Newark officials seek to develop Ironbound section

Residents push back on amendments to city’s master plan.

The Ironbound section in the East Ward has been Newark’s most stable neighborhood for decades. Rich in diversity and economic activity, it has prospered through some of the city’s toughest times. Now, it seems everyone looking for the new hot spot has discovered the Ironbound and that, not surprisingly, has led to a conflict over the neighborhood’s future. As Newark officials try to encourage more development, they’ve amended the city’s master plan to encourage density and height, and that has residents in the community concerned.

“Is it benefitting developers and their investments or is it benefitting the actual community?” Daniel Wiley, Coordinator, Housing Justice Ironbound Community Corporation asked.

The concern is over a zoning amendment the city’s calling MX-3, which allows buildings in part of the Ironbound community to go up as high as 15 stories, which represents a major change.

Baye Adofo-Wilson, the city’s deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development, says these are good times for Newark, with unprecedented development all across the city, and that presents opportunities.

“Growth in a way that integrated, affordable and successful. And so what we’re doing is introducing several pieces of legislation that do that. One, which a lot of people are more familiar with is inclusionary zoning which provides for a 20 percent set aside for low income and moderate income families. What the MX-3 does is it increases the density in several areas that are essentially parking lots and brownfields sites, so we could have more affordable units,” Adofo-Wilson said.

Amendments include populating the half-mile area around Penn Station with transit-focused development, taking advantage of the proximity to Penn Station, while bringing new residents into the area, benefiting the city with ratables also known as taxable properties and local business with economic opportunity. It should be noted that, while reluctant to talk about the issue, many businesses here do support more development.

“Penn Station is the third busiest train station in the country, and throughout the entire city. In most of the subway stops, there are height limits that are well above eight stories, 12 stories, 15 stories, even 20 stories. Broad street station has unlimited height limitations along broad street station,” Adolfo-Wilson said.

The Deputy Mayor says planners have to look at the city as a whole, and adjust zoning to incentivize development. While it’s not the only potential development in the proposed new zone, the parking lot on McWhorter Street – which, by the way, a court ruled shouldn’t even be operating in this neighborhood – is scheduled to be replaced with a 12-story, 384 unit project, made possible only by the new zoning. Residents say they worked with planners for many years to craft a city-wide master plan. These changes, they say, are last minute, and involved no resident input.

“Oh definitely, because if it wasn’t disconnected, we would’ve been in the conversation from the very beginning. It’s always good to be transparent because through transparency you can learn from each other and that’s what makes a community. Community is about striving together and working together, to collaborate together with different ideas that can benefit everyone,” Ironbound resident Tanisha Garner said.

That’s what the city is trying to do. But, whether it’s 12 stories or 15 stories, right now the city says it supports 12 plus three stories of parking. Meanwhile, residents say once the ball starts rolling, it’s hard to stop it.

“Taxes go up, the infrastructure has a burden on it. I think the biggest threat is that the cost of living is going to go up and the quality of life is going to change in the neighborhood,” Wiley said.

Change in the East Ward is inevitable. No one is debating that. But, as the city looks to its future, it’s not only going to need to nod to its past, residents say it’s also going to need to consider its present.