The proposed family homeless shelter for 198 women and children on Auburn Street failed to muster enough votes at the Paterson Board of Adjustment on Monday evening.
Board of adjustment members voted 4-3 in favor of allowing the $1.8 million conversion of two apartment buildings located at 42 and 56 Auburn Street into the city’s largest homeless shelter for families; however, for the project to secure approval it needed 5 affirmative votes.
The favorable tally received cheers from almost 30 supporters of the project whose hopes were quickly dashed when it was announced the application failed.
The board heard testimonies from both sides.
Those in favor of the shelter argued the project will do much to improve the plight of a neighborhood besieged by drug addicts, drug dealers, and gang bangers.
Marie Ligon, head of the Center of Grace Church, said she supports the project. She said the shelter will provide women with training to help them become self-reliant. She said at present homeless women from the city are referred to places like King’s Inn Hotel in Wayne.
“I was sent to King’s Inn Hotel in which I lived for six months,” said Victoria Oquendo, sharing an unpleasant experience. She said often women with children have to cross Route 46 to travel back and forth between social service agencies in Paterson and shelters elsewhere. “Anything is better than what we’re dealing with now. We can iron out the quarks. There is a need for this.”
The developer is also converting the two buildings to homeless shelters to drive out the criminals that are running illicit operations out of the two buildings. It takes three months to evict people through the court system, said Nick Daurio of JCM Investors, the company spearheading the project, in the meantime the apartment is being used to distribute drugs.
“This will shut down the gangs. They will no longer have their building,” said Daurio.
“The people that live there are hostages in their own homes. Right now, you can go through those hallways there tonight and see 40 to 50 people buying drugs. This is the reality of these two buildings,” said activist Ernest Rucker.
Rucker said the proposed project will change the “notorious drug den” for good. The drug dealers are running operations out of the two buildings have been targeted by police who have raided the apartments and made arrests to no avail, said Daurio.
“We tried every trick in the book,” said Daurio. Opponents of the project questioned the viability of the project and raised doubts about the plan behind running the massive shelter.
“If the gentleman never had control over the facility back then, I feel he’s not going to have control now,” said Julia Gonzalez, whose house is being built on Hamilton Avenue. She said the developers do not have a proper plan to operate the homeless shelter.
“His plan is not well thought out,” said Gonzalez.
Barbara Dunn, executive director of Paterson Habitat for Humanity, opposed the project calling it financially unsustainable.
“It does not appear to be financially feasible in the long term,” she said. She said the federal government provides great funding for permanent housing, but not as much for transitional housing.
The board saw almost three times as many supporters as opponents for the proposal. 99 beds will be in each of the two three-story buildings, according to the proposal.
Some of the board members asked questions about the proposal.
“There’s going to be a lot of children. What are you going to do with the children?” asked board member Leon Mondelli.
Daurio said there’s a park 100 feet from the buildings. Pastor Allen Boyer, whose Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is on Auburn Street, said children will be able to utilize the pocket park the church created using Passaic County grant funds.
In the future, the building could have a recreational space on top of the roof which will be securely fenced-in, said Daurio. Board member Roger Grier took offense at the idea of creating recreational space on top of the building.
Grier said the Passaic County Jail has recreational space on top of its building for inmates. Daurio pointed to buildings in New York City that have rooftop recreation areas.
Board member Ehab Abdelaziz asked about the length of time each family will stay at the shelter.
Daurio answered there’s no definitive time period.
There was also the concern about parking spaces for the tenants. Mondelli asked about parking. “The women, all of them, don’t have cars,” said Ligon. “There’s always parking around there.”
Boyer said his church is willing to provide parking to the women if needed. He said other neighborhood churches would do so as well. He is optimistic the shelter could improve the roughest section of the city.
“I wish we can have 500 families in there,” said Boyer.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, said she supported the project. She thought it would be much more prudent to try out the shelter idea at a smaller scale rather than having 198 beds.
“I think it’s a good project, but it has too many beds,” said Gerald Thaxton, chairman of the Board of Adjustment, echoing Cotton’s concerns.
Daurio tried to present two contrasting visions for the area. He held up two boards – one with gang graffiti and guns and another with women and children being provided needed shelter – to sway the board.
Gary Paparozzi, the board’s planner, said a low-income apartment complex is much more consistent with the city’s master plan.
Grier, Abdelaziz, and Joyed Rohim voted against the project while Mondelli, Thaxton, Ramon Guzman, and Jeffrey Levine voted in favor.
“I was not sold on this project,” said Grier, a lifelong resident of the 4th Ward, where the buildings are located. He said he prefers the buildings remain apartments. He suggested a similar armed guards approach JCM Investors is using at 87 Auburn Street to secure the buildings and eliminate the criminal element.
Charles Florio of JCM Investors said he intends to appeal the board’s denial. He said the appeal will be submitted to the New Jersey Superior Court on Friday. To get a hearing on the case will take at least 45 days, he said.
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Correction (March 2, 2017): A previous version of this report had a erroneous name for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME). This has been corrected.