At close to 100 acres, the Bayfront property, located in the city’s southwest Greenville section represents the most significant development opportunity in the city since the downtown boom began in the 80s and 90s. A once chromium-polluted brownfield, Bayfront is now clean and ready for redevelopment. With affordable housing at a premium, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has proposed buying the property — of which the city is already part owner — from Honeywell, the successor company that cleaned it up. Fulop thinks the development could feature up to 30 percent affordable units, but it won’t be cheap.
“Up to $105 million for the specific property, and then we’re going to go out for bonding of $105 [million] plus $80 [million] approximately for infrastructure, so it’s a big undertaking. It’s about $180 million,” said Fulop. “Our models project that, over some time, we’re going to be able to return that as an investment to the taxpayers, maybe make some money and get some inclusionary housing in there.”
But borrowing $180 million, government officials call it bonding, is no small step, and the city council held a hearing on the proposal late last month to gauge public support. Needless to say, opinions were expressed.
“I am opposed to the city of Jersey City floating bonds for the Bayfront project,” testified resident Christine Bamberger. “Jersey City should not enter into the banking business of floating bonds for real estate development regardless of how the plan is couched or the options are couched right now.”
Abundant Joy Community Church Pastor William Ashley, who was part of a group of citizens who pushed the city to buy the property, said its redevelopment was overdue.
“We recognize that the details are yet to be worked out. We recognize there are numerous questions that need to be asked and answered,” he said. “We stand with you in saying that this is a bold step. It’s game changer and there’s no place else in this state that has taken this bold initiative.”
Councilwoman Denise Ridley, who represents the Greenville section where the project would rise, says affordable housing is a good goal, but so-called workforce housing, the kind of housing working class professionals can afford, should be part of the mix.
“Workforce housing would be geared more toward everyday Greenville residents. It’s more feasible for people who might be police, fire, teachers,” she said. “Sometimes with the affordability portion of it, you lose a lot of people. We want to make sure that, yes, we want the affordable units, but we don’t want to lose those potential people that are here in Greenville. I think a lot of people hear affordable and they automatically assume that they’re going to qualify, and a lot of people will not.”
A proposed extension of the light rail across busy Route 440 is already in the works, with NJ Transit earmarking $5 million for an environmental impact study. That extension could double the number of units here to 8,000, an almost 20 percent population increase for Greenville.
The council has already given preliminary approval for the city to go get the money. The mayor says, if all goes well, you could see shovels in the ground by the end of next year.