McGinley East residents condemn plan

Eminent domain is off the table – but for how long?

The city’s McGinley Square East Redevelopment Plan does not currently include plans to take over residential properties through the use of eminent domain, but residents in the affected area still fear their homes could be in jeopardy later as the plan moves forward.
In the second of several meetings to discuss the plan, residents voiced their concerns to City Planning Director Robert Cotter last Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting held at City Hall.
The city will hold another meeting for residents this Wednesday, July 27 at 6:30 p.m., also at City Hall.
People in the McGinley Square area became concerned about the redevelopment plan and fate of their homes after receiving letters from the Jersey City Department of Housing, Economic Development & Commerce’s Division of City Planning two weeks ago.

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One resident asked the developer if he would be willing to put a commitment in writing that he would not push people out of their homes through the use of eminent domain.
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In the letters, Cotter wrote that, “The Jersey City Division of City Planning has completed a study of the McGinley Square East Study Area, which includes property you own…This study has determined that the entire study area, including your property, meets the criteria as an ‘area in need of redevelopment.’ This will designate your property as subject to taking by eminent domain (condemnation) for redevelopment purposes and will authorize the City of Jersey City and/or the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency to acquire ownership by purchase of the property referenced above by condemnation (against the owner’s will).”
There are approximately 52 properties that are tentatively affected by the McGinley Square East Study Area plan.

Cotter: Area needs redevelopment

The project area included in the city’s plan is essentially three city blocks that are bounded by Bergen Avenue, Mercer Street, Jordan, Monticello Avenue, Storms Avenue, and Montgomery Street, and Nevins.
“We think that McGinley Square merits and warrants significant development in the coming decades so we can see a turnaround in that section of town, just like we’ve turned around the areas down here around City Hall,” Cotter told residents Thursday.
What the area needs, particularly along Bergen Avenue, are customers,” Cotter continued. “Storeowners and shopkeepers need customers and we get customers by building where people live. So, the vacant lots need to get redeveloped, need to have new apartment buildings, with parking and shopping and rental floors above that. And that’s what’s in this redevelopment plan.”
The McGinley Square East Redevelopment Plan, which the city released publically online last week, calls for new residential housing – both market rate and workforce housing – offices, new retail, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and theaters, in addition to museums and art galleries. The plan also includes new parking to accommodate the expected influx in population.
Some residents questioned the genesis of the redevelopment plan, which some believed originated with Corvus, a private development company that will be redeveloping much of the affected area.
Corvus Managing Director Gary Flocco is already reaching out to area residents to ask whether they are interested in selling their homes so the redevelopment plan can move forward.
Cotter, however said the developer did not initiate the research process that ultimately led to the redevelopment plan.
The Jersey City Council, which must still approve the redevelopment plan, is currently scheduled to consider it at its meeting on Aug. 10.

Residents still nervous

Eminent domain is not currently part of the plan. Flocco, who attended Thursday’s meeting and who addressed several questions from residents said, “I’m not looking to throw people out of their homes.”
He said he would try to negotiate fair sale prices for homes with people who are willing to sell and would make every attempt to work around owners who do not want to sell their properties.
However, Cotter said an approved redevelopment plan can always be amended later and there is no way residents can know whether the City Council will choose to amend the plan at some time in the future to include eminent domain.
One resident, Esther Wintner, asked Flocco if he would be willing to put a commitment in writing that he would not push people out of their homes through the use of eminent domain; he said he would not be willing to make such a commitment.
Toward the end of the meeting one McGinley Square property owner, Theresa Samson, said this is the third time her family has faced the possibility of eminent domain in Jersey City. On two previous occasions – in 1999 and again in 2009 – her family’s property was lost to eminent domain.
After the meeting, Bruno Folcarelli, who owns two properties in the affected area, said he isn’t opposed to selling to the developer – but only at the right price. Folcarelli said he owns both the home he lives in, plus a five-family rental property which he plans to use for income after he retires. Any sale price, he said, must take into account the loss of future income from his rentals, otherwise the deal will be a loss for him.
Residents have organized a meeting for this Tuesday, July 26 at Old Bergen Church with a representative from the Castle Coalition, a nonprofit that educates property owners about eminent domain. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.