Morris Canal Park Manor

The Morris Canal Community Coalition, fighting to preserve the largely one- and two-family Berry Lane Park neighborhood in Jersey City’s southern end from development of a luxury residential high-rise, is pushing a compromise vision.

Residents hope this alternate proposal, which calls for extending the footprint of the proposed development, will appease developer Louis Mont by ensuring he would be getting the density of 420 residential units desired without the [proposed 17-story] height.

Details were sketched out by Ceci deLeon and Tom Ogorzalek of CDS Architecture during a recent Zoom discussion sponsored by the coalition in the wake of a City Council majority vote last week to re-affirm amendments to the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan. That vote will enable the Jersey City Planning Board to entertain Mont’s full proposal for the parcel at 417 Communipaw Ave.: a 17-story residential highrise, retail pop-up spaces, a public recreation center, and some open space.

The Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corp. and its executive director, June Jones, had sued the city and the Planning Board to stop the development, alleging that the amendments adopted by the city clashed with the city’s master plan and that planning for only five percent of the units to be “affordable” housing units was insufficient.

A court ruled that the Planning Board and City Council must reconsider the merits of the amendments, which both did, only to re-state their prior assessments as valid and not “arbitrary and capricious,” as contended by the plaintiffs.

Now the plaintiffs have 45 days to consider a possible appeal or some other possible action, according to Renee Steinhagen, a co-counsel from the Public Interest Law Center representing the MCRACDC.

At the same time, Jones said community representatives are continuing to meet informally with Mont and his lawyers in an effort to tweak the developer’s plans to balance his need for profitability with the community’s desire to protect the physical integrity of the neighborhood.

Under amendments made to redevelopment plans elsewhere in Ward F, the city has paved the way for other towers of nine, 14 and 24 stories either in process or completed, deLeon and Ogorzalek pointed out during the Zoom session.

So, the challenge for the architects in the Morris Canal matter, Ogorzalek said, was this: “Could we present an alternative for a reconfigured site with a lower height but providing the same number of [residential] units?”

The answer was “yes,” he said.  By enlarging the footprint of the development, relocating the recreation center and retail pop-up spaces, and removing much of the proposed surface parking, there would still be room for 420 apartments, arranged in graduating stages of four to eight stories.

The taller sections would front Communipaw Avenue in line with that street’s residential landscape in mass and scale, said Ogorzalek.

On the Woodward Street side of the project site, the developer could start with four floors, he said, and, then higher, stepping back into the central part of the site, to five or six stories, and possibly up to eight “to minimize shadows cast on the existing neighborhood homes and to maximize light and air so that conditions are more in line with the master plan.”

Whether Mont will be willing to go for this revised design concept remains to be seen.

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Ron Leir

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...