The battle to redevelop a warehouse in The Heights has officially spilled into the courtroom, as the owners of the half-acre parcel have filed a lawsuit seeking a new hearing before the city’s zoning board.
MJSMS LLC, owners of a three-story brick building at 107 New York Avenue, sued Jersey City’s Zoning Board in Hudson County court on October 19. The company, owned by two Brooklyn-based investors, went before the board back in May with a proposal looking to adaptively reuse and expand their current building into a six-story multi-family development with 75 residential units and various amenities.
The developers claim in their lawsuit that the city’s planning division reviewed their application and determined they demonstrated a need for several zoning variances. The development requested exceptions from the board for residential use from the current industrial, one for maximum height and another for maximum stories, and two more related to minimum driveway aisle width and maximum curb cut.
During a May 26 hearing, the developers say they presented three expert witnesses that included an architect, a professional engineer, and a civil and traffic engineer to support their case. They claim the zoning board also requested the opinion of a city planner named Mallory Clark who “opined, consistent with [the developer’s] experts, that the project should be approved and that the applicant had met the requirements for the granting of variances.”
The zoning board voted 4-3 in favor of the application but because a supermajority vote of 5-2 or better is required to approve the use variance, the application was denied. The developer’s suit alleges that they were not given a fair shake during the hearing, specifically pointing to the participation of board member Kate Donnelly.
The case claims Donnelly, who was one of the three votes against the project, is “a past or present member of the local neighborhood group Riverview Neighborhood Association, which was the primary organization in opposing the project.” The lawsuit additionally says that Ms. Donnelly “lives in close proximity to the project” and “had a conflict of interest which should have precluded her from participating in the hearing.”
The developers also take issue with another board member named Chester Rothman getting “bounced out of Zoom” during the meeting, which was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Their case claims that Rothman was “not present throughout the entire application to hear and consider the evidence being offered.”
A spokesperson for Jersey City declined to weigh in on the case, citing their policy of not commenting on open litigation. Jersey Digs has reached out to the Riverview Neighborhood Association regarding the allegations.
The lawsuit says the owners of 107 New York Avenue made a request to the city’s planning department for reconsideration of their application but were denied in July. They call the zoning board’s rejection “an abuse of discretion” and seek to invalidate the resolution of denial.
The developers are also seeking a new hearing before the zoning board without the participation of Board member Donnelly, wishing to include a substitute member to partake in the proceedings.