Resident expresses concern about overdevelopment

Dear Editor:

Hoboken is under construction. From the cranes overhead to the road blocks on the streets the ‘development boom’ is everywhere.

Some residents have responded with renewed civic activism: talking to their friends, petitioning on the street, and attending meetings, concerned that over-development is undermining our City’s quality of life.

Others see this development boom as a great thing. Contractors, zoning lawyers, architects and developers are thrilled, of course. But so is Mayor Russo: “What we have is not called over-development, it is called economic development. And it is what every urban area strives for.” But what about the rest of us? Those of us with roots (or who are putting down roots) in Hoboken — those of us who will still be living here when the boom is over.

Hoboken is allowing more construction than we can sustain and for most Hobokenites, the development boom is bringing some modest benefits, but at an unacceptable cost. Pier A park is delightful, but getting across town has become a nightmare. New housing is being created, but long time residents are being forced from their homes, and once displaced, have no place in their hometown that they can afford.

And then there is parking. There are no simple solutions, but what we are doing is making the problem worse. Independent parking lots are disappearing. These vacant lots are being covered with new buildings–out of scale with their neighborhoods–designed to attract singles, each with their own car. Even when one space per unit is provided, it is far from adequate.

This kind of ‘economic development’ does not lower taxes.

No one likes the congestion, the lack of parking, or the noise–so why is so much development being allowed to go on, virtually unchecked?

Supposedly because we need economic development–new ‘ratables’ (tax assessments) to bring in more revenue. Our city fathers tell us we must accept rampant overdevelopment or bear outrageous taxes. They act as though our tax bills would be lower if the activists (‘anti’s’ they call them) who want more open space would just shut up, and let the builders build what they want. This is utter nonsense. The claim that economic development in Hoboken is reducing taxes is plausible, “look at all that new money coming in” — until you consider the cost of all those new services and jobs that development seems to create. Forcing new construction on this scale into this mile square city, over time, will overwhelm our aging infrastructure, and raise taxes for all.

So why have tax rates dropped, even if slightly? Short-term, because new purchasers are subsidizing existing owners. New units pay more taxes because they are assessed as a percent of ‘true’ market value, while existing owners keep older assessments until the next revaluation, and revalued, like it or not, they soon will be.

Today, Hoboken is assessed at under 75% of true value. Soon, probably by 2002, Hoboken will be required by the state to reassess all property in town. We will each be paying our fair share, and despite covering every inch of ground with new construction, taxes may well be higher. The only way to reduce taxes is to do less, or do it smarter — there are no rabbits in the city’s hat.

We must reduce the density that our laws allow so overdevelopment is eroding our quality of life, and it’s doing nothing to reduce taxes long-term. Somebody is getting rich, but if that’s you, you probably stopped reading in the first paragraph. For the rest of us, the question is “how do we stop it?”

Part of the solution must be revising our Master Plan. This document is supposed to establish fair and reasonable limits on what can be built on any given lot. Over time, Hoboken’s plan has become outdated. Times have changed, exceptions have been granted, and loopholes have been added, so that today, it no longer represents a reasonable goal for development. We must take the time to write a new Master Plan reflecting the Hoboken we all hope for.

We must have the will to enforce our laws. Until then, we must establish a total moratorium on granting variances to proposed projects. This won’t stop all development — projects that have approvals could continue, and owners would be free to build within the law — but it will prevent a mad dash to build before the new, more resident friendly, Master Plan is complete.

When the new Master Plan is finished, even if it is well conceived, it will only be as strong as we are make it. We must be willing to enforce it firmly, and equally. In Hoboken, for the past few years, there has always been a reason to make an exception. This must stop. The law must be the same for everyone, every time, regardless of who their friends are, or who they are not.

Hoboken is losing the character that brought (or keeps) each of us here, and we are running out of time–and space. The choices we make now will define our City well into this new century. An inefficient government can be voted out of office, a corrupt official can be caught and punished, but parkland, once lost, will never be green again, and a badly conceived building, once built, can stand for a hundred years.

Michael Lenz


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