Not exactly paving paradise; Planning Board blasts developer who they say put up parking lot without permission

A builder who wants to create a massive residential development at a downtown waterfront site has apparently flouted the city Planning Board’s wishes and paved a parking lot without permits or approval. “What’s the point of having a planning board if anyone can come along and ignore the laws of the city?” asked board member Jeff Kaplowitz at the board’s Tuesday night meeting. The lot, adjacent to a bar and the offices of a ferry business, was paved sometime in the past few weeks, but was noticed by an official just last Saturday. The parking lot, in addition to its illegality, also drains poorly and is not well lit, according to Planning Board members. “People could get raped and murdered down there,” said Kaplowitz. Said Commissioner and Councilwoman Melissa Holloway, “The safety issue is so critical.” Developer Peter Mocco, who appeared before the Planning Board last month to gain “interim use” approval for an initial 1,000-space parking lot, recreational vehicle park and tent, was told by members to provide more entrances and exits to the 1,000-lot site onto Luis Munoz Marin Boulevard. The board’s fear was that traffic to and from the lot could cause severe backups on Grand Street and Marin Boulevard. But Mocco apparently went ahead with his plans without the board’s approval. Mocco’s history with the city has included lawsuits and property built on sites with no approval. “He does this all the time,” said Holloway, referring to Mocco’s involvement with the Sand Bar, a waterfront restaurant and bar. Calls to Mocco (who is an ex-mayor of North Bergen) and business partner Jeff Zak went unreturned last week. Holloway discovered the problem last Saturday when she was driving with a friend from a movie. “We wanted a drink, and I said, ‘Let’s go to the Sand Bar.'” When she started driving over what should have been gravel and dirt, she did a double take. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is a parking lot!'” Holloway said. She subsequently called Kaplowitz, and the matter was discussed at the Tuesday meeting. Considering the scope of the plan Mocco intends to pitch to the Planning Board in the coming months for a massive development on the Liberty Harbor North Site, this latest development is troubling for officials. “It’s like creating a whole little city down there,” said Holloway of Liberty Harbor North. “It’s not quite as big as Newport; maybe the size of Port Liberte.” Nevertheless, she later added, “You have a world class piece of land. Don’t cheapen it.” What happens with Mocco now is unclear. “He should be fined tremendously and be ordered to rip this up,” said Holloway. But, said Kaplowitz, “I’d like to see enforcement officials stop an operation – in the sense of the city – an illegal operation, until he gets approval.” Planning Director Bob Cotter was instructed by the board Tuesday to write a letter to both the city zoning and building departments about the matter.


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