Local officials are optimistic that the fight over an abandoned freight line that runs through a Downtown neighborhood will end soon, as settlement talks between the city and the property’s owners have apparently led to an agreement.
Hamilton Park residents are no doubt familiar with the Sixth Street Embankment, a six-block stretch of the road between Marin Boulevard and Brunswick Street that was once part of the Harsimus Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The stone structure at the land was built in 1902 and was used by freight trains until 1999.
After shipping use ceased, then-owners Conrail sold the property to eight LLCs affiliated with 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 didn’t get 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 long legal battle between the city and the Hyman family ensued, with both sides claiming victories at various points.
Park advocates have long envisioned converting the rail line into a park in the style of Manhattan’s High Line, potentially connecting the greenspace to other rail lines and the Bergen Arches to create a city-wide park system. Last week, a tweet from Mayor Steve Fulop gave those activists hope that they may at long last get their wish.
Fulop has since shared some details with the Jersey Journal about the agreement, which he says has been agreed upon in principle but isn’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. Fulop says Albanese would be responsible to build stairs and an elevator on the first two blocks of the park, while the city would construct the remainder of the greenspace.
It’s not clear how the remainder of the park’s construction would be funded.
Fulop says that the Albanese Organization will not receive any tax abatements under the settlement and will be required to use union labor to build their two residential towers.
The agreement, which is the result of negotiations that have apparently been happening for over a year, has not been made public and Jersey Digs has been unable to independently verify the terms.
If the settlement is finalized, the city council would need to sign off on the pact and the development portion of the agreement would likely be subject to planning board approval. The Sixth Street Embankment is currently subject to R-1 zoning, which calls for one- and two-family housing and caps building height at three stories.
Fulop’s revelations about the agreement before finalization might conjure some tough memories of the initial Whole Foods deal from 2016, which was announced before approvals were in place and ended up falling apart the following year.
The city is hoping for better luck this time around and firmer details about the Embankment agreement should hopefully emerge soon.