Journal Square is undoubtedly one of Jersey City’s hotter neighborhoods and doesn’t appear to be slowing down much; the second phase of Journal Squared is underway and a plethora of smaller projects and skyscraper-type towers are approved for the area. But with tremendous growth comes concerns, and one local community group is trying to facilitate a smarter plan for the neighborhood.
Much of the area is covered by the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan, which was drawn up in 2010 and most recently amended in October 2016. City officials have been talking about making additional changes to the plan based on current market conditions but have yet to take formal action to do so.
That’s where the New JSQ Community Association comes in. The group, formed in 2016, recently met with the city’s Planning Director Annisia Cialone and Deputy Mayor Marcos Vigil to deliver their official position paper on the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan. The paper was crafted from the results of a community survey that looked to gauge what area residents think should be made a priority moving forward.
Their paper concludes that consensus priorities from the survey’s responders are street safety and circulation upgrades, more open space, and better transit options within Jersey City. However, more participants marked their highest overall priority as affordable housing than any other option, followed by better transit and then open space.
Many high-rise apartment buildings have been approved in Journal Square, but none of them are required to have any affordable housing under the current redevelopment plan regulations. After consulting with urban planners and experts in affordable housing at their meetings, New JSQ says they’ve recommended the city add inclusionary zoning to the redevelopment plan and would like to see them provide incentives to developers who incorporate affordable housing into their plans using PILOTs, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes.
Out of 63 respondents to an affordable housing question, 56% said they’d be open to the units being off-site from new developments but within the Journal Square area if it would yield more overall affordable units than housing on-site. 51% said they’d be open to affordable housing integrated directly into new developments, and 38% said they’d be open to allow developers to build off-site affordable housing outside of Journal Square if it would lead to more affordable units.
The second of New JSQ’s priorities is open space, and they acknowledge that the public image of Journal Square is in dire need of a makeover. As the area gets denser, they would like to see a comprehensive open space plan that addresses the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit users while increasing road safety.
Perhaps the most glaring open space issue in Journal Square is the lack of a true park, coupled with the condition of the plaza outside the PATH station. The One Journal Square project will spruce up a run-down fountain into a plaza complete with trees and seating, but New JSQ would also like to see District Improvement Bonuses added to the redevelopment plan, which would fund the Journal Square Comprehensive Open Space Plan’s design and construction.
Members of New JSQ met with several city officials on March 1 to ask them to follow through with their promise to overhaul the plan. The city, for their part, suggested a few new amendments to the plan that would limit all building heights to four stories on streets that are 45 feet wide or less which fall mostly within the Hilltop area.
Any changes made to the plan would affect future developments and would not apply to projects that are already approved. A timeline for the changes to the plan remains fluid, but momentum appears to be gathering to get something done this year.