The Newark City Council voted 7-0 Wednesday to approve a controversial zoning ordinance that will allow developers to erect buildings as high as 12 stories in the area around Penn Station, a move that residents say could change the character of the Ironbound neighborhood.
Two members – West Ward Councilman Joseph A. McCallum and At-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne were absent.
The re-zoning changes the height limit in the area around Penn Station at eight stories — or 96 feet – and instead allow for buildings as high as 145 feet – or 12 stories.
The plan has drawn opposition from Ironbound residents who say it will change the character of the neighborhood and lead to higher rents, which will force existing residents to move out because they can no longer afford to liver there.
Those fears were articulated again today during a public hearing prior to the council’s vote. A total of sixteen people spoke out against the plan, several of them noting that more residents would have shown up had the meeting not taken place at 12:30 p.m., the middle of a work day.
No one – not even potential developers who will benefit from the rezoning — spoke out in favor of the measure during the public hearing, prompting City Council President Mildred Crump to say, in remarks made just before the vote, that supporters felt “intimidated’’ from speaking. “The impression that the council does not care what is going on in the East Ward is not true,’’ she said. “. . . There are huge numbers of people in the Ironbound who support the ordinance.’’
Crump’s assertion that supporters might have been afraid to speak out was met by skepticism by residents who gathered outside the City Hall Chambers after the vote to express their disappointment in the outcome. “The reality is, those business owners and developers who support this ordinance know the deal is in, so they have no reason to speak,’’ said Arnold Cohen, a longtime Ironbound resident.
Joseph Della Fave, executive director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, whose organization opposed the re-zoning, said the ICC will now focus its efforts on making sure that developers fulfill the affordable housing requirements of the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance by building affordable units on site.
Under inclusionary zoning, large developers can fulfill their mandate to set aside 20 percent of their units but they have the option of building on site, building in another neighborhood or contributing to an affordable housing fund.
Della Fave said the vehicle for monitoring how these requirements are being met will be the city’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission, an initiative announced by Mayor Ras Baraka last month. “The mayor has all the right intentions,’’ Della Fave said. “We’ll see how it plays out.’’