Jersey City aims to keep Bayfront development in check with advisory board

Even on a Wednesday morning in the middle of August, there’s no shortage of Jersey City residents at a council meeting ready to sound off on any number of issues. But a real hot button here? Just say the words, “Bayfront redevelopment site.”

“What the mayor plans on doing is to bond a $170 million for this project, so he’s basically putting taxpayers who do not benefit from this development in debt so another group of people can have cheap housing,” said city resident Yvonne Balcer.

Bayfront is the nearly 100-acre, former chromium-polluted brownfield in the city’s west side along the Hackensack River waterfront. Now that the Heights and downtown neighborhoods are old news, this is considered the next “it” spot. The city bought the land earlier this summer, with plans to float bonds to pay for it.

“It has the opportunity to have between 4,000 and 8,000 housing units as well as commercial,” said Frank McMillan, lead organizer with Jersey City Together.

But neighbors have mixed feelings over the project and the hefty price tag that comes with it. Wednesday, the council approved an advisory board to ensure plans don’t run amok and price out longtime residents.

“Basically, what they will do is follow the Bayfront project because this is a huge endeavor that the city is taking on, so we want to make sure we have that transparency and we have that input from the community,” said Councilwoman Denise Ridley.

Ridley represents the Greenville section where Bayfront sits. She voted against the project but favors an advisory committee. It’ll consist of seven members including four residents, two council members and either Mayor Steve Fulop or an appointee.

“I do get the concerns about the structure, the flooding, the development of Route 440 and the traffic in that area, so those are all things that we have to consider and that’s part of the reason we are trying to do the advisory board,” said Ridley.

“Jersey City is in an affordable housing crisis. 30 percent of our city, more than 30,000 families across Jersey City are in housing stress,” said McMillan. “The idea of building a development that doesn’t just follow the previous models, which is all luxury housing that further gentrifies the neighborhood, but to build a neighborhood that actually looks like Jersey City, that has wealthy folks, folks who are not as wealthy, all living together with parks with good shops that is something that is sorely needed.”

Still, neighbors worry if a city already bursting at the seams can handle it.

“It’s difficult to move around the city as it is, and like I said infrastructure is going to be the key to all the development we have,” said resident Jay Jayanty.

“This is 95 acres in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, it is now about to be, we hope, publicly owned. That will allow more leverage on the part of the city and a part of the residents to make sure this community is done right and that we don’t make the same mistakes of the past,” said McMillan.

Council members tell NJTV News it’ll take at least 60 days to finalize the advisory board and its members. As one longtime resident put it, the development is happening — either get involved, or get left behind.