Developer vs Community – A Tug-o-War in The Heights

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500 Palisades Ave Jersey City Heights

The building at 500 Palisade Avenue in Jersey City doesn’t currently look like much, but it’s at the center of a tug-o-war happening between the area’s residents and the developer, CLG Properties.

Let’s revert back a bit. In 2013, the Riverview Arts District (RAD) was created in an effort to draw in those who work in the city but can’t afford to pay high NYC rent prices. It was also meant to create an area to support and encourage artists. Consider it a revitalization of the neighborhood to beautify the area, bring in new businesses, embraces the arts even more than they already do, and create more housing amongst other things. Back when the Arts District Overlay Zone was made official thanks to a 9-0 vote, the president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association, Becky Hoffman, stated, “The passage of this amendment will help the artists already well-established in the Heights and attract additional artists. The arts is an economic driver for our neighborhood, and this distinguishes the area as a creative Mecca.”

Many in the community decided to come together to develop a plan of how they want the revitalization in the Riverview Arts District to go. Understandably so considering they’re going to be at the heart of it.

With that said, CLG Properties wanted to initially turn 500 Palisade into a 27-unit, 6-story residential building with retail space on the bottom and three live-work artist spaces. The top floor was to be set back so it wouldn’t be seen from street level. Lee Levine, who is the architect of the project as well as a Heights resident, explained, “At 2.3 times the (legal) permitted density, this is a project that is significantly more dense than anything else here.”

Essentially, residents feel that, although the project isn’t considered to be a legal high-rise, that it’s too big for the area it’s going to be in. Kern Weissman, the RNA President, explained, “In order to get RNA’s support we recommended to the developer that the density be lowered from 27 [units] to 21 and reduce it to five stories. One of the concerns isn’t just about this particular building itself, because there are people who are excited about the ground floor retail, but they’re also nervous about the precedent for density and height that this might set. One of the issues in Jersey City, unfortunately, is that when one building gets [a variance] for a certain density and a certain height, that tends to steamroll whatever laws are in place and sets a precedent for the rest of the neighborhood.”

According to a May 20 post on the RNA Facebook page, they explained, “We have met several times with the owners of the property but unfortunately they have been unwilling to scale back the project to a point where we would be able to support it.” They also went on to say – in part – “The project still exceeds the R3 midrise density in the R2 zone on Palisade ave. In addition, this project will require variances for parking that increases the ratio of parking per unit significantly. With our requested reduction in units the density would be more in line with the number of spaces provided. More importantly, RNA understands that approving this building in its current form would set a precedent for disproportionate development in the Heights prior to the community deciding if rezoning the R2 (the six blocks of Palisade Ave) to increase height and density is desired and appropriate for the Heights community. Furthermore, the state and condition of the Heights infrastructure and the lack of comprehensive public transportation are additional reasons that dramatic increases in density shouldn’t be approved.”

Although CLG Properties didn’t budge completely, they planned to revise their plans and meet the residents half way to make 500 Palisade 24-units with three live-work artist spaces and a small gallery space while also making both the fifth and sixth floors set back so they’re not visible from street level. There was a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on May 21 where voices were heard on the matter, however, there is currently no word yet as to whether or not a final decision has been made regarding the plans for 500 Palisade Avenue.

The Heights is home to the Hope Center for Visual & Performing Arts as well as The Distillery Gallery and Art Space, but there’s not currently many public art displays, which are primarily located just outside of the borders of The Heights all along Central Avenue. There’s also numerous other organizations and businesses throughout Jersey City helping to showcase the arts even more in Jersey City, including Art House Productions, which will be bringing JC Fridays to the area on June 5.

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