Bayonne followed a tumultuous 2014 with an equally exciting 2015, a year of political turmoil, battles over development, and a sad ending for a local parish.
Development a lightning rod
City Council meetings in July and August went into the wee hours of the morning, as dozens of Bayonne residents voiced their dissatisfaction with a plan designating the Resnick’s Hardware property an area in need of redevelopment. This allowed the L Group, led by Lance Lucarelli, to make plans for a 9- or 10-story building on Broadway and 46th Street, an area zoned for several stories less.
On Aug. 11, only a handful of residents turned out for a Planning Board meeting at which a North Street project was considered. A 22-story residential tower – what would be the tallest building in the city – was approved for a John Cali project. The plans include an option to build a second tower of the same height.
Opposition to PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) for developers was one of the major issues. Residents repeatedly spoke in opposition to the agreements, which pay more taxes to the city, but none into the school system, thereby leaving that tax burden to homeowners.
East side residents assailed a planned Muslim community center announced in July. Some cited fears that it would create parking, traffic, and public disturbance problems. Others expressed anti-Muslim sentiments.
The block-long project for 23rd to 24th streets on Broadway by Rendina Healthcare Real Estate for the St. Barnabas Health Systems is primed to begin. The project will transform almost an entire city block of unused buildings into a medical practice building that will employ more than 100 people and serve hundreds more.
In September, on 14th Street and Broadway, developer Mitchell Burakovsky began work on a 38-unit residential development, in part to help revitalize the area. But there was opposition from those who feel the development’s residents will take away on-street parking in an already parking-challenged neighborhood.
In November, Baker Residential was given the green light to restart its project at the former Hi-Hat Caterers site derailed by the 2008 recession. It will now be rentals, not condominiums.
Residential developments City Lights at Bayonne, on Dodge Street and Broadway, and Park Bayonne, on 44th Street and Kennedy Boulevard, were close to completion at year’s end.
New development at the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, the former Military Ocean Terminal, was preparing to start in 2016. The last three lawsuits filed against the city were settled, jumpstarting the economic driver Bayonne has sought since the early 2000s.
Plans were approved for residential units at Harbor Station North, and shovels in the ground were expected there in the spring or summer next year. The Peninsula’s existing residential development, Alexan CityView, was sold in September and is now Harbor Pointe.
Harbor Station South, which is to include a hotel and dozens of upscale shops, received its initial approval. The 72-acre site is expected to draw shoppers from across the tri-state area.
Promenade at Bayonne, the Kaplan Companies’ project at the southwest corner of the city, is slated to start construction soon.
The city purchased the lot at the old M&M’s site on Broadway and 19th Street and sold half of it to Ingerman Development Company LLC. Ingerman will build a 140-unit residential facility, a passive park, and public parking spots in a designated area of a parking deck.
Infrastructure: the bridge and turnpike
Early in the year, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s ongoing $1.3 billion “Raise the Roadway” project, to increase the height of the Bayonne Bridge’s roadway to allow larger ships to pass underneath it, passed a milestone.
While downtown residents still complained of loud noises, air pollutants, parking problems, and other quality-of-life issues, basement flooding and house-shaking vibrations abated.
The authority reported in April that the project was 35-percent completed, and offered tours of the site to journalists, VIPs, and schoolchildren.
But by October, the authority reported that it was behind schedule, citing last year’s harsh winter. It announced “Raise the Roadway” would take two years longer than expected – until 2019 – and cost as much as 15 percent more to complete.
In March, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority officially began work on its $310 million 14A toll plaza reconstruction project, which presented obstacles for drivers.
By spring, the effects of the combined infrastructure projects brought complaints from businesses on Route 440 and elsewhere in Bayonne.
Early-morning truck arrivals at the GCT Terminal in Bayonne and Jersey City worsened the morning commute until GCT gate opening times were changed and additional police were added for traffic control.
