Save Center Street from Hostile Developer Takeover

Updated July 2019:

Timeline on Center Street and Bates Development by Natalia Ioffe

-- On 12/8/18, in response to a question about a 6-month delay in approving Center St resident parking petition, Mayor Fulop cites complications within redevelopment zone and states that he does not support eminent domain of private homes. He talks about local flooding, infrastructure improvements, and possible street elevation.

-- Ioffe ask to be included in the discussion about the future of our homes.

-- Anisia Ciallone (Director of Planning) responded that these are "technical discussions on infrastructure."

Since this Meeting took place on 12/8/18, the following events occurred:

-- The designated developer which the city has given full authority over the neighborhood (Bates LLC/"Manhattan Building Company") is now seeking approval for 2,360 rental units (2,000 units above existing zoning) insisting that the area must be elevated by 5 feet.

-- An independent developer that was supposed to begin construction in the area (Pegasus Inc) had their long standing approvals abruptly revoked by the JC Planning and sewer/water lines blocked by JCMUA, invalidating years of past agreements and approvals, in favor of the designated developer.

-- Despite several appeals to city council by small homeowners of Center St, all properties under 15,000 sq. feet within Bates St redevelopment plan still remain marked for eminent domain, “to be acquired,” and relocated.

-- June 26, 2019 Natasha Ioffe addresses Jersey City council

Request to the City Council about the need to remove the eminent domain and protect small homes of Center St, and the Council President's surprising response

-- 7/2/2019, Ioffe shares where the eminent domain in the Bates RDP is and that it is not on any title search or attorney review:

If you look up Bates St RDP on JCRA’s database you will find the following language on pg. 19 re: “Acquisition” and “Relocation” of current residents by “private means” with facilitation by “local officials”. This means that your property has been pre-designated for JCRA acquisition (aka-eminent domain) with you in it.

Unless JCRA begins to publish their database of pre-condemned properties, making it available to realtors and real estate attorneys, how can the buyer be aware? And what about Center Street residents who’ve lived in their home for 60 years and had no clue they’ve been designated to be “acquired” and “relocated”?

Landowners with 15,000 square feet or more have been exempt from acquisition. For the record, they were involved in creation of this Redevelopment Plan and are now working together with the designated developer.

Supporting links:

Pegasus Inc. lawsuit

Written July 2018

Introduction by Growing in Jersey City

Dear Community Partners,

Center Street is under threat of a single developer takeover and we desperately need community support. Below I have outlined our story and sent it to our local media.

We live in the redevelopment zone, and while we always knew that our area is in need of development, we hoped that it would be responsible and considerate to other homeowners. What we did not anticipate was being sold off to a single developer who wants to clear four blocks of families and businesses in order to develop 870 units in our place. As the developer’s reps catch us one-on-one, they are offering ambiguous promises. However, there is no clarity, no inclination to address us as a community, and no plan of relocating families in a way that won't disrupt their entire way of life. This is not what we consider responsible development and we are fighting. We are in favor of improvements, but not at the cost of our livelihoods.

Please help us stand up to them at the Tuesday, July 10th - Planning Board Meeting (It's item 12 on the agenda). Feel free to share my message in any way you see fit. At this point any support is vital for us. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Natalia (Natasha) Ioffe

Written July 2018

Article by Natasha Ioffe

We live along Center Street, which makes up about 4 semi-industrial blocks along the Turnpike overpass, marking the border of Downtown Jersey City and Bergen-Lafayette. Our neighborhood is sometimes referred to as Ward F Downtown. The properties along Center Street are both residential and industrial, some of which are vacant lots about to be developed by owners and many are family homes both owner-occupied and rental. We also have many small businesses: auto body shops, a licensed dog day care, and a popular Dominican cafe.

Situated by the turnpike ramp, Center Street serves as a natural gateway to and from Downtown Jersey City, making it a coveted location for developers. It is close to many great schools, parks, churches, and supermarkets as well as Jersey City Medical Center, all of which are important for our residents that include families with school-aged children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Our residents have always been very active in trying to take care of the neighborhood. We volunteer to clean sidewalks and catch basins, we have cameras installed on most of our homes ensuring an effective neighborhood watch, keeping the area crime and mischief free. On the streets that previously had outdated signage and no street sweeping, we worked with Traffic and Engineering and DPW to create alternate side parking and regular sweeping. Finally we have built a strong relationship with JCPD and JCPS Truancy police to decrease student loitering during school hours and decrease violent incidents among the youth. To make our efforts official we formed Center St. Block Association in March of 2017.

Despite our best efforts at building a community, we are all under the threat of possible eminent domain, thanks to the actions of a designated developer who has the sights set on the entire length of Center Street. Bates St. Redevelopment Plan was drafted in 2006 and recently updated, outlined the potential development that could happen in our neighborhood. Under this plan properties sized 15,000 sq feet or more could be developed by current owners and anyone with smaller lots was designated as "to be acquired". Needless to say, not all property owners were consulted when the plan was originally created. Most people with smaller lots have also had plans to develop their own land or simply wish to continue living peacefully in their own homes. Those homeowners who are open to the idea of selling their properties one day, hope to do it on their own terms and at a time when they are comfortable with.

On Nov. 21, 2017 - JCRA designated a developer - Sanford Weiss of Manhattan Building Company, under the name "Bates Redevelopment LLC". According to resolution 17-116 that appointment presently expired with no evidence of an extension provided to our residents at this time.

In the past four weeks, our community has been contacted by representatives of Decotiis Law Firm on behalf of the "designated developer,” vigorously campaigning to buy up properties along Center St.

The overall message is it is better to negotiate as soon as possible because the wholesale purchase of our land is inevitable. If we do not cooperate we will be forced to accept the lowest end of the "fair market value,” which will be determined by the developer or the JCRA, either through litigation or eminent domain. We are being told that the only way the infrastructure in the area will improve is if the area will be cleared of its current residents and the developer will pour in sufficient resources to make improvements.

This heavy handed approach is offensive and discriminatory to the homeowners who wish to keep their homes or develop their land themselves. And Residents do not appreciate being viewed as a pestilence that needs to be eliminated in order for the area to improve. We feel that we have more than proven our ability to invest into our city and our neighborhood. We pay our taxes, we clean our streets, we look out for one another, and we hope to preserve our rights to live in our own homes on our terms. We object to the city's plan to sell us off to the highest bidder and we ask to be allowed to keep our property. More than half of the property owners along Center St. are first generation immigrants who have made sacrifices and endured a great deal in order to make a better future for our children. The right to own property and build a home for our families is a fundamental part of our American Dream.

The Planning Board meeting which will decide the fate of our neighborhood will take place Tuesday, July 10, at 5:30PM, Caucus Room #204, 2nd Floor, City Hall, 280 Grove St, Jersey City, NJ 07302. (Agenda Item #12). We ask fellow Jersey City residents to come and speak in our defense, to help us keep our homes and the right to build on our own land. We thank you in advance for your support.

This article is written by Natalie "Natasha" Ioffe. She is an owner and resident on Center Street. Natasha was involved with P.S.#16, where her children are enrolled, serving on its Parent Council Board for 4 years, first as President and then as 1st Vice President. With the assistance of Greenville Neighborhood Alliance, Natasha formed Center Street Block Association in Ward F in March 2017.

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