An effort hoping to create elevated green space on an abandoned rail line has hit yet another speedbump, but officials appear to be exploring other possibilities to acquire several Downtown blocks following the passage of a new council resolution.
The saga of the Sixth Street Embankment has been dragging on for over a decade and a half at this point, no doubt frustrating area residents. The property, a six-block stretch of the road between Marin Boulevard and Brunswick Street, was built in 1902 and once part of the Harsimus Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The company used the stone structure to move freight trains through the city until 1999 and subsequent owner Conrail sold the property six years later to a developer named Steve Hyman. But Conrail did not formally abandon the branch that ran through the Embankment despite the sale, claiming that the property hosted only a spur rather than a full-blown rail line.
Jersey City filed suit over the issue, arguing that because Conrail lacked authorization from the Surface Transportation Board to legally abandon the Embankment, they should have offered the property to public entities before selling it to private parties. A legal battle over the issues outlasted Hyman, who passed away over two years ago.
Some good news finally emerged in 2019 when Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop shared details with the Jersey Journal about a settlement that had allegedly been agreed upon in principle but wasn’t finalized. Under the deal, New York-based Albanese Organization would pay to acquire the property from the Hymans and build two towers totaling 875 units on the eastern end of the Embankment that would rise 45 and 35 stories.
The city would be deeded control of the remainder of the Embankment under a conservation easement free of charge. Jersey Digs was unable to independently verify the details at the time, but the Jersey Journal reported earlier this month that Conrail walked away from the proposed deal.
“We were at the 1-yard line for a global settlement only to have Conrail abruptly walk away from what they had previously indicated was acceptable to them,” city spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione told the outlet.
In response, Jersey City’s council approved a resolution during their February 10 meeting that will study if the zone could possibly be designated as an area in need of redevelopment. The sections to be examined not only include the six-block Embankment but also a plethora of other parcels located mostly in the area underneath and around the I-78 Turnpike extension.
The study area also includes parcels that lead up to the Bergen Arches, a below-grade former rail line that is also envisioned as a future park. A “crossroads” network linking several city parks together has long been proposed by the Embankment Preservation Coalition, among other community groups.
Inside the council’s resolution is authorization to study whether a south-facing block of 6th Street just west of the embankment could be acquired by the city. Home to parking lots and auto repair facilities, the council move could lead to the determination that the section be designated as a condemnation area in need of redevelopment, which comes with the power of eminent domain.
Jersey City’s planning board will now investigate the issue, prepare maps and reports on the matter, and hold a public hearing detailing their findings at a date to be determined later.