was invited by the Bayonne Golf Club to look at the project with them and the developer of the site because they do bird watches nearby at Bayonne Cove. He praised the transformation of the this site with landscaping that will promote the wildlife in the area.

“It’s an amazing thing to see how the cove is such a natural area coming from being a garbage dump and a contaminated area to now where we can see 25 species of birds,” Ruscigno said. “Every Sunday, we do a bird walk there. This development is going south of the Golf Club and with this developer and the Golf Club, and the Alessis, what they’ve done is they’re making this continue green almost. With the landscaping, and you can see it with the landscaping they’ve done in front of the new Delta Storage, the landscaping is amazing. We didn’t want this place to turn into an industrial warehouse like it used to be, the elderly up here will remember it used to be a pretty vicious place. This seems to be its going to be really nice, green, and we want that to continue in Bayonne. That Constable Hook area there itself is such a wildlife area that the birds go to. They won’t see it as a warehouse, but the trees and landscaping… as long as the area is kept nice and clean. I would hope that the board would push for this development.”

Chairwoman Karen Fiermonte was in favor of the plan. “A lot of hard work went into this plan and I think it is definitely comprehensive and I am in favor of this plan moving forward.”

Fiermonte joined the Planning Board commissioners present at the meeting in unanimously approving the redevelopment plan. This included Commissioners: Ahmed Lack, Jack Beiro, Thomas Maiorano, City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker, and Vice Chairwoman and Board of Education President Maria Valado.

The City Council also advanced the new redevelopment plan for the former Seahorse Express property. At its December meeting, the council first withdrew and ordinance that would have approved the old redevelopment plan for the site prior to the changes made in coordination with the Alessi Organization and the Bayonne Golf Club.

Council to approve redevelopment plan too

“There were many changes to this redevelopment, enough that it really couldn’t be, with a straight face, be considered just a consistency review,” Law Director Jay Coffey said. “This will be replaced by another ordinance… So the protocol would be to have this not moved so that it dies a natural death.”

The council then unanimously introduced an ordinance that would adopt the new redevelopment plan. The ordinance will be up for a public hearing and vote at the next City Council meeting on January 18 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org.

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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