A new lawsuit is seeking the repeal of an ordinance that will allow for the construction of a controversial 17-story luxury residential project in Bergen-Lafayette.
The project, called Morris Canal Park Manor, has been the subject of heated community opposition since first proposed in 2020. The developer, Skyline Development Group, is hoping to build the 600,000 square foot mixed use project on the former site of a factory next to Berry Lane Park now commonly referred to as “Steel Tech.”
Opponents have raised multiple objections to the project. Chief among them are the project’s size in a neighborhood of one and two family homes and the inclusion of only five percent affordable housing. In 2021, the council adopted a new Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO) which mandates that new apartment projects allot at least ten percent of their units as affordable.
Opponents also object to using the land for luxury apartments on a site previously designated to become part of Berry Lane Park.
The lawsuit, filed last month, was served this morning on the City of Jersey City and the Jersey City Planning Board. In it plaintiffs Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corporation, Inc. (“MCRACDC”) and its executive director, June Jones, are asking the court to repeal an ordinance passed by the City Council on March 9 amending the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan to allow for project to move ahead.
MCRACDC and Jones had previously filed suit to stop the project, and achieved a partial victory when in August 2021 a judge sent the matter back to the Planning Board to explain how the project was consistent with the city’s master plan. The ordinance approved by the council on March 9 attempted to address the court’s concerns.
The new lawsuit claims that the city planner, on whose testimony the council relied, didn’t meet the test spelled out by the court. According to the complaint, the planner “failed to explain how the Amendments specifically were consistent with the Master Plan” and “admitted that the Amendments propose a development which is inconsistent with the density, height, and scope of the existing homes surrounding the Property.”
The planner’s “inability to articulate how the Amendments are in the City’s ‘best interests’” was unsurprising, says the complaint, “As [the amendments]…replace planned park space with a massive, 17-story development that is entirely out of character in its neighborhood, the Amendments are inferior to the original Plan in terms of advancing the public welfare.”
In March, local architects Ceci deLeon and Tom Ogorzalek unveiled an alternative proposal which would lower the project’s height but extend the footprint of the development to ensure that developer Louis Mont would be getting the density of 420 residential units.
Jones says that “the community is adamant” about limiting the building’s height. “We’ve given them a plan with the proposed density without the height but we haven’t really seen a response except to see another proposal with 17 stories.” After the judge’s ruling “they need to show that their plan is better than green open public space. They haven’t shown that.”
Jones also rejects the developer’s position that the five percent affordable housing component is “grandfathered” in. According to Jones, the project “comes to the table” after the current IZO was passed, meaning that ten percent of the units should be affordable.
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.