Carrying on a tradition that started in 2001, students from various Bayonne schools gathered in City Hall on Nov. 1 to get their questions answered about the city, its history and various problems are being answered.
Mayor Joseph Doria, Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, Assistant Superintendent Robert Craig and members of the city council were on hand to field the questions and provide insight into the thinking behind decisions made.
Called a “Youth Summit,” questions often deal with some of the issues that affect the city’s younger population, such as information about parks and recreation programs, but just as often the field of questions deals with the rich history of the city.
“One question we used to get and don’t have to answer any more concerns why Bayonne doesn’t have a movie theater,” Doria commented. “Since the Frank Family opened the theater in the South Cove Commons, we don’t get that question any more.”
Students, who come from both public and Catholic schools, pre submit their questions so that officials will have time to research the answers and provide them.
Although many of the questions involved all areas of town, as Council President Vincent Lo Re noted, this summit’s questions had a lot of questions dealing with specific parts of the 2nd and 3rd Wards.
Gary LaPelusa, sworn in at 3rd Ward councilman in June, found the session challenging, while John Halecky, one of the longest sitting councilmen in Bayonne history, said he hoped he could provide the answers.
Many of the questions raised at this summit dealt with contemporary issues.
Development was on the minds of numerous stories.
Rebecca Ballance of St. Andrew School asked about plans for the empty lots along Broadway.
Doria said the lots are a problem partly because of the cost for purchasing the properties. He said property owners and real estate agents inflate the price by reselling the land between each other so that the cost for development becomes impossibly high.
“One lot where the Tom McCann (shoe store) used to be was sold four times and went from $300,000 to over $1 million,” Doria said.
But Doria said hope exists through a variety of tools including developing of a scattered site redevelopment zone.
James Desher, a student at Philip Vroom School asked about possible development for the former Texaco oil site, and learned that the city had spurred potential construction there by declaring the 60-acre site an area in need of redevelopment and that Texaco appears to be moving ahead with a development plan.
William Sabers of Lincoln School and Jessica Solari of P.S. No. 14 School asked what new stores can be expected at South Cove Commons Mall – to which there is no yet firm answer, while Brian Franconeri, also of P.S. No. 14 asked about open space and commercial property development at the former Military Ocean Terminal. Jamie Grasing of Horace Mann School asked about the timetable for when the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line would reach Eighth Street, and were there plans to continue it farther.
Doria said estimates vary on reaching Eighth Street, although he believed the rail line would reach a newly construction station at some point in 2009. While some have speculated on continuing the line to First Street – and even extending it over the Bayonne Bridge to Staten Island, no plans actually exist.
Jennifer Aguirre of Bayonne High School asked about when Bayonne could expect to see the construction of a hotel.
Doria said one was approved for the northeast corner of Bayonne, although construction has not yet started.
Sarah Hutchinson, of Woodrow Wilson School, Andrea D’Agostino, of Washington School, Danielle Bunting of Robinson School, and Tyler Darvalics of Bayonne High School each had similar questions involving the programs available for the less fortunate and plans for the construction of affordable housing.
Doria and several council members said Bayonne is rich with civic organizations and government programs that provide for the needy. Affordable housing is regulated by the state, and this is geared towards providing housing to median income families, while Bayonne as public assisted housing for the truly poor.
Anthony Rodriquez asked about public marinas where boaters can dock. Doria and Halecky said some marinas exist already and some are planned with the development at the MOTBY.
Jennifer Roszkowski, of Mary J. Donohue, asked about the future of Bayonne Bridge, citing reports that it may have to be raised or replaced to allow large cargo ships to pass under it.
At a time when the bridge is celebrating its 75th anniversary, Doria said the future of the bridge is secure and that engineers will likely have to dredge deeper rather than bear the cost of a new bridge or raising the exiting bridge.
Parks were also on kids’ minds, with Alexis Gentil of Washington School and Alyse Poggiali of Bailey School asking about various issues concerning new parks and additions to existing ones. Brittany Miller of Midtown Community School asked about a possible recreation center where kids can go.
While Doria said Bayonne provides numerous programs and nearly all the schools are open to them, he understands the need for a place to socialize.
“We would likely locate a recreation center on the MOTBY or Texaco sites,” he said.