The City Council Wednesday night finally adopted an ordinance that will pave the way for a high-rise near Journal Square, more than two years after a judge first ordered the city to take the action.
The ordinance vacates a portion of West Street, a dead-end road off Magnolia Avenue, to the firm seeking to build the high-rise. The action caps an eight-year legal battle that started when the firm sued the city for the right to build higher than zoning rules allowed.
The council adopted the measure by a 7-1 vote, with Councilman Rich Boggiano voting no. Councilwoman-at-large Joyce Watterman was absent. Boggiano, who represents Journal Square, argued the city should defy the judges who ordered the city to vacate the portion of West Street. Boggiano said the proposed tower, which could rise up to 42 stories, is too large for the neighborhood.
“This fight’s not over,” Boggiano said. “Every obstacle I can put in their way is going to happen.”
The property owner is Hap Investments, which purchased the site from Robinhood Plaza. The owner sued the city in 2010 after its site was not included in the Journal Square redevelopment zone and the two parties settled in 2012. As part of that agreement, the city said it would allow the owner to build a tower up to 42 stories and the owner agreed to fund a public park nearby. The city also agreed to vacate the northern end of West Street, which leads into the property.
The council approved that agreement and the zoning changes in 2012.
In 2015, the council, which by then had seven new members, voted down the measure required to vacate West Street, after lobbying by Boggiano and a group of residents who oppose the high-rise plan. The owner sued, the city lost the trial and its appeal. In October, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Hap Investments spokeswoman Hillary Vanaria thanked the council for allowing the project to move forward.
“We can now focus our efforts on delivering a project that will bring needed and significant benefits and economic development to Journal Square and its neighbors,” Vanaria said in an email. “We have collaborated with key members of the community to offer enhanced benefits in inspiring and innovating ways, including dedicating the land for a new public park, creating local retail opportunities and improving lighting and streetscape to enhance local safety.”
Council members Wednesday night said they respect Boggiano’s opposition but noted that two judges have now ordered the city to abide by the 2012 settlement that requires the city to vacate West Street. Council President Rolando Lavarro said council members would expose the city to legal action by “thumbing our nose at the courts.”
At one point, Councilman Michael Yun, who is Boggiano’s close ally, patted him on the back in sympathy.
Boggiano told Yun, “If the council had guts, they’d say no.”