Activists call on Jersey City to deal them in on 100-acre redevelopment site

By David Cruz

It’s been almost 15 years since the fight to clean up the 100-acre site on the banks of the Hackensack River ended with a promise from Honeywell Corporation (then known as Allied Chemical) to clean up chromium contamination and render the property livable again. Reverend William Ashley was a leader in that fight going back to the 80s, and now that it’s here – Bayfront, according to the bright signage – is a much sought-after property in a booming city. But Ashley says the community is being locked out of the process to bring the property to life.

“Now that it’s clean, we’re expected to trust Honeywell to get this right, to trust our public officials to get this right,” said Ashley. “We didn’t make that mistake in the 1980s; we didn’t make that mistake in the 1990s and we’re not about to make that mistake today.”

Geoffrey Curtiss was a part of that fight too. He says he wants to make sure that this waterfront neighborhood – 40 percent of which is owned by the city right now – doesn’t become a gated community of condos and high-rises like the city’s eastern waterfront.

“We can go back to our 1986 alternative, when if we got clean land, we were ready to build affordable, owner-occupied housing. That plan is still available for us,” he noted. “It’s being done in other parts of the country, and we want to see that happen.”

Most real estate experts say land in the city is too valuable now for a small-density project, big is what works now and the preliminary plans for Bayfront show a dense development with between 8,000 and 10,000 units of housing. The request for proposals, which the mayor says are being rewritten now, call for about 10 percent of the development to be so-called affordable housing.

“At a time when public land and public investment are at a premium, when they are a key way to demand leverage in development deals, we’re just abdicating our responsibility on a site when there are plans to invest more than $600 million of our tax dollars into the site itself and into the infrastructure around it,” added St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pastor Jessica Lambert.

The group says 30 percent affordable housing would be more in line with the city’s needs, and some kind of agreement to guarantee jobs to residents of the surrounding community, where unemployment is still in double digits. They want to help the city write the request for proposal.

When we talked to the mayor about Bayfront a couple of weeks ago, he said he was bullish on the project. Today, his office said that was still the case.

“Our responsibility is to look for the best deal for Jersey City,” Steve Fulop said. “Real estate values in Jersey City have escalated and that project has been cleaned up more substantially now than when we went out to bid initially, so we think the value’s more and that’s why we said we’re going to go back out to bid.”

No meeting date has been set with the city, but activists say they want to meet with a representative from Honeywell. The company said today they, too, are confident of the project’s viability. No word yet on when they might meet this group.