City Settles Lawsuit with Robinhood Plaza, Permits 42-Story Zoning for Property Along Summit Ave

By • Nov 29th, 2012 • Category: Featured, News

An amendment to the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan permitting the Robinhood Plaza property to up-zone from 11 stories to 42 stories was passed at Wednesday night’s Council meeting at a vote of 5-3-1, despite concern from at least one neighborhood group that described the settlement as “ruining the neighborhood.”

A simple majority of the Council felt that the perks of the settlement, primarily the 0.8 acre of land to be used as a park, coupled with the prospect of losing the lawsuit, was sufficient reason to approve the deal.

“This is a neighborhood that needs improvement,” said Council President Peter Brennan. He also noted that regardless of the settlement, “right across the street” a much taller building is on its way.

That planned development, and its unlimited upward density, is the reason Robinhood had contended they were unfairly put at a disadvantage by the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan.

“I know that a 42-story building can feel imposing, but the settlement laid out the plan very carefully and thoughtfully,” said Ward A Councilman Mike Sottolano.

He noted the area directly adjacent to the property was actually down-zoned from eight stories to either five or six, depending on its use. Joining Brennan and Sottolano in favor of the vote were Ward C Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, Ward D Councilman Bill Gaughan, and At-Large Councilwoman Viola Richardson. Newly elected Ward F Councilwoman Diane Coleman, sworn in the same day as the meeting, opted to abstain from the vote, saying she was not privy to all of the information.

Sottolano’s reassurances did not assuage resident fears who said environmental concerns had not been adequately addressed and that the move would “ruin” the neighborhood.

“This building doesn’t belong among private houses,” said Rich Boggiano, the president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Association. Building on the other side of Summit Avenue, which has more commercial buildings, is sufficiently far away from those private houses, he added.

In a letter to the Council, Althea Bernheim, an HNA member, said the settlement ignored community concerns that were written into the redevelopment plan.

“We recognize that we live in a City and that change is inevitable, but at the same time we know that keeping to the existing agreed upon Journal Square Redevelopment 2060 plan embodies the spirit of development while honoring the existing communities. This settlement agreement is not in keeping with this spirit,” she writes. “I am sorry that the developer sat on the land and squandered the opportunity to do anything with it until such time that the community changed and so did the redevelopment plan in keeping with that, but it is no reason to hand over an enormous amount of height for so very little in return.”

Questions were also raised about the environmental investigation of the proposed parkland, which only looked at the history of the property’s use rather than taking soil samples. That was “insufficient,” according to Laura Skolar, a member of the Jersey City Parks Coalition. “None of the Coalition’s concerns were addressed.”

She added that further questions remained about where funding for the park would come from, which, as the park currently stands “is only suitable for rock climbing,” she said, alluding to the sloping land and its expensive fix.

Bryan Deere, a committee member of the PATH Patron Advisory Committee, said the PATH was already over-packed, dubbing it the “sardine express.”

“It’s at max capacity,” he said, adding this size building would exceed proposed fixes to the system.

“Even when they upgrade the system and make PATH more efficient, we can’t run many more trains,” he said. “Strictly from a PATH train perspective, adding 40-something stories by the PATH is a terrible idea.”

City Planner Bob Cotter, however, said he’s heard this concern about the PATH system reaching maximum capacity before – back in the 1980’s. And yet the system was successfully tweaked as the city grew.

He added that the city doesn’t “know for certain” about the environmental condition of the land, but had “pretty good confidence that the land isn’t extremely contaminated.” That, he says, means there is trash but likely nothing hazardous.

Photo by Steve Gold; map image provided by Jersey City

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is is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.
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  • joehark

    Bob Ciotter, for whom I have the highest respect, is quoted as saying, ““ . . . pretty good confidence that the land isn’t extremely contaminated.” I say that because I don’t want my comments to be seen as criticism. I think it was 1992 or 93 that a fire destroyed the abandoned commercial laundry building that had a large footprint on some of the land proposed for development. I believe it operated for many decades. It was not unusual for commercial laundries to also do “dry cleaning.” That process uses various long-lived and dangerous chemicals such as Perchlorethylene. I respectfully suggest that possibility indicates the need for soil sampling.

  • Jeff Spangler

    Last nights meeting clearly shows that the Planning Board will simply approve any project regardless of the size of the building in contrast to the surrounding area. They make no excuses in their decisions yet excuse themselves from responsibility in the negative impacts on infrastructure. Its a joke really… just not a very funny one.