A vacant building in the heart of The Heights was once the proud home of the Ladder 10 Fire Company, serving the community for many decades. Built around 1920, the station was eventually disbanded and has gone through many incarnations over the years, most recently housing a Filipino gift shop on the ground floor.
In 2015, Jersey City-based Pronti Construction purchased the property for $2.5 million and drew up a redevelopment proposal. Designed by G3 Architecture, the expansion would have brought residences to the property, including a lift-style parking garage, and preserved most of the original building. All told, 18 units, 10 parking spaces, and 2,000 square feet of retail space were to be included in the project.
While the development’s height was generally in line with the surrounding neighborhood, Pronti needed several variances, including ones for use and density, to allow the project to move forward. The company eventually went before Jersey City’s Zoning Board on Oct. 16 last year, but the plans were rejected after a special meeting.
Following the denial, it appears Pronti gave up on the land. 520 Palisade was listed for sale in November for $6.95 million, a price that includes the building and an adjacent lot housing an alley and parking structure. Several plans have been presented for the property over the years, but none have really gained traction in part due to community opposition.
The denial and potential sale of the building has kicked off a debate about The Heights moving forward. The neighborhood, already densely packed and generally lacking vacant parcels, is unquestionably a hot market at this stage. Central Avenue is a solid retail corridor, but abandoned buildings still dot some of the landscape along Palisade Avenue.
The zoning limits in the area sometimes make the financial feasibility of revitalizing some of these blighted properties difficult. Much of The Heights has what’s called R-1 zoning, which restricts as-of-right development to one- and two-family homes. Properties on sections of some roads, including Palisade Avenue, have R-2 zoning and allow attached multi-family housing, but restrict height to four stories or less.
Most projects proposed for The Heights aren’t taller than five stories, but nonetheless, tend to run into at least some community opposition because of existing zoning. A five-story redevelopment project including retail space at Palisade Lumber’s property will soon head to the Planning Board, but one community group isn’t happy about it and is taking legal action.
After a Jersey City Zoning Officer determined that Palisade Lumber’s property has no bulk, density, height, or parking standards for mixed-use developments, only a minor variance will be needed from the Planning Board for the project to move forward. The Riverview Neighborhood Association is appealing that decision, arguing that the zoning officer’s interpretation will make it easier to construct taller buildings (five stories and up) on sections of Palisade Avenue that have R-2 zoning.
“This developer and lawyer is attempting to circumvent the process of continuing to work with the community or having the variance heard at the Zoning Board,” the group wrote in their February newsletter to explain their actions.
The outcome of the court challenge remains to be seen, but a continued rebirth in The Heights will undoubtedly cause a debate as to how to balance combating vacant properties with reasonable development that’s in scale with the community.