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Emerson Mayor Breaks Tie, Allowing Four-Story Zoning

At the podium in Emerson, Jill McGuire turns to show the crowd a Facebook post already referencing the proposed JMF multi-use development as "the most desirable rooftop in Bergen County."
At the podium in Emerson, Jill McGuire turns to show the crowd a Facebook post already referencing the proposed JMF multi-use development as "the most desirable rooftop in Bergen County." Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
After questioning exactly what territory would be affected by the four-story height change, Emerson Councilwoman Danielle DiPaola looks at a map with Borough Administrator Robert Hoffmann.
After questioning exactly what territory would be affected by the four-story height change, Emerson Councilwoman Danielle DiPaola looks at a map with Borough Administrator Robert Hoffmann. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Emerson voted to allow four-story building in a portion of its redevelopment area. Due to huge citizen participation, the meeting went to midnight.
Emerson voted to allow four-story building in a portion of its redevelopment area. Due to huge citizen participation, the meeting went to midnight. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Kevin Codey of JMF Properties answers questions for the public about the project.
Kevin Codey of JMF Properties answers questions for the public about the project. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

EMERSON, N.J. — Emerson Mayor Lou Lamatina broke a 3-3 council vote Tuesday night, tipping the balance to allow four-story development in a part of the borough’s redevelopment area.

The affected area is in Central Business District Zone 10, which runs from Lozier Avenue, just north of Kuiken Brothers, south to Palisade Avenue.

The area was zoned for buildings that go as high as three stories, or 40 feet.

As of the Tuesday vote, the height of allowable buildings in the zone is four stories, or 50 feet.

The council lifted its curfew to midnight to accommodate hours of public comment during a hearing on the measure, which amended the municipal redevelopment plan as outlined in Ordinance 1535-16.

Residents and business owners decried the change, designed to accommodate a multi-use development by JMF Properties in Block 419 in the zone.

“Our small quiet town will become a city with four-story buildings, four-story parking garages, and more traffic to exit onto roads that are already overburdened,” said Robert Petrow, who owns Star Auto Sales and multiple lots on Chestnut Street.

“The school will overflow,” he added. “More police, teachers, firemen, and support personnel will be needed. Taxes surely will skyrocket. We ask, Is this for the public good or is it truly profit driven?”

Jill McGuire, who started a petition in opposition to the four stories, told the council she’d collected 242 signatures.

Given the reaction of the public, Ken Hoffman, former councilman, recommended the matter be tabled and put to a referendum vote.

The borough signed an agreement with JMF that requires the project to move along, according to the mayor.

In what is now an area that is partially blighted, JMF proposes a two-building development along the train tracks, plus a parking garage.

The project will encompass nine parcels of land, according to media reports.

Council members voting for the four stories were Chris Knoller, John Lazar, and Brian Downing.

Those voting against the change were Danielle DiPaola, Vincent Tripodi, and Richard Worthington.

“We made a difficult choice,” Downing said. “I just feel that if we don’t move forward, developers are just going to walk away from us.

“No one’s going to want to do anything,” he added, “and then we’re stuck.”

Emerson is undergoing many changes at present, including a 10-month Kinderkamack Road project that many business owners say is hurting them as well as the JMF application, which also involves potentially designating Block 419 a condemnation zone – a matter the council will take up this winter.

Also under way are talks among the borough, its special affordable housing master, and the Fair Share Housing Center, which together are working to determine Emerson’s fair share of affordable housing units without going to court.

“We’re negotiating with Fair Share Housing Center to see if we could lower their number for Emerson, which was up around 400,” said Borough Attorney Wendy Rubenstein.

Emerson has until the first week of February to put together a preliminary housing plan, she said.

“Maybe we can get some kind of a reduction into the upper 200s,” she said.

Since 20 percent of the residential units in the JMF project will be designated for affordable housing, the zoning and affordable housing issues are linked.

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