NEWARK, NJ - City council today passed an ordinance that will increase allowable building height in the Ironbound despite concerns from the planning board and dissent from over a dozen residents.
The so-called MX-3 ordinance creates a new zone that affects several lots near Penn Station, allowing developments to be built up to 145 feet or about 12 stories. Previously, buildings in the area were only permitted to go up to eight stories.
Members from community-based groups like PLANewark and the Ironbound Community Corporation, which has been a partner with the city on past programs, reiterated objections to the ordinance today. About 15 residents also implored the council to vote no, citing concerns with parking, higher rents, gentrification and sewerage issues.
“Don't make Ironbound into Hoboken, please," said Nancy Zak, who has been in the Ironbound for 45 years. She earlier explained to the council that, “I have seen some of my Portuguese neighbors cry because they are feeling that they are being driven out. They can't even keep up with the rents as they are now and the conditions are hard for them.”
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador said he is working with the rest of the council to create more senior housing and an impact needs an ordinance, which never was never considered until MX-3 came about.
“Some of the concerns we have expressed related particularly to gentrification are a major concern of mine,” Amador said. “I often say that those who are responsible for the good thing we experience right now - for the Ironbound of today - should also benefit in the future and should not be forced out of the community.”
He went on to share a story about a house near his own that was worth about $45,000 but sold for $200,000. The new family -- eager to move to the area because of its proximity to Penn Station and shops -- put about $100,000 towards renovations.
"How are we going to avoid something like this from happening? We can't.”
The ordinance passed 7-0, with councilmen Eddie Osborne and Joseph McCallum, Jr. absent.
City council also approved a resolution today that broke away with the recommendations of the planning board, which found the that the building height and density for the MX-3 zone were “inconsistent” with the land use element of the city’s Master Plan. The Master Plan was drawn up in 2012.
The planning board still found there were certain aspects of MX-3 that were "supportive" of increasing density, height, and concentration of mixed-use spaces since the new zone would create a walkable city, encourage transit-oriented development, and sustain a “healthy and safe” neighborhood.
There was formerly a clause in the original MX-3 ordinance that would have allowed high-rise, multi-family developments that are only residential -- not mixed-use with commercial spaces -- to go up to 20 stories high. Today, Economic and Housing Development Director John Palmieri assured residents that the clause had been removed.
“The new zoning applies to areas where there is an existing mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses, such as along Lafayette Street, Union Street and Ferry Street and in under-utilized areas near Newark Penn Station where the primary use is now unsightly and environmentally unsound parking lots,” Palmieri said in a statement.
“MX-3 adds new permitted uses to the neighborhood such as artisan and craft workspaces, micro-breweries, shared kitchens, and live-work spaces.”
City officials have also reassured residents that MX-3 will create affordable housing because of an inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires new residential developments with more than 30 units set aside 20 percent of apartments for low-incoming housing.
But the Ironbound Community Corporation and PLANewark were both concerned that developers would find a loophole to build affordable housing in other parts of the city or only pay into a fund to meet the inclusionary zoning ordinance requirements. Both groups said that increased density would lead to only more market-rate housing, which would raise rents for long-time residents.
The Ironbound Community Corporation has said the MX-3 ordinance does not support Mayor Ras Baraka's goal of preventing gentrification and having equitable development in the city.
This is the second time an MX-3 zone has been created in Newark. A Superior Court judge in October overturned the first version of the ordinance after PLANewark and others filed suit, putting a project on 28-50 McWhorter St. in jeopardy.
"We're disappointed," said PLANewark spokesman James Powell after the vote. “They just made the decision, so we’re going to talk and confabulate and consider all our options."