An ordinance that would allow zoning changes to enable construction on a two-acre site behind the Historic Landmark Loews was adopted by the City Council at its Oct. 26 meeting, although questions about the potential project still remain.
The ordinance partially clears the way for the construction of a residential and artist space on Journal Square, complimenting artist spaces nearby like Mana Contemporary and expanding an artistic community anchored by the Loews.
The project would allow two residential towers not to exceed 37 stories.
Some aspects of the proposed project still need to be worked out, like improvements to a narrow walkway that accesses the property behind the theater from Kennedy Boulevard. The plan would develop retail as well as residential space near the foot of Magnolia Avenue.
City officials said the development will require approvals from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as Conrail, which have rights to some of the proposed property in the plan.
Councilman Richard Boggiano said the Friends of the Loews Theater (FOL) have raised some concerns about the project.
In a letter to the city council, FOL said they were pleased by the fact that the city’s redevelopment agency has embraced a concept that the FOL proposed more than 30 years ago.
But the group questioned how the new development will impact the theater and its operations, and whether the construction will create a level of noise that might interfere with programs at the theater.
FOL questioned whether the construction would leave enough parking for patrons using the theater. The group also has concerns about possible negative impacts to the theater structure during construction of the two towers, and whether, as the anchor for the new arts district, the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority will provide any direct support for renovations or operations at the theater.
“The reason we couldn’t keep the museum open downtown was because nobody could park in that neighborhood. The same thing will happen in Journal Square with his arts district.” – Yvonne Balcer
Balcer said the proposed artistic zone won’t work, partly because of the lack of parking.
“I used to live downtown,” she said. “The reason we couldn’t keep the museum open was because nobody could park in that neighborhood. The same thing will happen in Journal Square with his arts district.”
The council introduced another ordinance to transfer city-owned parking lots to the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) for redevelopment that would include increased parking, hoping to expand parking for customers of retail businesses in the Journal Square area.
Currently, the lot is closed to the general public. The spaces had been leased to local companies by an agreement worked out with the defunct Parking Authority.
Councilman Michal Yun said the city should avoid removing parking lots near Newark Avenue, but to make sure parking spaces are affordable to the general public.
Boggiano called parking near Journal Square “a horror show”, and like Yun was concerned about signing off the property to the redevelopment agency without knowing the market value of the property or what the redevelopment authority intends to build there.
Yun said he also wanted to get some idea of the market value of the property.
David Donnelly, executive director of JCRA, said he would be willing to meet with local people to talk about needs in the neighborhood, but he wants the council to transfer the property before the end of the year so the JCRA can request proposals from potential developers.
In another ordinance introduced, the council is hoping to redevelop a municipal parking lot at 665 Bergen Ave., raising additional concerns about loss of parking
The lot, however, is so deteriorated most people do not even recognize that it is a municipal parking lot, said Council President Rolando Lavarro.
Several council members, including Boggiano, Michael Yun, and even Diane Coleman, said they were concerned about losing parking. Officials from the redevelopment authority, however, said maintaining the lot as it is doesn’t work, and proposed that if the city wants to maintain it, then it should construct a multi-level deck, possibly as part of a larger project that includes retail and residential uses above it.
Another Park Avenue in Jersey City
A legal loophole will allow a large development to retain the Park Avenue street name despite the council’s moves last year to outlaw streets with similar names.
The law was passed last year after confusion over names led public safety people to go to the wrong street on the report of a fire.
But since the developer named the street, near Liberty Harbor south of Grand Street, prior to the passing of the law, officials are helpless to change it dramatically. The council voted to modify the name from “Park Avenue” to “Park View Avenue.”
City will take property to relieve Wegman Court traffic problems
The council on a resolution hired Harold Law, an attorney, to begin proceedings to take land on Wegman Court by eminent domain.
Residents along Wegman Court said that it was not possible to turn around on the street, near Berry Lane Park in Jersey City, partly because a law passed last year required property owners to put a fence around vacant property. The narrow street, even at the best of times, provides limited access to emergency and other vehicles. If the city eventually takes the property, city officials said a larger cul-de-sac will be constructed to deal with the problem.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.