With the state acquiring the 8.5 acres of land that was the site of a proposed housing project vehemently opposed by activists, the city unveiled a plan to preserve the land as open space and build a concession stand and comfort station for visitors to the Great Falls National Historical Park.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres said the New Jersey Green Acres program is close to acquiring the property at the very end of Jasper Street off of Totowa Avenue for an undisclosed amount of money as he presented a management plan for approval to the city council on Wednesday night.
The mayor proposed creating a scenic viewing area atop the cliff overlooking the Great Falls with a pathway running from Jasper Street to Ryle Avenue. His plan also includes a 4,800-square-foot comfort station and concession station. This could also serve as an additional visitor center, said the mayor.
Torres said the paved parking area at the site will be available to visitors for free. “The only time there will be some charge will be in support of activities once the stadium is fully functional,” he said. He said the Paterson Parking Authority and the city will jointly manage and maintain the site.
Council members and activists welcomed the news. “Open space is probably the best application that matches with the stadium and the national park,” said council president William McKoy. He said the state’s intervention “rescued” the piece of land.
“Finally, something good happened,” remarked David Soo, executive director of the Paterson Friends of the Great Falls, who filed a lawsuit to stop the project that would have led to the construction of 13 buildings that resembled the notorious Alabama Projects.
“It was determined no matter where you put the townhouses it was going to obstruct the viewshed,” said Torres. The developer attempted to revise the development plan, but was never able to satisfy the opponents of the project. He said the developer, Lakewood-based Greentree Development Group, put in a request to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to purchase the land.
Soo, who has been fighting to protect the Great Falls from damaging developments since the late 1990s, said getting the state to buy the land was the developer’s exit strategy.
Larry Hajna, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), declined to discuss the property acquisition. Ruben Gomez, economic development director, who unveiled the plan with the mayor, said he was not sure how much the state is paying for the 8.5 acres.
Gomez said the city has not yet figured out the cost for the improvements. He said the city will have to look for creative ways of financing the observation point, comfort station and concession stand, and the walkway including looking for grant funding.
The director said the foundation of the building that was expected to go up at the site has been removed. He said the 8.5 acres is also included in the Hinchliffe Stadium business plan.
“We lose the rateable of the housing that was going to go there,” said Torres, who was a strong backer of the project that would have created 156 housing units for an estimated $25 million. Activists at the time saw the mayor’s move to bring in quick revenue from the project as shortsighted.
The management agreement between the city and the state will be up for a vote at the city council’s January 17th, 2016 meeting. It allows the city to manage the site for five years and automatically renews for successive five-year terms until one of the parties terminates the agreement, according to the accord before the council.