Jersey City planner Jeff Wenger discusses potential ‘South Ocean Ave. Redevelopment Plan’ with Greenville residents

The South Greenville Neighborhood Association held a meeting at PS 30 to discuss the group’s push for a new “South Ocean Avenue Redevelopment Plan” with Jersey City Principal Planner Jeff Wenger.

Jeff Wenger - Martha Larkins -South Greenville Neighborhood Association

About sixty people attended a South Greenville Neighborhood Association meeting to discuss an initiative spearheaded by the group to redevelop the southern portion of Ocean Ave. in Greenville.

Jeff Wenger, principal planner for Jersey City, started off the meeting by discussing the history of zoning in the area that would fall under the proposed redevelopment plan.

He began with the historic nature of the area, which predates the automobile, and the demographics of the time – specifically large families that made the population very dense.

“It was in that context of fairly high population density, large family sizes, living within walking distance of these neighborhood commercial districts… it was in that context that this huge inventory of retail space developed along Ocean Avenue,” said Wenger regarding the neighborhood at the turn of the twentieth century.

Wenger said that as the size of families declined, in addition to the rise of the automobile creating the option to drive to distant shopping centers, as well as people migrating to the suburbs, businesses suffered and retail locations became vacant on Ocean Ave. – with “the decline really starting to hit in the 1970’s.”

“In the 1970’s the city pursued a policy of trying to concentrate retail in the fewer number of retail streets where they thought it could survive, and so they de-zoned many of these commercial streets for residential” Wenger told the crowd.

“Martin Luther King Drive was designated as the street that was going to keep commercial, and streets like [Ocean Ave] were zoned back down to residential… no body in the 1970’s thought we could sustain all of these different retail streets.”

He went on to remind the crowd that in the 1970’s the city was “facing a declining population and the economy was really horrible,” but that today the situation is the complete opposite and “we’re no longer in that 70’s mentality anymore.”

Wenger said the city wants to bring back Ocean Ave. as a retail street and write a redevelopment plan that will “reintroduce the commercial zoning and maybe do some transit-oriented development, and move forward and try to help Ocean Ave. revive and function as a real neighborhood retail street again.”

He went on to remind the crowd that the historical success of retail in the area was dependent on population density, and suggested the idea of zoning changes to create bigger residential buildings.

“One of the things that has worked very well in other parts of Jersey city is to change the zoning to allow for some bigger buildings to get built, and to reintroduce some of the population density in the areas around these retail streets.”

“Not in the form of overcrowding that may have existed at the turn of century, but in the form of larger buildings with more floor area so that you can get some more units and larger population that will spend money on [Ocean Ave]. Our recommendation to you, and this is what we want to work on now, in writing this redevelopment plan we’re basically going to change the zoning of this street.”

Wenger acknowledged that redevelopment always brings concerns of eminent domain, but said the city was not planning any condemnation as part of the plan.

He also answered numerous questions from members of the crowd regarding the type of business and residential development, as well as tax implications, a potential redevelopment plan could create.

The most interesting moment of the night came after Martha Larkins, lead organizer of the South Greenville Neighborhood Association, referred to a stretch of Ocean Ave. as a “scary place to be” and that the plan was the beginning of changing that.

An unidentified woman in the crowd – who claimed to live on Ocean Ave. for fifty-five years – said she walks the street at any time and that “there’s nothing to be scared about,” which lead to a small debate between attendees of the meeting.

Larkins, who is a supporter of redevelopment, stressed to the crowd that “we have an opportunity here, and we’re in the very early stages, to figure out as a community what we want.”

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