Jersey City's proposed $180 million, 100-acre Bayfront redevelopment plan has gotten a thumbs up from City Council.
Two-thirds of the Council approved a resolution endorsing a proposal to buy out majority owner of the project site, Honeywell International. The administration now can negotiate acquiring the property, serve as the project’s master developer and tweak plans to add more affordable housing units.
The Council also must approve bond ordinances to cover the city’s purchase of the site.
“This represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said. “It is a blank canvas today of clean land. We want to make sure we learn from our mistakes from developing the Hudson River.”
The property is former Superfund site resulting from industrial contamination by Mutual Chemical Co., which operated a chrome plant there until the 1950s.
The redevelopment project — the city’s largest development since the 1980s and part of a larger plan to redevelop the Hackensack River Waterfront — calls for a transit-oriented, mixed-use community on the city’s Westside. It aims to transform approximately 95 acres of former industrial properties into residential, commercial and industrial space.
Jointly owned by Honeywell and the city, the property is located on the eastern shore of the Hackensack River and incorporates two parks extending from Route 440.
The redevelopment plan is the culmination of a 2008 agreement between Honeywell and the city after a group of Jersey City property owners filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the land was contaminated.
A federal appeals court approved the $10 million settlement, with Honeywell overseeing cleanup of the site.
“It was one of the largest Superfund sites in the country,” Fulop said. “We’ve been remediating the site for 10 years. This has been multiple decades in the making. We cleaned it up to the highest residential standards possible in the country. It’s some of the cleanest soil in the region.”
Honeywell said it supports the redevelopment plan.
“Since the Bayfront Redevelopment Plan was passed unanimously by the Jersey City council in 2008, Honeywell has worked in partnership with the city,” a company spokesperson said. “We look forward to the redevelopment. The cleanup is complete and we are working on finalizing environmental approvals.”
Fulop had presented a number of options before the council regarding development of the site, which he said the city will purchase from Honeywell for $100 million, with $80 million going toward infrastructure.
“The original plan was for Honeywell to sell it off to a private developer,” Fulop said. “What we decided was to ask the council to be a little more innovative. Now the city will be the master developer. We think the city can do more than a private developer can do.”
City Council President Rolando Lavarro Jr. agrees.
“There are plenty of reasons this project is good for Jersey City, but the main reason is affordability,” Lavarro said. “Nearly 40,000 Jersey City residents are in housing crisis, meaning they don’t have the means to afford the cost of housing today because costs have risen with Jersey City’s growth and prosperity. As master developer, the city will also determine how this project will be built. The city can call the shots and make sure the construction is high quality union and local labor.
“We don’t have to haggle with a private developer,” he added. “As the master developer, Jersey City has total control to build a mixed income community, as opposed to a luxury development that the vast majority of Jersey City residents can’t afford. This isn’t a panacea for an affordable housing crisis, but it definitely moves us forward.”
Fulop said the goal is to create as much as 35 percent affordable housing, with residences serving mixed-income and blended communities of seniors and veterans, among others.
At a recent council meeting, Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea noted the need for caution as the city advances with the plan.
“There are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross to make sure the city doesn’t overpay,” O’Dea said. “The community needs to have more input. So much discussion goes with this site but often the community gets information in bits and pieces as time goes on.”
Rev. W.W.C. Ashley, senior founder and pastor at the city’s Abundant Joy Community Church, praised the plan for increased affordable housing.
“When we talk about affordable housing, it’s because local interfaith clergy said that Jersey City needs affordable housing for the men and women that want to grab onto the American Dream,” Ashley said. “They’re not going to create slums; they are not lowlifes; they’re not all the buzzwords that people will throw out when they’re really saying, ‘not in my neighborhood.’ And we’re saying ‘yes’ in Jersey City, we want affordable housing that reflects the diversity of the hard-working men and women that are trying to make a difference and raise a family.”