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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Planning Board Eviscerates Arts District

The long fight over the Toll Brother's planned towers for the former Powerhouse Arts District essentially came to an end at last night's planning board meeting with the board voting 8 to 0 in favor of approving Toll Brothers new vision reports the Jersey Journal. The plan includes building towers of 40, 35 and 30 stories in the former warehouse district and dwarfing several projects that conformed to the original Powerhouse Arts District Plan including the recently completed Waldo Lofts and Morgan Lighthouse.

In addition to opposing high rise towers in the neighborhood, preservationists wanted to preserve several historic warehouses in the district and an original cobblestone street. Toll will only preserve one facade of the old Manischewitz factory. The cobblestones will be removed for construction, and then returned to a new plaza. The new plaza, along with a 500 seat theater is a concession Toll Brothers made in an attempt to appease the city and local residents.

Provost Square will be a 25,000 square foot plaza bound by Morgan, Provost, and Bay streets. The Hudson, residential project that conformed to the original PAD plan broke ground on the site in December of 2006. Workers drove pilings for the small building before the Toll Brother's involvement.

Harbor Lights, another PAD project, was supposed to have broken ground in early 2007. However, when the Toll Brothers began fighting to amend the neighborhood zoning, the Harbor Lights ground breaking never happened, fueling speculation the developer was waiting to follow in Toll's footsteps. Now, Harbor Lights may seek height extensions as a result of the city ruling in favor of Toll. In addition, Morgan Pointe, a planned project for the corner of Steuben, Marin, and Morgan Streets might also have been waiting for the Toll Brothers ruling.

Many preservationists point to the controversy with 111 First Street as the turning point for the Powerhouse District. 111 First Street, 19th century warehouse was involved with a multi-year battle between a developer looking to build a tower on top of the site, and historians looking to preserve the warehouse. 111 First Street was demolished last year to make way for a 52 story tower designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaus. The announcement that Koolhaus was designing a tower in Jersey City made headlines literally around the globe, but also paved the way for Toll to seek zoning changes.

Last night's ruling will likely lead directly to another fight, this time over the Butler Brothers Warehouse, a 9 story building on the eastern end of the district. Once the tallest building in the PAD, the owner planned on building out penthouse units on the top floors. However, with the new ruling, Butler Brothers will likely be the valley surrounded by high rise towers. The city has indicated the Butler Brothers building, below, is one building they might be interested in preserving. However, considering the city's record with preservation efforts, it may not be long before this behemoth is also replaced with new towers.



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