In this week’s update, I’d like to give neighbors a little background on the proposed development on Bright and Varick.

Though portions of the Van Vorst Park neighborhood were redistricted out of Ward E into Ward F following the 2010 census, as a resident of downtown Jersey City, all of Van Vorst is important to me.  And together with our community, I share concerns about the proposed development at Bright and Varick.  

While I know that the city followed the “letter of the law” in advertising and making public proposed changes to the redevelopment plan covering the property at Bright and Varick, I do not feel that it followed the “spirit of the law” in engaging the community for input. I also share the community’s concerns over parking. And while I appreciate the long-term goal of reducing citizen dependence on cars, I do not think we currently have sufficient public transportation, cabs or car-shares to justify no onsite parking of any kind.

So what can be done?  Before giving my thoughts, I want to share some facts about the history of this land, the authority of the city council, and state laws regulating situations such as these.

    1. Over two years ago, in 2011, the previous city council voted to “blight” the land and turn it over to the Jersey City redevelopment agency.  They also voted to amend the redevelopment plan which changed exactly “what” could be built on this piece of property. 
    2. The city council has the authority and oversight over changes to redevelopment plans, the land use ordinance and zoning maps.  The city council does not have any legal authority over anything else as it relates to what gets built where.
    3. New Jersey state law dictates that a developer has the legal right to use the zoning that was in place at the time he/she filed the application to build a building, regardless of whether or not the zoning is changed in the future. 

In light of these facts, the only legal route we can take as the newly elected council is to change the redevelopment plan itself.  However, this action still wouldn’t influence the Bright and Varick project since its developer contracted to build it under the earlier redevelopment plan . 

If the council can’t do anything, what can the administration do? While I am not in the administration, and while I don’t have legal options available as a city council member, I can use my position to ask questions and explain the importance of working to resolve the community’s frustration with this project. 

So, I’m doing that.  I’ve spent many hours working with Ward F Councilwoman, Diane Coleman, Mayor Steven Fulop and the Jersey City Law Department trying to find any way out of this. We’ve brainstormed, researched together, and hunted for loopholes, but there do not appear to be viable legal options at this point.  And while the decision to pursue any loopholes rests solely with the Mayor and not the city council, after having been a part of the conversation, I stand behind the Mayor and I believe that it would be irresponsible to the tax payers of Jersey City to put ourselves in the path of a contract lawsuit we are guaranteed to lose.

I know many of us who live downtown are, like me, concerned by this, so I want to speak to you honestly and from my heart about what I believe can be done.  While my search has not yet turned up viable options that I have control over as a council member, I’m asking you contact me to share with me any ideas that I can pursue within my role as your council person. 

    • Moving forward.  The communities’ frustration is not lost on me.  Since taking office, I’ve been working to get neighborhood input into changes to redevelopment plans well before they go to the planning board (and ultimately before the city council.)  In the past month, I’ve been working with 30 members of the community to outline a more formal process, which will be released in the coming weeks.
    • Parking for this project.  I do believe we have a shot at working on the parking situation for this project. To achieve that, I’m currently talking to our legal department about pursuing city ordinances that will alleviate parking concerns.
    • My ability to talk with residents about this project.  If in the future the city is sued over its past actions, my oath of office will prevent me from being able to discuss the project with the community even though those past actions predated my term. More than anything, I want to be able to represent your needs by talking them through with you.

Thank you for all of your calls, letters, and conversations on this issue. I want to reaffirm my commitment to do my best to uphold my oath of office and to focus my work on what can be — what must be — changed to move our community forward.