Last year’s major news events in Hudson County will have profound effects on the year to come. 2002 will bring new housing, new parks, and new parking, while it also might see indictments resulting from an FBI investigation of the county executive that was revealed last fall.
All the while, the county will continue to wrest itself from the gripping effects of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy. Relatives and friends of victims will memorialize those who passed away and endure major changes in their lives. Cities will study how to prepare for future emergencies.
Politically, there will be mayoral elections in Union City and Weehawken, as well as a U.S. Senate race.
Local businesses will have to cope with the effects of the economic downturn, and several planned developments will rise on the waterfront.
The county’s animal shelter in Jersey City will have to figure out a policy for dealing with stray animals.
The following will be the key issues in each town during the coming year.
David Delle Donna became the new mayor of Guttenberg on New Year’s Day. He faces the challenge of trying to maintain a stable tax rate while balancing a municipal budget that has operated at a severe deficit over the last two years. The former councilman was the chairman of the business committee during his tenure on the Township Council, so he should have a handle on the township’s financial difficulties. He also needs to show the kind of leadership necessary to bring all of Guttenberg’s factions together as he takes the mayor’s chair.
The township faces a severe crisis at its lone school, Anna L. Klein elementary school. The teachers’ union has been working without a contract since the old three-year deal expired last June. The negotiations have reached an official impasse and a state-appointed arbitrator will decide the fate of the new contract. Meanwhile, the school remains overcrowded, with the classrooms that were designed to house the district’s pre-kindergarten students behind schedule. School Superintendent Dr. Robert Penna has personally helped design a new extension to the school that will address the issue.
Light rail and west side development
The Hudson-Bergen light rail comes to Hoboken in 2002. By the fall, New Jersey Transit will complete the segment of rail from Newport in Jersey City to the Hoboken train terminal. Construction will continue to then bring the light rail up Hoboken’s west side in the shadows of the Palisades. That section is set to be up and running by 2003. The light rail has made the formally blighted northwest portion of town attractive to developers. 2002 will see developers, community activists and city officials spar about exactly how the area of town should be developed.
Continued growth on the waterfront
Building on the southern waterfront continues. The 13-story home of J.P. Wiley & Sons publishing will be finished by the summer and two more towers are on the way. The second, an office tower, has just recently gotten the green light to begin construction. The final specifications of the third tower – which will be a hotel and office space – are being negotiated between the city and the Port Authority. The city is choosing between two developers for that parcel of land.
Further north, the fate of the Maxwell House property at Eleventh and Hudson streets will be decided in 2002. The owners of the property have an application before the planning board for a 982-residental unit development and a four-acre public park. The developers say the project will give Hoboken one of its largest public parks and will significantly increase the city’s ratables. But some Hoboken residents believe that the project is too dense and will detract from the city’s quality of life. The Stevens Institute of Technology has said they would like to build a public school on that land if the city can acquire it.
New parking garages
A lack of parking continues to be a problem in the mile-square city, and 2002 will be a pivotal year for the Hoboken Parking Authority (HPA). By April the HPA plans to open the much troubled and long delayed 324-car automated garage at 916 Garden St.
Also by the fall, the 740-space garage at St. Mary Hospital is scheduled to open. By all accounts, progress on the structure is going smoothly. Also, expect several changes in the city’s parking policies. Within the next two months a proposed tightening of business and residential parking regulations may go before the City Council. The HPA is also expected to raise the rates in their garages.
Who will speak for the county’s stray animals?
Who will run the Assisi animal shelter in Jersey City – which also serves Secaucus and West New York – and will they euthanize stray animals? At the end of the year, the shelter’s animal lover director, Tom Hart, was terminated by a new board of directors. Hart had adopted out more than 800 pets during his one-year tenure, but was criticized for having a "no-kill" policy that forced the shelter to run out of room. Secaucus, West New York, Bayonne and the Jersey City government began keeping a small number of animals in other facilities, but this was not a permanent solution. One county health official has proposed bringing the facility, which had a history of problems before Hart took it over, under county control. This may be the year that a concrete policy to address this animal life-or-death issue is put into place.
Aid or taxes
As the council looks over the municipal budget for the 2001-2002 fiscal year, Mayor Glenn Cunningham continues to keep his fingers crossed whenever he thinks about the $16 million line item for Distressed Cities Aid. Promising his electorate not to raise taxes, Cunningham has banked on balancing the budget through state aid. With a new Democratic administration in the governor’s seat, the chances of receiving that aid seem plausible to city officials.
However, an economic recession has cut the state’s anticipated tax revenue and Gov. Jim McGreevey’s constant pledges of fiscal restraint have stirred the nerves of these same officials. If Jersey City does not receive the anticipated amount, Cunningham’s first policy-making test will ensue. He will have to find a way to plug the budget deficit without raising taxes.
School system up for grabs
When the school year comes to an end in June 2002, the state will decide whether or not Jersey City may regain control of its own school system. Since 1989, the Jersey City school system has been under state control. A high dropout rate combined with low test scores resulted in the state takeover, and a struggle for independence has been ongoing ever since. The city regained its right to elect a Board of Education in 1996. However, this board has been stripped of any authority in terms of controlling the school budget. The state-appointed superintendent and his staff make all decisions regarding personnel.
But Jersey City continues to move forward. While the city has adhered to the state’s demands concerning the attendance and the dropout rates, it still needs to jump the standardized-test score hurdle. In August, the New Jersey Department of Education gave the Board of Education a hint that the city’s independence was close by.
