Pending Settlement with Property Owner would Permit 42-Story Residential Building in Journal Square

Update: Here’s a much better image provided by Jeff Wenger at City Planning. Click to see the full sized image.

A vision of a revitalized Journal Square that fulfills the dream of city planners and redevelopment agency heads past and present may be just around the corner, at least as far as a developer’s timeline goes, thanks to a pending settlement between the city and Robinhood Plaza that would permit a 42-story building on a plot of land along Summit Avenue.

The lawsuit stems from the 2010 redevelopment plan that limited the property’s zoning in a way that Robinhood reps said left them unable to compete with the much bigger development that is permitted on the other side of Summit.

Zoning where Robinhood’s property is located currently only permits 11 stories, and is adjacent to mostly 3-story buildings. Just across the street in an area known as the “core” in the redevelopment plan, and where the PATH station hub is located, there is no limit to height density. In fact, there are a number of big plans for the area, including the soon-to-be site-planned Journal Squared (J2) project.

When the redevelopment plan was first proposed, however, residents had voiced concerns about big construction overshadowing the neighborhood. As a result, says city planner Jeff Wenger, the redevelopment reduced zoning on smaller residential streets and shifted the density towards the PATH station.

But faced with the suit, and because of a number of significant benefits to the neighborhood such as park space “gifted” to the city, Wenger says the change in zoning for this location makes sense.

This lawsuit, he maintains, will only affect the plaintiff’s property and won’t lead to widespread re-zoning of the area.

In the year and a half of negotiations Wenger says the city was able to gain a number of benefits from the settlement, including a 0.8-acre park, a 20-foot walkway by the building, and a small plaza nearby.

The area, said resident Althea Bernheim, is “under-served by parks.” Bernheim, a 10-year resident of the neighborhood, spoke favorably of having a nearby playground for young families.

This in and of itself was perhaps justification enough for the settlement, says Wenger.

“Whenever you’re sued, if you decide to go to court you run risk of whatever a judge might do,” he said of the decision to settle. “There’s certainly some evidence that judges in New Jersey are landowner- and development-friendly.”

Without such a settlement, the space given as open space for the city might not have happened. Of course, the judge might also not have permitted the change in zoning at all.

But then, the potential 42-story building is itself beneficial to the city, he adds, though he noted there is no developer in place yet and ultimately the economics of the market may make a 42-story residential tower unfeasible.

“The idea is, in order to grow the city without exacerbating traffic congestion and air quality, we should put higher density closer to mass transit. This settlement is keeping with that transit-oriented development,” he said.

Before this can happen, however, there will “likely” be a community meeting that includes the local Ward C Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, city planners and the public, at which point concerns can be voiced. After this the city planners need to approve the amendment to the redevelopment plan as per the settlement, and then it would require two separate votes by the council.

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Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.