Taking time out from its regular work to honor a five-year-old who saved her sister from drowning, Jersey City’s municipal council voted last night to expand protection of street trees and allocate funds for a citywide park fix and for repairs to buildings that house critical social services.
The lawmakers also paused an overhaul of the city’s land use rules and condemned a state bills it says would blunt the Open Public Records Act.
A Heroic Five-Year-Old
Council members accorded a special welcome to 5-year-old city resident Julia Santana who, according to a resolution drafted for the occasion, “demonstrated exceptional bravery and acted heroically to save her 2-year-old sister from drowning in a hot tub during a family vacation.”
Ward E Councilmember James Solomon, who sponsored the resolution, said the Santana family attributed the child’s quick action to “the valuable swimming skills she acquired at the British Swim School,” a privately-run facility which operates at several locations in Jersey City and the region.
Solomon told the Jersey City Times that the school owner, a friend of his, had alerted him about the incident. He and fellow city lawmakers said they were bringing the matter to light to remind parents this could be a good time to enroll their kids in swimming lessons at local pools.
In hopes of improving the future of the city’s tree canopy, the city administration, spurred on by Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey, who chairs the city Shade Tree Committee, is asking the council to toughen regulations aimed at saving existing street trees and ensuring that new plantings survive.
The most recently available estimate places Jersey City’s tree canopy coverage at just under 11% — about half of where national experts say it should be.
The proposed revisions, which were presented in the form of a first-reading ordinance July 12, are endorsed by the city Shade Tree Committee and its chair, Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey.
“Street trees promote the health and welfare of the public by improving air quality, absorbing carbon dioxide and particulate matter as well as reducing storm water runoff and the potential for soil erosion,” the ordinance says.
Additionally, it says, “City trees provide shade, lower air temperatures, protect pedestrians from rain, wind, sun and heat as well as reduce noise pollution and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.”
Street trees “also increase property values and enhance the city’s aesthetic qualifies, thus making the city more attractive to residents, visitors and businesses.”
For all these reasons, the ordinance says, the city “must revise the existing (law) governing street trees throughout the city, to ensure that they are given maximum protection.” The city’s street tree code was last amended in 2021.
Prinz-Arey commended the “dedication” of Shade Tree Committee members, city Parks and Forestry Division, Public Works Department and city forester for their tree-friendly advocacy.
The city now proposes to add to the list of “prohibited activities” the following:
No one shall cover or obstruct open space around the base of a tree that would prevent water, fertilizer “or air” from reaching its roots.
No one shall use “tape” or “glue,” among other things, to affix a sign to a tree, causing puncturing or girding. And, “all temporary ‘no parking’ signs affixed to a tree must be removed upon expiration of the no parking time period by the entity requesting that restriction.”
“No person shall place within a tree pit any type of free-standing sign of any kind including feather signs, sandwich boards (a-frame or chalkboard signs) or any other similar device or structure,” used typically for advertising.
“Piling of garbage bags, recycling and paper bins within tree pits is also prohibited.”
No one shall “cut or remove” a city tree. (Previously, up to 20% of a tree could be sliced away.)
And, no one shall “fill or close a tree pit.”
The list of “acts requiring a (city) permit” would be extended to include coating a city tree with chemicals, pruning or sawing “any portion” of a city tree, installing “decorative lighting” above, “around” or through a city tree, conducting any type of construction or infrastructure work “within 30 feet” of a city tree (which previously limited such activity to 15 feet separation) and filling or closing a tree pit.
A property owner permitted to remove a city tree shall compensate the city for the tree’s value as reckoned by the municipal forester.
A new section to be added to the existing street tree code proposes that: “All trees on any street or publicly-owned property within 30 feet of any excavation or construction of any building, structure or street work shall be guarded with a temporary wooden tree guard not less than four feet high. At no time shall the tree guard extend beyond the sidewalk into the street, nor shall the tree guard cause a hardship for those using the sidewalk.”
Also: “When construction, excavation and/or material deposits result in the destruction and/or removal of a street tree, the person or utility company responsible for that damage shall replace the street tree with either a tree or trees of equivalent dollar value in the vicinity of the removed street tree subject to the approval of the city forester.”
On the recreation front, the council voted to apply $846,550 in federal CDBG-CV (Community Development Block Grant/Coronavirus relief) funding to rehabilitate 21 municipal parks.
The rec sites listed for funding are: Pavonia/Marion Park, 914 Pavonia Ave.; Courtney Fricchione Park, 179 West Side Ave.; Stevens Avenue Park, 62-66 Martin Luther King Drive; Pershing Field Memorial Park, 201 Central Ave.; McGovern Park, 28 Sycamore Rd.; Hamilton Park, 25 W. Hamilton Pl.; Caven Point, 1 Chapel Ave.; Berry Lane Park, 1000 Garfield Ave.; Lafayette Pool, 303 Van Horne St.; Roberto Clemente Baseball Field, 450 Manila Ave.; William Gallagher Park, 265 Linden Ave.; Mary Benson Park, 200 Merseles St.; Lafayette Park, 281 Van Horne St.; Gateway Park, 40 Merseles St.; Monticello Avenue Park, 36 Monticello Ave.; Martuccie Field, 1020 West Side Ave.; Janet Moore Park, 109-115 Ogden Ave.; Virginia Park, 76 Virginia Ave.; and Enos Jones Park, 365 Ninth St.
What improvements are slated to be done at each park the city has yet to disclose.
The council authorized using CDBG-PF (public facilities) funding for three projects: $94,150 to repair the roof of the Police Athletic League facility, 163 Old Bergen Rd., which, the city says, “hosts mentoring, violence prevention and after-school activities for low- and moderate-income youth in the Greenville area; $78,000 for security improvements at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind, which operates classes for visually-impaired, multi-disabled city residents; and $100,000 for ADA upgrades at the Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne St., which the city says is “the largest provider of NA, AA and 12-step programs in Jersey City serving low- and moderate-income persons.”
By a 4-2 margin, with Prinz-Arey and Solomon dissenting, the council voted to withdraw, for now, the proposed first reading of an ordinance to amend the city Land Development law, create new zoning districts and a new citywide zoning map.
Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano, who called for further review of the ordinance, voted to carry over the ordinance, along with Ward F member Frank Gilmore, Ward D member Yousef Saleh and at-large member Amy Degise, who served as acting council president in the absence of Joyce Watterman. At-large member Daniel Rivera was also absent, along with Ward A member Denise Ridley.
Boggiano issued a statement, commending city planners for their input of which “75% is good and has great intentions. But 25% needs work and should be changed.” He said three community groups (which he didn’t name) noted that under the new rules, “lots of 5,000 square feet can build up to five feet from the sidewalk instead of matching their neighbors” and also asked that a provision allowing accessory dwelling units “be removed.”
Boggiano faulted realtors for “encouraging demolition (and) this is destroying neighborhoods … that are diverse and built by hard-working families who arrived from India, Egypt, the Philippines, the Caribbean, as well as the working class families who have been here for over 40 years. These are good people. These (proposed zoning) changes will gentrify the neighborhood.”
Finally, the council went on record opposing state assembly bills “that raise significant concerns about potential restrictions, limitations or attempts to weaken the (Open Public Records Act), jeopardizing the public’s right to access government records, hindering transparency and undermining democratic principles.” The resolution was co-sponsored by Council President Joyce Watterman and Councilmembers James Solomon, Mira Prinz-Arey, Yousef Saleh, and Frank Gilmore.
If passed, the council resolution warned, this legislation “could erode the public’s ability to hold government officials accountable, impede investigative journalism and hinder the free flow of information necessary for informed decision-making.”