After bursting on the Jersey City dining scene in late 2016, Mexican eatery Sol Azteca quickly became an affordable, BYOB-friendly favorite at 239 Barrow Street. A mobile food truck version later complemented their initial brick and mortar spot, and even bigger news was soon to come.
The restaurant announced last summer that they would be moving to bigger and supposedly better digs at 328 Montgomery Street, but problems at the property became apparent earlier this year. The building, which falls within the Montgomery Gateway Redevelopment Plan and the Van Vorst Park Historic District, requires both planning board and Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) approval prior to any construction taking place.
The city granted 328 Montgomery a permit for interior work only, but contractors at the site removed the first floor’s exterior façade and a stop work order was issued. The applicants then presented plans to the Historic Preservation Commission, which were approved but allowed only specific conditions for materials and methods of construction.
However, the applicants did not follow the plans and constructed something different that was specifically prohibited in the conditions of approval. The HPC then denied new plans 328 Montgomery submitted because they didn’t comply with the previously approved application. The owners tried to bounce the issue back to the city’s planning board earlier this month, but they tabled it pending historical review.
All the headaches have caused work at the site to grind to a screeching halt and now Sol Azteca has commenced a lawsuit against 328 Montgomery LLC, the company that owns their would-be new home. Filed July 18 in Hudson County Court, the complaint says Sol Azteca signed a five-year lease at the property’s ground floor last year and then spent about $150,000 renovating it.
Sol Azteca says in the lawsuit that they were ready to open in October 2017 and the city informed them that the property owner had to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy on their behalf. The restaurant claims that because of the stop work order placed on the building during the renovations that the landlord performed, a CO cannot be issued and they can’t open their doors.
“Since issuance of the stop work order, Landlord has either refused to or has failed to comply with the City of Jersey City’s directives regarding its work to the façade of the property and has consequently been denied a Certificate of Occupancy,” the lawsuit reads.
Sol Azteca additionally says in the lawsuit that their landlord served them with a Landlord-Tenant complaint on June 29, which has constructively evicted them from the property. According to legal documents, the landlord has attempted to charge Sol Azteca a $2,500/month “storage fee” for keeping their equipment at the property despite nothing in the lease that allows them to do so.
Sol Azteca has not responded to an inquiry about their lawsuit, which seeks damages for fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Their food truck operation is still in business for now, but it appears their move to 328 Montgomery Street won’t be happening anytime soon as the case winds its way through the courts.