Residential high-rise with school could replace 2 blocks in Downtown Jersey City

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A developer is seeking to build a 50-story mixed-use development with more than 800 residential units and an elementary school on a pair of dead-end blocks in Downtown Jersey City.

Thirty-seven of the 38 homeowners on Saddlewood and Laurel courts have signed contracts with Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC) to sell their properties for an undisclosed price. Most of the homeowners say their townhomes are deteriorating and sought an opportunity to sell them.

LMC’s plans for the two dead-end streets just west of Marin Boulevard include about 810 residential units, a 50,000-square-foot school for up to 350 elementary schoolers, retail space and a 11,400‐square‐foot public park. Councilman James Solomon said he worked with city planners to recommend that a school be included in the proposal.

“We have tens of thousands of new housing units coming to Downtown Jersey City in the next five to 10 years and we already have our schools overcrowded,” he said.

The project is attractive to a variety of stakeholders, said Greg Belew, the divisional president of LMC. The 1970s-era houses on the two dead-end blocks were federally manufactured to house refugees in upstate New York after the Vietnam War, Belew said.

Once that need no longer existed, an “opportunistic developer” relocated them to Jersey City but the structures were never meant to last this long, he added.

“All the homeowners are getting out of a dangerous housing configuration and they’re getting a great deal for their property…and we’re delivering a school,” Belew said. “It’s sort of a win-win for everybody.”

Last month, homeowners from the two blocks spoke in support of the project at a Planning Board meeting. Vivian Gong said her floor is not level. Delfin Iglesia, who purchased one of the homes in 1986, said water damage from one home could affect the rest.

“The roofs are all connected and once some water come in on one side, who knows where it’s going to go,” Iglesia said.

The city published a report last year that concluded the two blocks should be named a Condemnation Redevelopment Area. The City Council is expected to decide Thursday whether the blocks be designated as an area in need of redevelopment with the power of condemnation.

The designation of a place as a redevelopment area allows a municipality to then pass a plan for revitalizing it. Naming one a condemnation redevelopment area further allows the municipality to pursue an eminent domain seizure.

“The important part about this project is the city will be getting a private developer to build a public school,” said Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “The city is being proactive here in finding ways to build new schools without hurting the taxpayer.”

In August, the homeowners subsequently sent a letter to Mayor Steve Fulop clarifying they had solicited developers to purchase their properties, and eventually agreed to terms with LMC.

The single homeowner who has not signed on to selling their property is a developer who residents said had hoped to reconfigure the two blocks themselves.

“There are motives there that are really not in the best interests of the rest of us on the block,” Saddlewood Court resident Andrew Prokos said during the Jan. 7 Planning Board meeting. “We have legal representation. We know what we’re doing, nobody’s being taken advantage of, and we know very clearly what path we’re taking and what this will lead to.”

Eminent domain has been discussed as a potential route if the final homeowner does not sign on, Belew said.

“The goal is always to avoid that,” Solomon said. “The goal is always to come up with a solution that everybody agrees to.”

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