Elections and politics
In the spring, Hudson County Democratic Organization candidates Nicholas Chiaravalloti of Bayonne and Angela McKnight of Jersey City were challenged by Bruce Alston of Jersey City and Washington Flores of Bayonne in their quest to represent their party in the 31st District Assembly race in November. Chiaravalloti and McKnight winning by a large margin.
In the general election they faced Republicans Matt Kopko of Bayonne and Herminio Mendoza. Running as independents were 2014 mayoral candidate Anthony Zanowic and his running mate Alejandro Rodriguez, both of Bayonne.
Chiaravalloti and McKnight still won handily.
The first elected school board in about 35 years was also up for a vote after residents overwhelmingly voted to do away with the appointed board.
Nineteen candidates ran for five seats.
On Oct. 21, former Davis campaign worker and city employee P.J. Leonard rocked City Hall, alleging at a City Council meeting that an unreported $5,000 cash payment was made by a company to a city official.
An accusation that got traction was Leonard’s assertion that three City Council members took health benefits they weren’t entitled to for a year. A state policy stipulates that only full-time city employees can receive benefits. Council members Sharon Nadrowski, Gary La Pelusa, and Sal Gullace are considered part-time, even though they said they worked more than 35 or 40 hours a week.
Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco said the benefits were stopped in late August, after a letter was received from the state. But there was public pressure for the three to reimburse the city. By year’s end, Nadrowski had paid hers in full, Gullace was working toward that, and there was no word at press time on La Pelusa’s actions.
In September, the Archdiocese of Newark determined that seven Catholic parishes would eventually become four.
St. Vincent De Paul and St. Henry, the city’s only two churches above 23rd Street, were to remain standalone parishes.
St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Andrew, already “linked” with a common administrator and pastoral staff, would join to form Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich Parish. Neither church was scheduled to close.
Three churches on 22nd and 23rd streets would merge to form Pope John Paul II Parish, with one of the three closing its doors. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on 22nd Street would stay open, absorbing parishioners from St. Michael’s/St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Assumption.
The 100-plus-year-old Assumption, with a congregation of Italian, Spanish, and Filipino parishioners, was scheduled to close after a Dec. 31 evening service.
Led by former mayor and church trustee Joseph Doria, the faithful marched at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. They also got 700 people to sign a petition to keep their parish open and forwarded the signatures to the Vatican.
Teacher and city contracts
In September 2014, nearly four years of wrangling over a contract resulted in a multi-year pact, including a new one-year agreement for the 2014-2015 school year. But after June 30, 2015, teachers and other personnel were right back where they had been for years: working without a contract.
Virtually no progress was made over the summer. In September, representatives from both sides said the 2015-2016 pact needed to be decided by the Christmas break. But come December, both Bayonne Teachers Association President Alan D’Angelo and Bayonne Board of Education member and negotiator Michael Masone said the sides were again at an impasse.
Teacher contributions to the benefits plan were the central issue.
By year’s end, neither side had pulled a rabbit out of their hats.
The city’s main municipal union, meanwhile, settled its contract with the city in October, agreeing to a five-and-a-half year pact and ending a 15-month stalemate.
BOE vs. City Hall
On Jan. 7, the stage was set for a tempestuous row between City Hall and the Bayonne Board of Education when the news broke of an alleged $11.8 million owed the city for capital school projects the city had borrowed for under previous administrations. DeMarco, in a letter to Schools Superintendent Patricia McGeehan, questioned where $7.4 million reimbursed to Bayonne Board of Education from the state had gone. DeMarco said the city was also owed another $4.4 million in projects which had not had been closed out.
The issue went unresolved, even after meetings between the state and local officials in the spring and summer. After the State Board of Education finished its investigation, it issued its report on Oct. 29, concluding the school board paid most of the money through a $6 million check in 2011 and the write off of several collaborative projects with the city. The BOE still owed at least $2.9 million; a check was transferred in that amount to the city in mid-December.
On Jan. 16, the first of a few problems involving the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority occurred when three pipes in the city’s water system broke. The most important one was part of the aqueduct that transports water to Bayonne from a North Jersey reservoir. Many Bayonne residents went without water for much of the day.
