Planning Board Reviewing Proposal to Allow Artist Studios in Heights & Restaurants on Palisade Avenue

A map of the proposed R1 Overlay/Arts district

UPDATE: The Planning Board recommended the amendments and they will be discussed at a public hearing at City Hall on Feb. 27.

A proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance for the Riverview Arts District will be up for discussion at tonight’s meeting of the Jersey City Planning Board.

Under the proposed amendment, the Riverview Arts District (RAD) — a portion of the Heights designated as an arts district in 1984 by a municipal ordinance which was never codified — would be expanded to include a good portion of the eastern Heights, as shown in the map seen at right. If the Planning Board recommends the amendment for the existing zoning ordinance, the matter will go before City Council for approval.

Under the amendment, artists would be able to have studios or work/live units within the RAD. Legally, an artist is defined as a person regularly engaged in the fine arts as a career and not as a hobby. This does not, however, mean that fine art has to generate the artist’s main source of income or that the creation of work must occupy the greatest portion of the artist’s day. “Fine art” is defined as including, but not being limited to, painting, sculpture, choreography and music composition.

Also, sit-down and takeout restaurants would be able to occupy ground floor on Palisade Avenue in areas currently only designated for multi-family attached housing under four stories under the amendment. If approved, the amendment would eliminate the need to apply for a variance to set up a restaurant on Palisade (some of the eateries already on the avenue that were established before zoning laws changed were grandfathered and allowed to continue operating).

Riverview Neighborhood Association president Becky Hoffman says these proposed changes could have a major impact on the area.

“Once it’s in place, it would make it more attractive for artists who want to set up shop here. From the RNA’s point of view, we want to promote the area and the wonderful artists who live here,” she says.

She admits, however, that some neighborhood tension might arise with an influx of more artists and new restaurants. “For every advancement that you make, there are going to be potentially negative tradeoffs, but there needs to be something to promote the Heights. This is something we have organically here –a lot of artists and a lot of talent.”

She notes that for the Heights, more studios could mean more involvement in citywide art events like JC Fridays and the Jersey City Artist Studio Tour. Other organization like the Washington Park Association, Farms in the Heights, the Distillery Gallery and the Central Avenue Special Improvement District have also seen the potential benefits of these proposed changes and also back the amendment.

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Residents can weigh in at the meeting tonight, Feb. 5, at 5:30 pm in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 280 Grove St.

Map courtesy of Becky Hoffman

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.