Coles Street Park, Reservoir #3 and Foreclosure Counseling on Council Agenda

Spring-like breezes lofted through the open windows of the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room Monday night as Jersey City’s city council gathered for its Feb. 23 caucus meeting. The council discussed several ordinances pertaining to Jersey City’s parks and recreation including an ordinance to “vacate” 17th Street for the new Coles Street Park, a grant of $750,000 from the NJ Historic Trust, and details on a shared agreement with Hudson County and other municipalities to track housing foreclosures.

Coles Street Park, rendering by Urban Architecture LLC

First on the agenda, Ordinance 20-026 to “vacate certain portions of 17th Street” for the Jersey Avenue Redevelopment Plan’s Coles Street Park. Eliminating 17th Street will create a single lot to be transformed into a campus of mixed-use buildings with a pedestrian plaza and walkway.

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano took issue with the ordinance, stating that Jersey City already has enough parks. Although Coles Street Park will be paid for by Hoboken Brownstone Company (the developer), it will need to be maintained by Jersey City.

“That’s a big park,” Councilman Boggiano said at the top of the meeting. “We just spent $40 million on Garfield Avenue. How much is this going to cost us? Look at Pershing Field and all the things that should be done with the existing parks. I can’t see building new parks until the city takes care of the parks we already have.”

In November, Mayor Steven Fulop broke ground for Coles Street Park between 16th and 17th Streets. Urban Architecture LLC of Jersey City designed the park to include two dog runs, a playground and a stage for live performances. The park is the first phase of the Emerson Lofts development, a mixed-use property that is part of the Jersey City Redevelopment Plan.

NJ Historic Trust Grant $750,000 for Reservoir No. 3

Business Administrator
Brian Platt and Chief Landscape Architect for Jersey City Brian Weller, photo by Sally Deering

The council discussed Resolution 20-173 authorizing the acceptance of a $750,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust Fund for the restoration of Reservoir No. 3, a decommissioned reserve on Bergen Hill in the Heights. 

Built between 1871 and 1874, Reservoir No. 3 was part of the city’s waterworks system designed to provide potable water to Jersey City and Ellis Island. Since it was drained, an ecosystem has evolved in its place with trees, wildflowers, swans, great blue heron, peregrine falcons and a six-acre lake.

The NJ Historic Trust Fund granted Jersey City the money to restore Reservoir No. 3’s screen house. Once the council approves the award, the city will be expected to provide $750,000 in matching funds, and once restored the screen house will be an “educational and preserved historic resource” according to the state. 

“Give me the capital account balance, the spend down on capital accounts to date and what it was originally budgeted for when the council authorized it,” Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. said. “I want to make sure we spend what we budgeted for.”

“We want to make sure at the end of day what is spent and what’s left,” Councilman Yun added.

“This grant is very competitive,” Brian Weller, director of the Jersey City Division of Architecture said. “It’s a national historic site, a local historic site, so we are going to retain an historic preservationist. That’s part of getting this grant. We have since reviewed and selected the historic preservationist for this job, so we can hit the ground running.”

Once the project is completed, the state will have final approval of the renovation, Weller said.

Foreclosures Tracking and Counseling

Ordinance 20-028 to increase the fee for registration of foreclosure property and Resolution 20-182 authorizing a shared services agreement with Hudson County for Jersey City to participate in a county-wide registration program for foreclosed properties were brought to the council’s attention by Dinah Hendon, director of the Division of Housing Preservation.

Hendon’s office uses a foreclosed property registry, but it doesn’t seem to cast a wide-enough net. She supports the resolution to enter into an agreement with Community Champions Corporation (an organization that provides project management support for municipalities) because it will bring more foreclosure properties to the city’s attention. In doing so, tenants will have their rights addressed and homeowners can participate in needed housing counseling, she said.

“This company has the programs and access to the state court records, (and) it’s going to uncover many more foreclosures and contact those banks and handle the whole registration process that we are now trying to do in house,” Hendon said.

