Back in 2005, Cheng C. “Terry” Tan fought off an effort by the city to condemn his downtown Jersey City bar so they could use the property for an athletic field for St. Peter’s Prep High School. Now his own development plans for the land have been met with silence from the city, and he’s tired of waiting for an answer.
He wants the city to rezone his bar property and empty lot, located in the Tidewater Basin Redevelopment Area, so he can use them for residential development, possibly including affordable housing for seniors. Otherwise, he would sell the land to a developer.
“I can make some money or develop something and leave it for my wife.” – Terry Tan
Tan said he has contacted city officials for several years, asking them if they would consider a zoning change, but has not received a response. He finally filed a lawsuit in March in U.S. Federal Court that he hopes will get results.
He says in his lawsuit that he sent formal letters to Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s office, the city’s Planning Department, the Redevelopment Agency, the City Council, and reached out to council members personally.
A pre-trial conference is scheduled between Tan, who is representing himself, and lawyers for the city this coming Friday, July 17, before Federal Magistrate Michael A. Shipp in Newark. Tan hopes that both sides will come to a settlement and he can go ahead with his plans.
City spokesperson Jennifer Morrill issued a statement regarding Tan’s case:
“Mr. Tan sued the city and certain officials in federal court in connection with the zoning of his property on Grand Street, and although his property is within a redevelopment area, he may sell that property or continue to operate the business he has on the property, as he chooses…”
By coincidence, the Planning Board will be discussing his property at their next meeting on Tuesday.
A legal history
His current lawsuit accuses the city of impeding his right of due process and violating federal and state laws that encourage senior housing.
In 1999, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency adopted the Tidewater Basin Redevelopment Plan, zoning the area where Tan’s property is located for commercial and residential purposes. The City Council approved the plan in 2000.
But before the year ended, they changed the zoning for the area to be utilized for athletic or educational purposes. At the time, St. Peter’s Prep High School on Grand Street wanted to develop a 2-acre parcel of land once used for boat repair into an athletic field, located directly behind Tan’s bar.
The agency wanted to take Tan’s property in order to grant it to St. Peter’s Prep. The school wanted to lengthen the athletic field seven more yards, to make it a regulation field for holding varsity matches rather than just for practice.
In 2005, the city attempted to condemn Tan’s property and pay him $550,000 for it. Tan refused, and the Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) decided to seize it by eminent domain in July of that year. Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use by the state or municipality, as long as they provide just compensation.
The JCRA in November 2005 was about to take Tan to court in the hopes that a judge would rule in their favor and allow for the eminent domain proceedings to go ahead. But Tan attracted media attention for fighting the city on this matter. The attention resulted in Mayor Jerramiah Healy announcing a few days before a court hearing that the city would not take the property. Now Tan and the city are on the verge of fighting it out again.
“All I want is that they would provide an answer,” Tan said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.