A Greenville renaissance?

City unveils redevelopment plan for Ocean Avenue South

After a review by the Jersey City Planning Board, the Jersey City City Council is expected to get their chance to review zoning changes that will hopefully spur new development and restoration of the Greenville business district. The council was expected to introduce the ordinance on Tuesday night.
Earlier this month, Mayor Steven M. Fulop, Council President Rolando Lavarro, Jr., Ward A Councilman Frank Gajewski, and the South Greenville Neighborhood Association announced the plan to begin the renaissance of Greenville.
Although originally proposed last March, the plan was presented to the Planning Board on Nov. 10. It calls for the redevelopment of Ocean Avenue South, one of the few commercial districts in that part of the city.
The “Ocean Avenue South Redevelopment Plan” is part of the Fulop Administration’s goal to expand investment and development to previously overlooked neighborhoods. The zoning changes would allow for new commercial and residential development in an effort to restore the area.
“As Jersey City continues to boom, we’re making sure that every neighborhood will get to enjoy its economic growth, especially Greenville,” said Mayor Fulop. “We intend for this to be an economic boom broadly-shared and that is what this redevelopment plan will help us do for the residents and business-owners of Ocean Avenue.”
The concept is to allow greater density around transit, implement zoning for new, mixed-use residential development, and to rebuild Ocean Avenue as a vibrant commercial district.

Changes in the past

In recent years, Jersey City has experienced renewed population growth and an expanding economy, bringing new life to Jersey City’s neighborhood commercial streets. The Greenville section was historically populated, even prior to the arrival of the automobile. Families tended to be large, but lived within walking distance of the commercial districts and jobs. For decades, Ocean Avenue supported a relatively strong business district.
When people became more mobile, they tended to drive to more distant shopping districts. Many moved out of the area entirely to seek a greener way of life in the suburbs. By the 1970s, Ocean Avenue went into a deep decline.
City planners at the time decided to concentrate retail onto a few streets, and rezoned previous commercial districts (by then with a large number of vacant stores) as residential. Martin Luther King Drive was designated as the new commercial district.

“Transforming Ocean Avenue South into the bustling main street it should be will have a ripple effect.” – Council President Rolando Lavarro, Jr.
But the new redevelopment plan would restore some of the retail on Ocean Avenue similar to other redevelopment areas in the city where ground floor is retail and upper floors residential. This would not only allow people to do business on their own blocks, but would create a flow of people on the street, reducing potential crime.
This concept, however, would rely on the construction of taller buildings, in an effort to increase population density. This would not duplicate the overpopulation that was evident early in the 20th century, but to create a density of people that will allow the neighborhood to thrive.

No bars or night clubs?

Board of Education Trustee Lorenzo Richardson, who is also a member of the Greenville Neighborhood Association, said residents are concerned about the changes.
“A committee is opposed to anything above five stories,” he said. The plan could allow seven story and possibly higher buildings in the area.
“We also said there should be no bars or clubs, and this redevelopment plan would try to put those in as well,” he said.
Jenne Barrett, also a resident of Greenville, said the area faces enormous challenges.
“We know Greenville has problems, but it also has historic roots,” she said. “There have been incremental changes in Greenville. Someone just bought a former crack house, and there is a [positive] trend that is evident when other for-sale signs started coming down.”

Generated by a 2014 study

The redevelopment plan is the result of a study authorized by the Planning Department in December 2014, which examined Ocean Avenue from Merritt Street to Cator Avenue.
The plan includes what are called “smart growth strategies” to encourage mixed-used development within walking distance of public transportation, while preserving important neighborhood resources that help define the unique character of the corridor and larger Greenville area.
The Ocean Avenue South Study Area contains 21 acres and 115 individual lots, primarily three-story mixed use buildings that also include one- and two-family homes, senior housing, light industrial, places of worship, and low-rise apartments.
The area is serviced by the Danforth Avenue station of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail and the NJ Transit Bus Terminal at Gates Avenue, making it a good candidate for “transit village” type redevelopment centered around transit hubs.
Ocean Avenue South also has several architecturally significant buildings and storefronts, and includes three high-rise residential buildings ranging from 11 to 14 stories, one of which is within the redevelopment area.
The idea was to shift commercial activity to the main business districts, but the zoning in areas like Ocean Avenue did not match the land use and needed to be updated.
For decades, Ocean Avenue had existed as a corridor with high-rise and architecturally significant buildings – buildings meant for shops and storefronts – but without the ability to encourage that commerce.
“Bringing back a Main Street feel to Greenville is something the community has wanted for some time, and I am pleased to have worked with the administration and the residents to prioritize this initiative and quickly move the process forward,” said Ward A Councilman Gajewski. “With so many unique and historic characteristics, there is no doubt this will be a successful tool to jumpstart the revitalization of this area.”
Some other key highlights of the redevelopment plan include establishing a Special Improvement District (SID) to assist business owners and maintain the commercial corridor; improving access to rail and ferry services; making walking and biking easy, safe, desirable, and convenient modes of transport; and encouraging unique local quality retail sales and services that promote community character.
“It is amazing to see what can be accomplished when the community and our elected leaders work together,” said Martha Larkins, president of the South Greenville Neighborhood Association. “Redevelopment of Ocean Avenue South is taking shape and we are pleased that our community has been given a voice in this process. We look forward to shopping in new stores, dining in new restaurants, and welcoming new businesses and neighbors to our community.”
“In many ways, Greenville is the reason I ran for council,” said Council President Rolando Lavarro, Jr., “so I’m particularly vested in its renewal. Transforming Ocean Avenue South into the bustling main street it should be will have a ripple effect in surrounding neighborhoods, improving the quality of life in ways we have only imagined. Having lived in Greenville most of my life, this is my home and I’m excited about what’s coming to Greenville.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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