April 21, 2021

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Community group sues Jersey City over controversial Bergen-Lafayette development

3 min read

A community group has sued Jersey City and the city planning board, alleging that plans for a controversial high-rise in the city’s Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood violate both New Jersey law and the terms of a neighborhood development plan.

The Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corporation and its executive director, June Jones, filed the suit Monday to halt the development of the Morris Canal Manor, a planned 17-story development at 417 Communipaw Ave., near Woodward Street and just north of Berry Lane Park.

“This massive project has no home in our neighborhood,” Jones said in a press release sent out Monday evening. “It may make a developer millions, but it will cost our tight-knit, historic community its character — not to mention park land the city has promised it would create for two decades.”

Jersey City spokeswoman Kim Wallace-Scalcione defended the city’s actions around the site.

“The legal process is being followed, and we look forward to moving Ward F forward after working diligently with Councilman (Jermaine) Robinson and the private sector to provide the community with a 22,000-square-foot recreation center for Jersey City’s youth, 40 public parking spots, a small business incubator space focused on women and veterans, in addition to 5% affordable housing for the site,” Wallace-Scalcione said.

“This will be a great addition to complement Berry Lane Park, and it is being done in a way that is responsible, without putting taxpayers on the hook for millions upon millions of dollars, especially amid the current financial strain so many people are facing as a result of the pandemic.”

The Morris Canal Manor, a project designed by North Bergen-based Skyline Development, has been controversial since its inception.

Some Ward F residents have hailed its community benefits, which include 14,000 square feet of retail space, a small business incubator geared toward minority-owned businesses, and the construction of a 22,000 square-foot structure for a “STEM-recreation center.”

But critics pointed out that the city had previously been awarded $1 million in state Green Acres funds to convert the property into parkland as an addition to Berry Lane Park. And some Ward F residents believe that the high-rise — with only 18 units of affordable housing out of 361 units — will exacerbate gentrification in the rapidly changing neighborhood.

Despite the controversy, the Jersey City city council approved an ordinance in December amending the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan to allow the project.

But Monday’s lawsuit, filed by Jersey City law firm Matsikoudis & Fanciullo and the Newark-based New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center in Hudson County Superior Court, aims to halt those proceedings.

Monday’s lawsuit alleges that the project constitutes “illicit ‘spot zoning,’” meaning the “impermissible re-zoning of land for the benefit of an owner or developer over the community at large,” and violates the terms of the city’s Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan.

Under the plan, the lawsuit alleges, Jersey City “had a ministerial duty to ensure that the (Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corporation) and the stakeholders that it represents, were fully engaged in a participatory decision-making process with respect to the property.”

But in this instance, the complaint alleges, officials did not properly notify the community development corporation of meetings about the site and proposed changes to zoning rules, allegedly resulting in a “truncated” process that was “never properly completed.”

Lou Mont, the owner and CEO of Skyline Development, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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