In June, the BMUA took another hit when the wind turbine on Fifth Street, “the windmill” to residents, was shut down due to vibrations. Worse, the city was on the hook for the approximate $300,000 part to repair it.
An early-November fix never materialized. Nor did a late-December one, because of a defective part. As the year ended, it was unclear when the turbine blades would be turning again.
In December came the news that no one was expecting: The BMUA announced that city water bills would go up 13.25 percent in January. Rosy water revenue projections for 2015 and 2016 in a deal signed in 2012 were to blame, according to BMUA Executive Director Tim Boyle, an assertion strongly refuted by former Mayor Mark Smith.
In August, a $225 million settlement between the state and ExxonMobil was approved by a judge. Originally the state had sought $8.9 billion for the cleanup and remediation of sites in Bayonne and Linden. Environmental groups criticized the agreement, and Bayonne Corporation Counsel Jay Coffey called it “horrific.”
In November and December, Bayonne animal lovers strongly contested the city’s move to replace its animal-control company, Liberty Humane Society of Jersey City, with a new one, New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue of Lodi.
The administration’s rationale was a problem with nuisance wildlife, especially in the downtown section. But animal rights activists and Liberty Humane pointed out that state regulations largely forbid wildlife capture, except in rare instances.
An online petition, a letters to the editor campaign, a City Hall rally, and speakers at the Dec. 16 City Council meeting were all part of the effort to rescind the New Jersey Animal Control contract and keep Liberty Humane.
Also late in the year, a group opposed the demolition of an historic house at Fifth Street, Trask Avenue, and Kennedy Boulevard.
The colonial revival mansion, built in 1898, had been home to a number of Bayonne’s most well-known citizens.
At a Dec. 1 Historic Preservation Commission meeting, developer Burakovsky and the preservationists seemed to make some headway toward agreement. But on Dec. 21, the building was razed, taking a little of Bayonne history with it.
Business in Bayonne
The departure of two key businesses in August, Kodak Jewelers and Staples, reminded residents of the often tenuous business climate in Bayonne. With the word that longtime stalwarts like Mediterraneo Restaurant and the Big Apple Lounge on Broadway were looking to sell, some were questioning whether a hoped-for turnaround following the recession was actually a slide downward.
The Bayonne Chamber of Commerce passed the president’s baton from Vincent Virga to Matt Dorans, a former president. Echoing Davis’s “Bayonne is open for business” refrain, Dorans promised to do whatever he could to bring new businesses to Bayonne and help those already here prosper.
Cruising to more success
The success of the Royal Caribbean Cruise line bodes well for development at the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.
After opening a new $55-million passenger terminal last year, the cruise line welcomed Anthem of the Seas, the third largest ship in the world and the most technologically advanced. Anthem docked in Bayonne during an onboard ceremony that was attended by Mayor Davis, who pledged to develop the Peninsula, including possibly building a hotel, and make it a more attractive place for cruisers. Removing the weeds that now line the road to the cruise port was high on his list.
Fairest of them all
In June, the city brought back one of the most beloved events in its history, the Bayonne Hometown Fair, to resounding acclaim. The scaled down, two-day version was only a couple of blocks long on Broadway and some side streets. The mild weather helped.
In October, a similar city fair also was successful, the Bergen Point Fall Festival, staged by the Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone and downtown merchants.
From Fifth Street to the Eighth Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail overpass, the streets were filled with vendors, music, games, and other attractions. Lower temperatures than the inaugural Bergen Point Festival the year before thinned the crowds a bit.
Arts continue to thrive
Bayonne’s artistic surge in 2014 continued in 2015, with art, music, theater, and town beautification.
Group and solo shows drew spectators to Bee’s Art Studio, the Bayonne Community Museum, Hendrickson’s restaurant, the Jewish Community Center, and Boho Yoga.
Theater troupes and school casts performed productions at the city’s high schools, for All Saints Catholic Academy, and at the JCC.
