NEWARK, NJ - Council members on Thursday postponed voting on a new draft of a land use ordinance -- one that could potentially allow buildings in the Ironbound to increase to 20 stories -- because they did not have enough time to review it.
The original MX-3 ordinance was approved last year, but was overturned in court last month after an advocacy group known as PLANewark filed suit over the changes. The summary judgment ruled that any project approved under the MX-3 ordinance was null, putting a 12-story residential development at 28-50 McWhorter St. in jeopardy.
Hundreds have previously protested the changes to the long-standing Portuguese community near Penn Station, which is filled with many bodegas, churches and three-family homes. The measure on Thursday only appeared on the city's website as a last-minute starter resolution after the meeting, making it difficult for people to know that it would come up for a vote.
“I'm hearing from the council members and the question is because this is such an important and multi-level resolution, why was this not presented to us yesterday in our planning meeting?" Council President Mildred Crump asked on Thursday.
Newark Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart said the measure was put before the council without much time to discuss it with the council because PLANewark had only just sent recommendations for the ordinance about a day or two before the council meeting.
“I've actually had two meetings with the group that has been involved with the lawsuit,” Stewart said to the council. “We met with them as late as yesterday at 3:30 and we had a very long dialogue. I think I spent an hour or so with these people. We actually asked these people to send us their recommendations. They sent it on Election Day. So because of the late discussions as of late yesterday, that's why we're doing it now.”
Carmelo Garcia, the chief of development for the Economic and Housing Development Department, said the measure was put up for a vote so quickly after receiving PLANewark’s recommendations because of the upcoming holidays.
“It wasn’t anyone trying to push it through,” Garcia said in a Monday phone interview.
A copy of the blue starter agenda obtained by TAPinto Newark did not have the item listed. Stewart on Monday said “there was two different blue starter sheets” but that the measure for the new MX-3 zone “was on there.” He also said he added the resolution on the floor, which the council permits.
"At the end of the day the city’s development must go forward," Stewart said in a Monday phone interview, adding that the city doesn't want developers "wondering if it’s going one way or another."
PLANewark spokesman James Powell said the group is still reviewing the proposed ordinance.
"We’re still trying to understand the very specific sort of granular details to understand if the language -- the written language -- does what the city says it’s going to do," Powell said on Monday.
Garcia, meanwhile, said the administration realized it needed to “tidy up” a number of points in the proposed ordinance.
For example, Stewart told council members the new ordinance would allow for 10 stories of living space and two stories of parking. He also told council members a developer would have to go back to the community to get feedback about features of a building in the MX-3 zone before being able to build.
None of that information appears in a hard-copy of the ordinance that was put up for a vote, but Stewart said he asked for it on the floor.
Garcia also said before getting approval from the planning board, a developer would have to hold a meeting with community members about the design of the new building. The developer would have to show the board an affidavit as proof that the meeting was held.
Although a section on the first page of the ordinance says buildings could essentially go 12 stories high, there is a section on page nine that says high-rise multi-family developments that are only residential -- not mixed-use -- could go up to 20 stories high. That clause remains the same in the original and new ordinance.
But on Monday, Garcia said the information that appears on the hard copy of the ordinance was “an error” and will be fixed when the measure is put up for a vote again.
Powell said PLANewark never had an opportunity to look at the ordinance proposal before it was put up for a vote. He said the group's chief concern is to continue to have a “good dialogue” with the city.
"We were obviously happy to have met with the city in good faith and continue good faith discussions twice," Powell said. "But we need to continue because there are these important discrepancies to resolve."
The measure on Thursday would have simply referred the council's draft of the proposed ordinance to the planning board for review. The next council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 27, but it's unclear if the measure will come up at that time.