Jersey City has found way to have new development mean new schools — at no cost to taxpayers

Laurel and Saddlewood Court project, approved Thursday night, comes with 50K-square-foot pre-K-5 school

Developers have brought tens of thousands of housing units to Jersey City in recent years. Now, they’re bringing something desperately needed to go with them: New schools.

On Thursday night, when Mayor Steve Fulop joined city council members to announce the intent to move forward with the Laurel and Saddlewood Court project, they said it came with more than just 800 residential units, of which 5% is mandated affordable housing.

It will come with a new 50,000-square-foot public school for PreK-5 students — which the city says is valued at nearly $25 million — at no cost to taxpayers.

Jersey City officials feel it is the only municipality in New Jersey to successfully establish approaches to build new schools at the developer’s expense. This is the third school to be built under Fulop’s directive to leverage development and the private sector, expanding the scope of construction projects to incorporate key community benefits.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. (File photo)

Fulop, in a release, said he was thrilled by the latest development.

“Just days after announcing the public-private partnership for the creation of the new innovative Liberty Science High School, we’re already moving forward on another brand-new school to alleviate the school system’s overcrowding and long waitlists, and further our efforts to provide top-quality educational opportunities for our youth,” he said in a statement.

“It’s important for us to ensure our community benefits from these projects, and this is the latest example of how we’re becoming a national model for smart growth.”

The project also will include on-site stormwater capture improvement and a public park.

The developer, Lennar Multifamily Communities, will be responsible for the construction of the new school as well as the public park, valued at $2.5 million, and will incorporate stormwater capture improvements to minimize runoff.

The approved amendment also requires the development to set aside no less than 5% workforce housing, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Andrew Prokos, of Laurelwood Owners LLC, said the firm is firmly behind the initiative.

“As homeowners on Laurel and Saddlewood Court, we fully support this project,” he said. “We have come together, with LMC as our partner, to have this development project succeed.”

For Prokos and Laurelwood, it’s personal.

“Beyond our personal interests in the project, we are longtime residents who have witnessed the neighborhood evolve, many of us plan to stay in the neighborhood, and we remain committed to seeing Jersey City grow and prosper,” he said. “We believe the proposed development will further enhance downtown Jersey City for all who live here, by providing additional affordable housing, a much-needed public school, infrastructure improvements, and greatly expanded green space.”

City council members agreed. Ward E Councilman James Solomon called it a necessity.

“Downtown Jersey City’s elementary schools are already overcrowded … and that’s before up to 10,000 new homes will be built here in the next five years,” he said. “The transit-oriented Laurel-Saddlewood development will address that infrastructure challenge by building a new, public elementary school for up to 400 students. And it will do so without costing taxpayers a cent.”

Council President Joyce Watterman said it’s an example of what can help when developers and the city work together for a greater good.

“This site will be transformed to serve not only the residential units being built, but also the surrounding neighborhood and the city as a whole, which is exemplary of what economic development can accomplish,” she said.