Jersey City’s planning director talks city’s future

August 2, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Projects in development in every neighborhood contribute to boom.

Jersey City’s exploding in size and population and popularity with urban millennial’s all of which are putting added stress on aging infrastructure, and putting a squeeze on old neighborhoods. It’s a textbook case for urban planning studies and it’s hired a brand new urban planner, Planning Director Annisia Cialone who joins Brenda Flanagan.

Flanagan: Thanks, Mary Alice. And welcome and congratulations on a challenging new job.

Cialone: Thank you for having me.

Flanagan: So, Jersey City’s part of the gold coast of New Jersey, and we’re seeing an influx of huge buildings on the waterfront, millennial’s as Mary Alice pointed out, people moving in who can afford it, but there’s a lot of city that’s behind that part of Jersey City. So, what is your vision and where is Jersey City going in the future?

Cialone: Well, definitely the downtown and waterfront area will continue to develop because that’s where the market pressure is, but we’re seeing development throughout the city. So, areas such as Journal Square are really having a resurgence and there’s a lot of interest for development there, as well as other neighborhoods in the city from the Heights down to Greenville.

Flanagan: Along the waterfront in the past years or so is obviously where the concentration’s been – Grove Street, near the Path station, but what kind of development are you seeing in these other neighborhoods?

Cialone: Well, it depends. In Journal Square, we’re also seeing large scale development, tall buildings, similar to what the waterfront has been experiencing.

Flanagan: But I can’t imagine that would be welcome in the other neighborhoods.

Cialone: Yeah, it depends, like obviously around the Journal Square Path station. That is welcome because there’s a transit hub there and there’s land that can accept that, but in the neighborhoods really where the smaller one and two family homes are, it’s lower-scale development. So maybe there’s some stuff in the six story range, but usually there’s a mix of infill projects that really fit the scale of that neighborhood, and we feel it’s important to work directly with those communities and those neighborhoods to feel out what they feel is comfortable for them. And so to find the areas where they feel that maybe more height or density are welcome and the areas where they don’t, then you know we zone for that.

Flanagan: Now, something new moves in, it’s usually costly or gentrification occurs, how are you gonna be able to expand and renew these neighborhoods and yet make sure that the current residents don’t get pushed out because they can’t afford it?

Cialone: Yeah, one way to do that is through affordable housing and incentives for affordable housing, and really, the mayor has taken the lead on that and we follow. He set up a program for really pushing affordable housing throughout the city – Jersey City has had a lot of affordable housing – but he really incentivized that through the new development, and so that means we have affordable housing in the areas where we’re seeing the highest priced units like in downtown or in Journal Square area. So we’re seeing affordable housing coming in in the downtown and the waterfront area, where it hasn’t been in the last 30 years. We have new buildings being built that are at an 80/20 mix. So that means, like an 80 percent market rate, 20 percent affordable housing – and two of those are even under construction right now so that’s very exciting.

Flanagan: Now, I guess you had some hearing sessions with the neighborhood associations and they brought up issues for the department to consider, among them outdated water infrastructure, overburdened mass transportation, safe spaces for pedestrians and bicyclists – what are you doing to keep the streets safe for people who aren’t driving a car?

Cialone: We work really closely with our division of engineering and we’re very much in support of what’s called complete streets, and that is looking at street design as more than just for the automobile, but that will encompass modes of pedestrians, bicyclists, as well as public transportation – be that bus or maybe future potential bus rapid transit. So it’s really a philosophy on complete streets and we work closely with the division of engineering to implement that.

Flanagan: How do you address the water infrastructure? I know it’s not uncommon for us to get breaking news stories that there’s another water main break in Jersey City.

Cialone: I mean, the Municipal Utilities Authority which is a separate entity in Jersey City are responsible for that. We’ve been working hard to create those relationships where we work together and look at new development and the impacts on the system. So really a combination of the division of engineering, the MUA as it’s called, and ourselves, to plan for the future of development closely with them.

Flanagan: So, as real estate prices climb and you’re going to be making affordable housing available, you’re going to need more mass transit. How are you going to get all these people into the PATH?

Cialone: I mean, really we’re in a difficult position where it is the Port Authority and the PATH system and NJ Transit, not things that we control, but it’s really important for us to develop those relationships both with PATH and NJ Transit to plan together for the future and we’re working on that everyday.

Flanagan: Thank you so much, Annisia Cialone. You’ve got a big job cut out for you as Jersey City’s Planning Director. I appreciate you taking some time out to chat with us.

Cialone: Thank you for having me.