The Bayonne Theater Group hosted a “Bayonne’s Got Talent” competition.
Keeping Bayonne an attractive place to live, work, and play was the goal again this year, as Beautify Bayonne and dozens of volunteers fanned out across the city in a cleanup effort in April. Special attention was given to the city’s northern gateway on Kennedy Boulevard.
Police and fire departments
In April, Bayonne experienced a rarity; a drive-by shooting. A young man was struck in the back at DiDomenico/16th Street Park. An arrest was made only a few days later. On Father’s Day, three people were shot in Mercer Park at the Jersey City line. In October, a man was found shot multiple times at Andrew Street and Kennedy Boulevard.
Thirteen burglaries early in the year at the then Alexan CityView complex were solved after a comprehensive Bayonne Police Department investigation.
In August, the department hosted its annual National Night Out, to bring the community closer to those who serve it.
2015 kept Bayonne firefighters busy, with 39 significant structure fires, including 17 multiple-alarm blazes. It was at one of those, on East 21st Street in July, that two residents died, the first fire-related loss of life in the city in nearly eight years. It ended what is believed the longest such period in recent Bayonne history.
Visitors and hometown heroes
In March, dozens of people from the worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics crowded the Bayonne Community Museum for the unveiling of the mural honoring Chuck Wepner. The mural commemorated the 40th anniversary of his world heavyweight title fight against champion Muhammad Ali in 1975.
Visitors included former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, former Bayonne resident and martial arts champion Ralph Passero, and former Newark detective David Toma, who had two television series, “Toma” and “Baretta,” based on his life.
The mural would become its own story weeks later when it was attached to the side of a midtown Broadway building, without the permission of the building’s owner. The city’s Legal Department worked out a deal that would allow the mural to be displayed for at least three years.
Bayonne resident Tammy Blanchard, riding high after her successful role as one of Cinderella’s evil sisters in “Into the Woods” last year, visited City Hall in April for a photo op with city officials and to sign copies of her “Bayonne – Life on the Peninsula” cover story. “BLP” is a sister publication of the Bayonne Community News.
In July, two “Lion King” performers stopped by Bayonne High School’s “Lion King Jr.” rehearsals to talk about their craft and give pointers to the students.
In August, one of the most successful authors of all time, George R.R. Martin, a graduate of Mary J. Donohoe Grammar School and Marist High School, returned to Bayonne for a “60 Minutes” television shoot. Martin, whose characters are featured on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” also dined at San Vito Restaurant with Davis and DeMarco before returning to his home in New Mexico. He was also featured in BLP in 2014 in an interview as he strolled around his old Bayonne neighborhood.
Gone but not forgotten
In May, former Bayonne Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Daniel Kane succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis after a long struggle.
In August Newark Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Gaetano “Thomas” Donato, also the bishop of Hudson County, died. He served at three parishes in the city; Assumption, St. Vincent’s, and St. Henry’s, and made lifelong friendships with his parishioners.
In September, Bayonne’s beat poet Herschel Silverman died. Silverman also served students for many years at his “Beehive Candy Store” across the street from Bayonne High School.
Henry Sanchez, who also died in September, was a patriot, having taken part in the D-Day invasion in World War II. He was also a community activist, and later in life lent his house to director Steven Spielberg to film part of the “War of the Worlds” in 2004.
In October, former City Council President Neil DeSena died. A Bayonne’ civil servant, he served in both World War II and the Korean War.
In mid-December, Charlene Lois Hyman, former president of the Jewish Community Center, died. She was noted for her philanthropic work with a number of Bayonne organizations.
Three Bayonne men died tragically on Route 440. A motorcyclist was killed on Jan. 2 near Goldsborough Drive when he was reportedly rear-ended by a minivan. The other two were pedestrians who were killed crossing the roadway at night on Nov. 2. The driver who hit the two friends was allegedly driving 106 miles per hour. After the deaths of the two men in the fall, there was a renewed call for a pedestrian bridge to be built over the highway.
dge to be built over the highway.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.