A community group filed suit on Friday to stop the construction of a 17-story 420-unit luxury high-rise in Bergen-Lafayette. The project, known as Morris Canal Park Manor, would replace a dilapidated factory on Communipaw Avenue known as “Steel Tech.”
The project, spearheaded by Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, has been controversial from the start, with local residents arguing that the land in question was slated to become part of Berry Lane Park under the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan. In a contentious meeting in December, the city council amended the redevelopment plan to allow the project to move forward.
The lawsuit was brought by The Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corporation, Inc. (“MCRACDC”) and its executive director, June Jones, against the City of Jersey City, and the city’s planning board and planning division. It alleges that the city failed to properly notify MCRACDC of critical hearings and that it engaged in illegal “spot zoning” by changing the zoning of a parcel of land to benefit a developer at the expense of the community. The city itself has estimated that the development will generate $3 million in profit for the developer, Lou Mont of Skyline Development Group LLC.
The MCRACDC was given special stakeholder status in the redevelopment plan and serves as the official vehicle to maintain community involvement throughout the redevelopment process within the redevelopment area.
According to plaintiffs, the city sought and obtained millions of dollars in state and county grant money to rehabilitate the 3.5 acre site after promising that it would become green space.
Councilman Robinson has argued that the developer agreed to “community givebacks” including a recreation center and office space for minority business enterprises.
The plaintiffs say the land should become part of Berry Lane Park. They have also dismissed the givebacks as insufficient. “The City went back on its word,” said Mangelin Rivera, President of MCRACDC. “Worse still, the so-called community benefits that this project proposes are weak: The only person this really benefits is its developer.”
The MCRACDC and Jones are represented by the law firm Matsikoudis & Fanciullo and by Renée Steinhagen of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center.