PATERSON, NJ- Twelve dilapidated, underdeveloped and otherwise underutilized properties on Ryle Avenue will make way for open green space under a plan presented to the City Council earlier this month. Altered from a similar previous plan, this one will be considered and subject to public discussion at the City Council’s December 19 meeting.
Under the plan described by Paterson’s Director of Economic Development, Ruben Gomez, the City will utilize $1 million in Green Acres funding that was awarded through a competitive grant process earlier this year. According to Gomez, the grant dollars would allow for the city to acquire the properties and demolish the existing structures, which would, he told the Council, remove blight, support flood mitigation efforts and help entice future development into the Great Falls National Park area from the heavily-trafficked West Broadway corridor.
While several members of the Council voiced concerns about the proposal, including Councilman Mendez who suggested that he didn’t believe one of the lots proposed for acquisition should be part of the plan, it was Councilman Michael Jackson who offered the greatest rebuke.
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Calling it an attempt to “mislead” the Council, Jackson offered his belief that the entire proposal was tainted due to former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ interest in it and, though unsubstantiated, suggested that all that would come of the area would be nothing more than the addition of affordable housing projects.
Gomez also responded to Councilman McKoy’s question about the decision to include properties across the street from the river instead of adjacent to it by saying that those properties can be better leveraged for other purposes, and also confirmed that public waterfront access would be maintained through the construction of a river-walk which will be a condition of any future site plan approvals.
According to Gianfranco Archimede, Director of the Division of Historic Preservation, the removal of these blighted homes would prove to be an important step forward in facilitating other projects that have been presented to the city by investors, including the construction of 100 residential units along the river through adaptive reuse of an existing historic mill structure, and a “makerhood” on the privately-held parcel across the street. the “makerhood” is, Archimede said, a “unique concept” that would allow entrepreneurs to live, make and sell their goods in the same unit, and would be constructed to have a “village square” feel to engage visitors and customers alike with residents, creating a vibrant neighborhood based on local products, interactions and commerce.
The plan, Archimede believes, would also make adjoining properties along West Broadway more desirable for upgraded uses, which could add to the city’s tax rolls, thereby reducing the burden on local residents.
Referring to the fact that the grant dollars can be taken back by the State of New Jersey if their use isn’t approved by the local governing body, Councilman Andre Sayegh, who also serves as the Chair of the Economic Development Committee, urged to move forward with the plan, warning against “squandering this opportunity.”
“Paterson was born on big thinking, and that’s what we need to get back to if we want to see it truly thrive again,” Sayegh said. “Purchasing these properties with grant dollars sets in motion a series of economic development activities that means jobs, revenues and prestige for the City of Paterson.”
It isn’t just members of the Council that have voiced their opinion on the proposal. Robert Guarasci, Founder and CEO of the New Jersey Development Corporation (NJCDC), the non-profit that has built and opened schools, housing and retail opportunities, and offers a variety of programs geared towards revitalizing the 95-block Great Falls Promise Neighborhood,acknowledged the concerns raised but said that “on the whole, the benefit to Paterson and the park is much greater than any downside.”