Monday, December 07, 2009

Mediator chosen for Jersey City right-of-way use debate

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Jersey City, N.J., has hired a former state Supreme Court chief justice to mediate a disagreement over its Sixth Street Embankment, former ex-Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way sought by various interests for green space, housing development, and/or light rail use.

The City Council has approved hiring former Chief JusticeJames Zazzali to mediate a resolution among city interests, developer Steve Hyman, and Conrail, the most recent rail operator of the property. The city will split the cost of hiring Zazzali with developer Steve Hyman and Conrail, which sold the property to the developer in 2005 for $3 million.

The route in dispute runs along the city’s Sixth Street between Marin Boulevard and Brunswick Street, and is an infrastructure remnant from the days when the city’s entire waterfront was served by several major Class I railroads. Hyman has fought an intense public battle to put housing, including upscale condominums, along the route. Jersey City planners seek the same right-of-way for open space and a new branch of New Jersey Transit's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit system.

The city filed a lawsuit in 2006 arguing that, under federal law, Conrail, the previous owner, should have offered the site to the city before selling it to Hyman. In 2007, the Surface Transportation Board backed the city’s position. But Hyman took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which threw out STB’s decision in June, saying it didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case.

The city and Embankment Preservation Coalition, a local advocacy group, have asked the appellate court to reconsider its decision. But the city and Hyman also have agreed to seek a mediated settlement out of court. "I think it's a worthwhile expenditure," said city attorney William Matsikoudis.