A proposal to revamp a Downtown storefront goes before Jersey City’s Planning Board tomorrow, but neighbors and the Van Vorst Park Association have some concerns about the plan’s transparency and what’s already transpired at the property.
Last year, it was announced that Mexican eatery Sol Azteca was moving into the storefront at 328 Montgomery Street. The property falls within both the Montgomery Gateway Redevelopment Plan and the Van Vorst Park Historic District, which means it requires Planning Board and Historic Commission approval prior to construction.
328 Montgomery’s application was bifurcated, or split in two, and a permit was granted for interior work only. After contractors at the site removed the first floor’s exterior façade last year, a stop work order was issued. It was only then that the applicants presented plans to the Historic Preservation Commission, and drawings they submitted were eventually approved on a second try with specific conditions for materials and methods of construction.
The Historic Preservation Commission says that the applicants did not follow the plans and constructed something different utilizing methods that were specifically prohibited in the conditions of approval. The HPC then denied new plans 328 Montgomery submitted because they didn’t comply with the previously approved application.
Despite that denial, the Planning Board heard testimony for the 328 Montgomery application at their December 12th meeting and will continue the hearing on January 9th. The Van Vorst Park Association has voiced many concerns since the project commenced, including issues with contractors trespassing on neighboring properties and noise complaints.
Additionally, the VVPA is anxious about operations, traffic, and parking that a restaurant of over 2,500 square feet would bring to the mainly residential area. Architectural drawings of the project indicate an occupancy load of only 39 patrons, which could open the possibility of the restaurant morphing into something like a nightclub or bar in the future during later hours.
The VVPA argues that relying on capacity enforcement after the restaurant is open is ineffective and can create more problems for the City later. Local Van Vorst Park resident Adam Irving agrees, telling Jersey Digs that the applicants have been public about their wish to own a live music venue in the area.
“This knowledge, coupled with the fact that the property is 2,500-square feet, raises eyebrows,” he says. “The space has only one means of ingress and egress, so by law it has a maximum occupancy of 49 including staff. As a former bar owner, that math is laughable.”
Irving also says that while few in the area have an issue with a restaurant that closes at 11 p.m., the property owners have refused multiple requests to meet with the neighborhood and address local concerns. “Bars in urban residential areas require good relations with neighbors,” he says. “Unfortunately, the 328 Montgomery applicants have shown a consistent lack of regard for the neighborhood.”
Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions at the Planning Board’s next meeting tomorrow, which is open to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m.