Thursday, March 02, 2017

Is Jersey City neighborhood drawing a line in the sand? | Morgan 

Members of the Hasidic Jewish community are seen outside 221 Martin Luther King Dr. in Jersey City in a file photo.

Questions are still being raised about the Hasidic "community center" on Jersey City's Martin Luther King Drive that appears to violate the zoning law prohibiting establishing new houses of worship on the street.

But sources say the city's zoning office was told unofficially to leave the shul, as its often referred to, alone, even though city spokesman Jennifer Morrill agreed it constitutes a house of worship and therefore is in violation of zoning laws.

The dictionary definition of the word shul is synagogue, a Jewish house of worship. Michelle Massey, who heads the Jackson Hill Main Street Corp., whose mission is to return MLK Drive to its former glory as one of Hudson County's busiest shopping thoroughfares, is continuing to question why the facility is being allowed to operate as a shul.

The Hasidic community says the ground level of 221 MLK is a community center. not a shul. They say that yes, people are allowed to pray there, but it's still a community center.

This controversy has raged for months after Hasidic families began moving into the city's heavily African-American communities in Wards F and A in large numbers and eventually opened the shul. And it doesn't look like it's going away.

As one long-time resident of Ward F noted, how can you open something and call it a community center if only a certain religious group can use it?

Massey has said her beef isn't a religious issue. Her group's "concern is that the allowance of this type of commercial use has set precedent for others to do the same." 

Now she is also pointing out that for decades the building was home to a dry cleaner and as far as she knows it has never been inspected for any residue of contamination or solvents that could been left behind by the previous tenant.

All this is occurring at a time when neighborhood residents are feeling anxious about the ensuing gentrification all around them. The fear is that the  inevitable property revaluation will substantially increase their property taxes. 

Ironically it's the gentrification of Brooklyn that led the Hasidic community to the not-as-expensive confines of of Jersey City.

This is by no mean novel. Years ago Hoboken was an almost totally Italian enclave. Then came the yuppies. In Jersey City, Van Vorst and Hamilton Parks were formally working class Hispanic neighborhoods. Gentrification changed that, with homes now selling for more than $1 million.

So excuse the Jersey City neighborhoods that are making a fuss over a building and whether it's a synagogue or a community center. Maybe it's more of a line in the sand.

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