In 2019, Hendon’s office registered 544 foreclosed properties, she said. Champion reported to her that in their initial search there were 1,700 active foreclosures in Jersey City and another 900 for which the initial data is not clear. That’s somewhere between 1,700 and 2,800 active foreclosures, and the city registered only 544. Once the contract is signed, Hendon and her staff will focus on the most important aspect that the registration requirements were meant to address: the condition of the properties, the rights of the homeowners, and the rights of the tenants on the properties.

“Very often in foreclosures, banks don’t know New Jersey’s foreclosures laws and will say unknowingly to a homeowner to contact their tenants and tell them the bank has taken over the property or some equally troublesome notice a tenant may get, when in fact tenants’ rights in New Jersey are very well settled,” Hendon said. “If a building is in foreclosure, it doesn’t change their rights as a tenant. We want to be on top of that,” she continued.

Council members in attendance:  President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun.

Next Caucus Meeting:  Monday, March 9, 4 p.m.
Jersey City City Hall
280 Grove St, Jersey City

Header:  Jersey City City Council’s Caucus Meeting in Session, Mon., Feb. 24, photo by Sally Deering

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City Council

JC Council Approves Arts Trust Fund Referendum, Laurel Court Redevelopment, and New City Clerk

At Jersey City’s Feb. 13 city council meeting, members approved a referendum for a new publicly funded arts trust fund to be on November’s ballot, voted unanimously for Sean J. Gallagher to replace retired Robert Byrne as city clerk, and approved a resolution to move forward on a plan for the redevelopment of Laurel and Saddlewood Courts in downtown Jersey City.

City Hall’s council chambers buzzed with local residents including a group of Downtown homeowners who came to address the council. They represented 37 of the 38 homeowners who want the council to pass a resolution formalizing a plan that deems their properties in need of redevelopment with possible condemnation. The developer Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC) has made a tentative deal with the 37 homeowners to buy their homes for agreed-upon prices. In their place, LMC will build a 50-story high-rise with 810  rental apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space, a new public park, an expanded Filipino Veterans Plaza, and a new public school for 300-350 children.

“We support the city’s plan to redevelop our block based on safety issues as well as the obsolete design of the buildings,” homeowner Tommy Tran said. “All of us have been working so hard with the city’s planner to come up with a solution to this problem. I want to state we’re very knowledgeable about what we’re getting into.”

Tran talked to the council about the 38th homeowner who has refused to work with the other homeowners. Trans said the homeowner, a developer, doesn’t live on the property but bought a home there “with the intention to really bully us.”

“It was like, ‘If I don’t build on this block, nobody builds on this block’,” Tran said, referring to him. “We couldn’t deal with that. Our properties are obsolete. It’s been a long journey. I hope you can help us. Your vote today means a tremendous amount to us.”

Founder and CEO of the Shuster Group of Jersey City, Eyal Shuster is the 38th homeowner against the redevelopment plan. He attended the council meeting, and when it was his turn at the podium, he spoke out against the resolution, saying the city was treating him unjustly. If the resolution is approved, the council will then consider acquiring Shuster’s property through eminent domain.

“The city is unfairly and illegally favoring a competing developer and assisting its interference with our six-year effort to develop Saddlewood Court,” Shuster told the council. “With your vote today, you are not condemning my property, you’re condemning my livelihood and the livelihood of over 100 people who work in my office, 50 percent of which are Jersey City residents.”

Councilman Michael Yun showed his support for the redevelopment plan but warned the homeowners that he would not approve a tax abatement if the request came before the Council.

“Thirty-seven our of 38 homeowners want to redevelop their area,” Councilman Yun said. “I respect that. If 37 of 38 people look for redevelopment of their area, they deserve to have it, but don’t come back to the City of Jersey City looking for a tax abatement. You are not going to be happy.”

The council approved the resolution.

Art Tax Makes the Ballot

The council approved a referendum on November’s election day ballot allowing Jersey City residents to decide whether or not they want the city to establish an “Art Trust Fund,” an arts and culture initiative similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund.  The council voted 8-1 in favor of the referendum with Councilman Boggiano voting “no.”

