What the administration describes as a remaking of land use rules governing R1 (1- and 2-family) zoning districts will be reviewed by the City Council tonight with the introduction of an ordinance slated for a public hearing two weeks hence.

The proposed land use revisions, which the city describes as Phase 2 of the city’s master plan implementation, were recommended by the city Planning Board after a year-long process that, according to city planners, involved “numerous community meetings, walking tours and Zoom meetings ….”

If the council goes along, city planners say residents should expect to see zoning changes designed “to create better access to public spaces, protect historic neighborhoods, encourage a range of housing opportunities and provide retail and services at a variety of scales.”

These objectives, the planners say, would be achieved by creation of new zoning districts permitting affordable accessory dwelling units, a “major overhaul” of R1 district standards and updates to lot width definition, affordable housing overlay and site plan thresholds.

With the city having gained more than 40,000 new residents between 2010 and 2020, demand for additional living space has prompted an accelerated pace of construction with developers pushing to build increasing numbers of units – in some areas, dwarfing smaller-sized neighboring dwellings.

Properties classified as R1s comprise the predominant zoning district in the city, accounting for roughly 30% of all city land and about 40% of all city tax parcels, according to city planners.

Over the last decade or so, developers have successfully pressed the city zoning board for use and height variances citywide so city planners are hoping to even the playing field with new approaches as to what is and what is not allowed within different zoning districts.

As one city lawmaker explained, the changes would create clearer standards that everyone can understand and would allow for construction of residential buildings of “more consistent heights that won’t look out of place for a given neighborhood.”

Here’s a list of the new zoning districts proposed by the city ordinance pending before the council: 

RH-1 Residential Housing District (large lots of at least 4,000 square feet) would “preserve the pattern, quality and architectural individuality of the existing detached one- and 2-family structures and to discourage subdivision and demolition.  This district is similar to the RH-2 (see below) and R-1 zones except that it is intended to protect clusters of lot sizes that are larger than the standard 25×100 (feet) lot size for Jersey City.”

This district would allow for garages and basements to be used as accessory dwelling units, with “one dwelling unit permitted in an accessory structure per lot.”  A 3-unit building deemed a “principal structure” is permitted as a “conditional use.”  Maximum building height for new construction in this district is three stories up to 35 feet.

RH-2 Residential Housing District (typical lots of 2,500 square feet) would allow accessory uses such as private garages and off-street parking (unless prohibited by city parking standards), fences and walls, home occupations, pools, decks, patios, pergolas and storage sheds and accessory dwelling units.

R-1 Neighborhood Housing District would “accommodate existing housing, encourage compatible in-fill, preserve the streetscape and utilize and preserve on-street parking where lot frontage is narrow.”  Because the R-1 zone “impacts every ward in Jersey City … it is important that this zone acknowledge and celebrate the culture and physical assets of existing communities as well as create high quality, diverse housing types in all neighborhoods that will accommodate the needs of residents.”  

Principal uses in the R-1 Neighborhood District include: residential, houses of worship, civic, parks and playgrounds, essential services, schools, government uses, first-floor commercial, adult day care, assisted living residences, nursing homes, senior housing and public utilities. Among the permitted accessory uses are electric vehicle charging and accessory dwelling units.  Cannabis retailers, however, are banned.

R-3 Multi-Unit Mid-Rise District would “provide for a broad range of multi-unit housing in areas served by arterial streets, mass transit, neighborhood commercial uses and community facilities.  The purpose of this zone is to relate the building to the street and not create the type of development that centers the tower in a sea of parking, disconnecting the building from the street.”  This district would permit “mid-rise buildings of 3 to 8 stories and regulates height and density by lot size.”

R-4 Multi-Unit High-Rise District would allow retail sales of good and services and offices.  

R-2 Multi-Unit Attached Housing District (4 stories or less) would “recognize the existing pattern of housing development and promote compatible infill development.”  

R-3 Residential Commercial District (narrow lots, 3 and 4 stories) would supplement existing principal uses with ground floor retail sales, cafes and professional and medical offices along Baldwin Avenue and Coles Street.

NC-2 Neighborhood Commercial District (6 stories or less) would “recognize the importance of neighborhood business districts and provide ground floor commercial in mixed-use buildings to promote walkability, increase pedestrian safety, pedestrian scale aesthetics and environmental performance.”  This district would also allow hotels, banks (no drive-thrus), restaurants, theaters and museums, governmental uses and parks and playgrounds.

NC-3 Neighborhood Commercial District 3 (110 feet or less) would “foster the development of a vibrant and accessible citywide activity district that is a center of commerce and civic activity.  It functions as a local and regional destination for business, retail, education, government services, entertainment and transportation.”  It also permits “residential” uses but these are not defined.  “No on-site parking is required … on lots less than 10,000 square feet.”

For more details on bulk and design standards governing each district, along with a map showing locations of each zoning district, residents should visit the city website, locate the agenda for the July 12 council meeting and click on Ordinance 23-076.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...