Last night Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro railed against his colleagues as they voted 6-2 to allow a massive luxury high rise to move ahead in Bergen-Lafayette. The project’s council sponsor, Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, and Lavarro lobbed volleys of personal attacks on one another, at one point prompting Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera to intercede.

Known as Morris Canal Park Manor, the 17-story, 361 unit project would include 18 affordable apartments, a recreation center for the community and ten “units” for minority start-up businesses that would move to market rate after 10 years.

For over an hour, residents called in to express their opposition to the project, most often about the lack of community input and the gentrifying effect it would have on the neighborhood.

Brenda Chisolm was typical. “There is not enough affordable housing. Five percent is a slap in the face of the community. Jersey City will soon become a city of transplants.”

Said Uche Akpa, “There has been very vocal opposition which has been ignored.”

Two callers expressed support.  Linda West Jackson was one. “I was born, raised and educated in Jersey City. My parents own property on Communipaw Avenue for 60 years. I speak to hundreds of people in that community who are very excited and very much for this new ordinance.”

Robinson spoke passionately in favor of the ordinance, focusing on the need to provide indoor recreation for kids.

“Everybody knows here that I’ve been working and fighting for recreation for the kids. And I want to thank Yousef [Saleh] for pointing out that the kids on the street are dying. On the day I became the council person, the number one thing that we were asked was I need something for the kids. We did a survey and the survey said that 91.5% strongly suggests that Ward F have a recreation facility.”

“I represent the entire Ward F and this project has got support from the entire city. Tonight may seem like it wasn’t support. But if anyone was on a planning meeting, we had a hundred speakers where it was not 50-50, it was way more about 70-30 of people speaking out on it.”

Taking aim at Lavarro, Robinson went on, “then we have the council people whose name was on documents from the JCRA [Jersey City Redevelopment Authority], who was the chair of the JCRA, who was the council president at the same time. And in the three years that that happened in my research, I didn’t see one project brought to the city that bought any community re-investment to us. I remember him coming to me and talking to me about how, how he wanted to put two 30-year abatements at the NJCU campus that we got nothing back for.”

Robinson also singled out the community group leading the effort against the project.  “And when we look at the Morris Canal area in general, we have over 2000 units…that has been approved by the Morris Canal CDC. And we have zero affordable units. We have zero community benefits that we can point at.”

Continuing to attack the project’s opponents, he went on. “Whoever didn’t support this, you don’t care about the kids in Ward F.”

Lavarro launched his counter-attack.  “I’ll tell you what the councilman from Ward F told me over the past several years. He confided in me at one time that his aspiration is to be Peter Mocco. ‘I want to be [local developer] Peter Mocco who was the North Bergen mayor at one time. And he learned so much about development that when he finished as mayor he was able to make a ton of money.’”

Councilman-at-large Daniel Rivera attempted to tamp down the rhetoric.  “Let’s not make a mockery out of this council…you need to take a breather, relax.”

Lavarro responded, “thanks for your concern, I’ve got it handled, no worries.”

Lavarro went on.  “So Councilman Robinson told me I want to be like Peter Mocco. I’m going to learn all I can about development and make all the relationships. And when I’m done here, I’m going to make a ton of money. Well you are on your way, on your way to that outcome councilman.”

“All of the council, people who were voting for this should be ashamed, frankly, because you are in fact enabling the disrespect and you’re enabling the gentrification and you’re enabling this this shameful act to go on right now. It’s literally a crime that’s being perpetrated tonight.”

“I mean, talk about selling ourselves on the cheap, talk about not knowing our value for Jersey City. This is an insult to the people of Jersey city. It’s an insult to two generations before them to the people who have struggled and fought for that vision and Morris Canal and the Lafayette area. We’ve now increased the value of this land, such that this property owner who has sat on this dilapidated land and allowed it to fester as an eyesore in the community, you’ve now enriched him to the tune of $11 million.”

Sounding like a possible aspirant for higher office, Lavarro called for the ouster of his former allies and council-members. “I hope that people of Jersey City are watching and I hope you realize what’s going on here in our city. We are being sold on the cheap and the only way it’s going to change, the only way that’s going to change, if we rise up as a city, as a community, and that we oust all of these folks in November, 2021. I know I can’t do it. It’s a powerful machine. But I’m making the call tonight because we can no longer stand by and allow these sort of deals to go by and to sell our city out.”

Aaron Morrill

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....

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