“We have enough taxes,” Boggiano said.

The fund would support local artists and arts education and would be paid for by the city’s homeowners and businesses at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Steven Fulop supported the measure.

Three Minutes, Please

Josephine Paige addresses
the council, photo by Sally Deering

In a 6-2 vote, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would impose a three-minute limit on all members of the public wishing to speak at the second readings of ordinances at council meetings. The ordinance also includes a five-minute limitation on all members of the public “wishing to speak on the adoption of the budget and on any amendments to the budget”. Prior to the vote there had been no time limit on such opportunities. Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the restrictions, including Jeanne Daly of Jersey City.

“I think the three-minute limitation is unacceptable,” Daly began. “We have 275,000 residents in Jersey City, and the fact that 25 of us come to speak, you should consider yourself lucky. If everyone showed up, then we’d really have a problem.”

Daly admonished the council for not sponsoring ordinances and resolutions. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for the council members to research what they’re voting on, she said.

“You have the resolutions,” Daly said, “(and yet) it’s sometimes us, the residents, that have to look that up for you and then come in front of you and give you the facts. Council members are supposed to sponsor ordinances. This is what they’re supposed to be doing. If you do, you’ve done your homework.”

Appoint or Elect, Voters to Decide

Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the resolution passed last month by the council to approve a referendum for an appointed School Board. The referendum will be placed on November’s ballot, and if Jersey City residents vote in favor of it, Mayor Fulop will have the power to appoint the nine members of the school board for four-year terms (or longer) starting July 1, 2021.

“An appointed (school) board will leave the public with no say or input in the decisions made by the board,” Paige said. “With an elected board you can change members every year. With an appointed board, the same is not true. Members may remain on the board for as long as the mayor wishes, regardless of public discontent. Your vote will no longer count or have any impact.”

New City Clerk

New City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher, photo by Sally Deering

The council voted 9-0 to approve Sean J. Gallagher as city clerk, replacing the retired Robert Byrne. Gallagher worked with Byrne for 22 years and credits him for the inspiration to move up the ladder at city hall.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman cast a “yes” vote after thanking Robert Byrne for his service to Jersey City.

“Sean, I know you have great shoes to fill,” President Watterman said, as Gallagher stood at the podium. “You have a way of solving problems, and I do appreciate that. You always have something positive to say, and you come up with a solution, and that’s what you need, people who come up with solutions so they can move the city forward.”

With the unanimous vote cast, and to resounding applause, Gallagher accepted the appointment, with his wife, Laura, and son, Sean, watching from the front row of the public gallery.

“I definitely have really big shoes to fill,” Gallagher said in his acceptance speech. “Robert Byrne, without him I wouldn’t exist in the clerk’s office. He taught me well. I’ve worked with Robert for 22 years. He gave me the aspirations to move up. I would love to thank my wife, Laura, my son, Sean, and my brother William who introduced the family to Jersey City politics 25 years ago.”

Resolution Honors West Indies Festival

The council approved a resolution honoring Cheryl Murphy, founder and president of the West Indian Caribbean American Carnival Association in Jersey City, and the association itself upon its twenty-fifth anniversary . The nonprofit hosts an annual parade and festival featuring health screenings and entertainment and an annual business conference on finance, taxes, insurance, and maintaining “healthy” stores.

“We appreciate all that you do for the Caribbean community in Jersey City,” Councilwoman Denise Ridley said. Council President Watterman cast the final “yes” vote.

“Every year Cheryl’s here making sure that this parade and culture is noticed, and for that I commend you.,” President Watterman said. “So often, we get weary. We get tired, but you’ve been faithful. Congratulations for 25 years. I wish you 25 more.”

With a 9-0 vote, Council passed the resolution.

In attendance: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

Next Council Meeting: Wed, Feb. 26, 6 p.m.
Jersey City City Council Chambers
City Hall
280 Grove Street, JC
For more info:

Header:  Thursday’s Jersey City Council Meeting comes to order, photos Sally Deering

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Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum

Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

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