From the Hudson to the Hackensack, Jersey City experiencing another growth spurt

Bad news for vacant lots all over Jersey City: New real estate development is likely on the way to take their places.

The Jersey City Planning Board has met every week for more than a month (normally they meet every other week), often for more than five hours at a time, hearing and deciding on new buildings in every corner of the city, some that will change their neighborhoods forever.

In Ward A, just south of Liberty State Park, the fourth phase of Port Liberté is finally closing in on a hearing before the planning board after years of uncertainty about its future.

Developers are seeking approval for construction of a five-story, 401-unit apartment complex with a seven-story parking garage to house 602 vehicles.

Port Liberté — with the Manhattan skyline to the east and overlooking the ultra-exclusive Liberty National golf course to the west — is already home to approximately 800 condominiums in a secluded community on a peninsula in the New York Bay. The land for the new additions to the area is currently sitting empty.

The project made it onto the planning board’s March 22 agenda, but was postponed until April 26.

The West Side is also represented in the spree of new buildings. At its April 5 meeting, the planning board saw the first paperwork for an application from developer DHA Capital for a six-story, mixed-use building proposed for 70 Mallory Ave.

The proposal contains 136 residential units as well as 2,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. It would also include a 53-unit parking garage.

Nearby, at 212 Culver Ave., the same developer also is proposing an eight-story mixed-use building with 365 residential units, 1,550 square feet of retail space, and a parking garage with room for 184 spots.

The land, which appears currently to house a plastic factory warehouse, could soon be the home of a new building with nearly 5,000 square feet of “tenant amenity space,” a landscaped terrace of more than 8,000 square feet, and roof deck of more than 5,000 square feet, if it is approved by the planning board. The application was adjourned at the April 5 meeting until April 26.

And on Hudson River, in the Newport neighborhood, the planning board gave the green light for the preliminary plans for a major new development: four towers of residential units on a pier jutting into the water.

The 8.5-acre site, currently effectively empty, will be split into four lots containing 1,723 residential units in the four towers, which are proposed to be split into pairs that would each share a parking podium with 897 parking spaces in total. The buildings will be 42 and 39 stories tall.

A proposal for the project says it will create nearly half a mile of new waterfront walkway around the perimeter of the property, where there currently is none.

The project will feature more than 4,000 feet of ground floor retail and a “includes the continuation of an existing heliport use,” the proposal reads.

The development received a special hearing devoted solely to it on March 15, where the planning board approved the preliminary plan.

The project was previously the target of a petition from the board of the nearby Mandalay building, who said that “the noise and air-pollution from massive construction, in addition to frequent interruption of water supply, all have negative impact on our lives.”

Some pushback to the project was still present at the March 15 meeting.

“We don’t have a school here,” said Anne Villers, a Newport resident and secretary of disaster response group Resilient JC, in her testimony to the board. “You’re adding 1,700 units and even if 20% of those people have kids that’s probably about 300 kids that need to go to school somewhere.”

She said the project would add traffic congestion to the area, even with the parking spaces it will create.

Villers also noted that the project, since it is not applying for any variances, is not required to and does not include any affordable housing units. As proposed, the Port Liberté, Culver Avenue and Mallory Avenue projects do not set aside affordable housing units, either.

And citywide, that kind of omission has created a measure of skepticism over the latest spurt in development. After dipping to 223,000 residents in the 1980 U.S. Census, Jersey City has rebounded to more than 292,000 in the 2020 Census.

Donal Malone, a retired planning professor at Saint Peter’s University, questioned the benefits of new construction to most residents.

He said the New Urbanism model on display at Port Liberté — a style of planning favoring development at a human scale, where people can “live, work, and play” all in one area — is “is a code word for gentrification and real estate profits.”

Gentrification, he said, is a problem all over the city — though he said the issue is a question of policy, not of blaming “young professionals” for moving in. “They’re just desperate. They’re paying 50%, 60% Downtown,” Malone said.

The problem, he added, is that “any time you improve communities, it ends up being more attractive to people who can afford to pay higher prices to move in there.”

The question, then, is how to balance those two priorities. But Malone is hopeful it can be done. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” he said.

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