Jersey City Planning Council to Vote on Vision for City’s Future
The Jersey City Planning Board is expected to approve its master plan on Tuesday, giving official direction on a range of issues ranging from detailed points of zoning law to broad visions for the future of New Jersey’s second largest city.
The master plan is not a law, but a report on the land use problems facing the city and recommendations for solving them. Even though it is not legally binding, the city and town planning council are required to refer to the master plan when making future zoning decisions.
The plan will influence everything from bike paths and parking spaces, to height restrictions and impermeable surface coverage, to high-level decisions such as how to balance the need for development with benefits for the community.
“It’s a policy document,” said Max Herman, professor of urban sociology at the University of New Jersey City. “It sends a message to potential developers, potential marketers, and people who want to grow businesses that these are the types of areas we’re going to be focusing on and that’s how we’re going to do it.”
The council will approve three parts of the plan: the land use element, the open space element and the master plan vision.
The land use element is mainly about “correcting some zoning that no longer works,” said Tanya Marione, the planning director.
She pointed to the “R-1” zoning designation, that is, residential dwellings for one or two families, as a particular problem for Jersey City dating back to the 1970s. At this time, many zoning districts different ones were grouped together in this area even though they did not look alike.
Now the R-1 zones are a major problem for the planning board. Although this area comprises about 25% of the city’s land, more than 50% of requests for exemptions come from it. Often times, residents ignore the zoning code completely and build illegal projects, like a third unit on their two-unit lot.
The zoning encourages residents to create a ‘Bayonne Box’ style of building by turning their front yards into private parking, which ends up exacerbating the parking shortage in this neighborhood. Adding this “border cut” also interrupts the sidewalk and makes flooding worse by leaving no unpaved surface for rainwater to escape.
And when older, architecturally consistent buildings are demolished, they end up being replaced by these kinds of buildings, Marione said, which residents complain about.
The problems with R-1 zoning, the city’s largest single-zoned district, are “multi-faceted,” Marione said. But the master plan does offer some first steps, including creating smaller, neighborhood-specific “small area vision plans”, instead of a single template.
“We need to fix the legacy of bad zoning in order to eliminate the problems it has created at this point,” said Marione.
The city looked at the “Lower Heights area” near Summit and Baldwin avenues; “The Junction” where Grand Street, Summit Avenue and Communipaw Avenue almost intersect; and the area near the West Side Avenue light rail station.
These small area plans relied on close engagement with local residents to produce recommendations. Mobility and safety were a top priority for the Lower Heights, especially crossing Upper Route 139, also known as State Highway. At The Junction and the West Side Avenue train station area, revitalization, pedestrian safety and waste were major concerns for residents that the plans addressed.
The open space element of the plan deals primarily with the parks of Jersey City. The report found that 94% of Jersey City residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
Still, “some of them are really small, they don’t have a lot of programming,” said Liz Opper, a member of the planning board. The challenge Jersey City faces with its parks is how to “improve every square inch”, increase coverage so that 100% of residents are within 10 minutes of a park, and improve the programming and functionality of each park. Park.
Finally, the town planning council will vote on its vision for the master plan, a document that lists in more abstract terms than the other two the direction in which Jersey City is expected to move over the next 10 years.
The report presents a vision of the city that may already be familiar to locals, but on a larger scale: a city that favors non-car transport, that encourages dense population growth close to transit centers, a “city of 15 minutes’ where all the amenities a resident needs are within a 15 minute walk.
The document is lighter on specific recommendations and builds on the work done in previous elements of the master plan such as the traffic plan, which dealt with transport.
It emphasizes the need for cycle paths, greenways, measures to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as public transport infrastructure such as rapid bus and transit options. water.
The document responds to the need for Jersey City to create a fair and inclusive economy in the future. Part of this is about finding the right balance between the needs of residents and the needs of developers. Marone said tension often plays out when it comes to deciding what, if anything, developers should be responsible for providing in return for building in the city.
“We have been fortunate as a city to be so close to places like New York that we can benefit from this increased development,” said Marione, “but now that we are at where we have this development and have this demand, we can really start looking to make zoning profitable.
The vision of the master plan also addresses the issue of climate change. It recommends measures such as modernizing sewer and storm water infrastructure, building green infrastructure to collect rainwater, revising zoning rules to increase the amount of permeable land, and modernizing buildings. existing systems to be more resilient to flooding.
“Overall, I would give this planning document high marks,” said Herman, professor of sociology. “It’s an A report on paper, but then it’s up to the city to implement the plan and get developers to comply with the plan. “
He noted that one area where the plan was flawed was those interviewed for comment, who were white and relatively young. This may have influenced why certain topics, like gentrification and affordable housing, haven’t received more attention, Herman said.
All of the documents that the planning council votes on November 30 have been prepared taking into account community feedback. The process, which began about a year and a half ago, began with online surveys and online and in-person meetings.
Because the plan is not legally binding, there will be no city council vote. Marione said she expects the plan to be fully approved and finalized at the November 30 meeting. Work on the historic preservation element of the plan will begin next year.