Rumors ran rampant at the close of 2001 that the FBI’s recent raid on North Bergen City Hall and officials’ private homes centered on contracts given to a township air conditioning and heating contractor. It should be interesting to see whether the investigation will lead in that direction and toward any indictments or arrests. There is still speculation that the FBI search is part of the larger investigation involving other key figures, like former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski.
Currently, many township figures are concerned, having no idea where the results of the search may lead. For example, the Municipal Utilities Authority has already hired a private attorney separate from Township Attorney Herb Klitzner, just in case an indictment is handed down to more than one employee of the MUA.
A year ago, prospects looked excellent for proposed commercial development in North Bergen, with the East Coast shipping headquarters of the home Internet shopping company Webvan already in the works and the plans for the multimillion dollar "Commons of North Bergen" shopping center being finalized.
However, those plans have gone almost entirely by the wayside when Webvan went bankrupt and New York-based developer The Related Companies couldn’t come to an agreement on a sale price for the Tonnelle Avenue property, where the current K-Mart shopping plaza and the vacant Crown Cork & Seal factory are located.
No one knows what will be housed in the $50 million restored, but now vacant, Webvan warehouse. A leasing agent is looking for an occupant. There is also no update as to whether The Related Companies can reach an agreement to purchase the Tonnelle Avenue property that will enable the "Commons of North Bergen" to move forward. It should be interesting to see what transpires at both sites.
Also, some areas of the town remain in a state of flux in terms of residential development, like the site of the former Sier-Bath gear factory, which has been the source of controversy for ages. The site, demolished in 2000, remains for sale after a proposed hi-rise multi-family complex fell through in 2001.
The North Bergen Board of Education once again faces the dilemma of overcrowding in all six of the district’s grade schools, as well as the high school. Some of the problems are being eliminated by extensions that have already been added to Kennedy and McKinley schools, while an in-progress extension to Lincoln School will permanently house the district’s pre-kindergarten program, currently housed in temporary classrooms at Bruins Stadium in North Hudson Braddock Park. However, the overcrowding issue has not gone away and Board of Ed. officials must find a way to suitably house the nearly 2,300 students in the high school. There were plans to consider purchasing land along West Side Avenue to build a new high school there, but those plans have not gone past the discussion stages. The overcrowding issue will be the major obstacle that the Board of Education will face in 2002.
New library to be completed
Delayed for nearly a year, the construction of the new Secaucus library is expected to be complete by the summer of 2002. The town’s library system has discussed expanding service to the community, providing more space and meeting federal disability access requirements for over a decade. The project was supposed to have been finished in November 2001, but because of numerous problems, the bonding company fired the original contractor. Town officials overseeing the project say the library should be up and running well before the end of 2002, barring any future problems.
Can City Hall hold taxes steady?
As the town of Secaucus gets ready to present its annual budget, officials struggle to maintain taxes at the same rate for the fourth year. Mayor Dennis Elwell said the real challenge will be the national economy and the impact of the World Trade Center disaster on tourism. Because Secaucus has nearly 20 hotels, a fall in tourism could impact the budget as hotels file tax appeals. This is what happened in the early 1990s during the last recession. If not for the WTC disaster, the town’s five-year financial projection would have kept taxes stable for 2001.
In a related issue, the town’s efforts to get a hotel tax look good for the upcoming year as the Democratic administration takes over in Trenton. The tax, which could give fire, police and medical services as much as six percent on every room rented, will likely come before the state legislature this year.
Another school bond?
With new housing development proposed in Secaucus, the Board of Education will be faced with hard decisions as far as expanding the schools. In 2001, elementary schools were expanded. Although school officials said no bond will be ready for a public vote during the 2001-2002 school year, a vote could take place during the summer or early next fall to help expand the middle school/high school complex. Student populations have been increasing since 1990 and a five-year projection done three years ago showed no slackening of students through 2003. The middle/high school will need additional space even if new projected housing never takes place. But school officials say that 225 new townhouses in the north end of Secaucus, as well as smaller projects, will have an impact if constructed. While the board has released no final dollar figure as to a potential new bond, estimates range from $15 to $30 million.
Regular mayoral election
This is a municipal election year. Union City Mayor and City Commissioner Brian Stack will be running in May to retain his seat as commissioner. Once he gets re-elected to that position, the five-member Board of Commissioners can elect him mayor again. Unlike this past November’s election, in which he was running to fill out the term of recalled Mayor Rudy Garcia, Stack will be running in May for a full term in office with a full slate of commissioners.
With three areas designated as areas in need of redevelopment this year, Union City is expecting big plans for development this year. The Yardley Property on Sixth Street and Palisade Avenue, the Swiss Townhouse Property on 33rd Street and Hudson Avenue, and the new area located at 815-819 Palisade Ave., only named last month, will all be looking for developers.
Possible election battle
There will be a municipal election in 2002, but the question remains as to whether current long-time Mayor Richard Turner will have legitimate opposition for the first time. Since Turner was elevated into the top slot 12 years ago, he has run for re-election unopposed three times. However, a new civic organization called WIN, which stands for Weehawken Initiative Now, has been exploring the possibility of opposing Turner and the current administration in this year’s election. The group involves activists who oppose the Roseland waterfront development project.
Weehawken looks to be one of the busiest sites in terms of residential and commercial development in Hudson County – and perhaps the state of New Jersey – in 2002. Roseland Properties’ Port Imperial South project will continue to move forward in the coming months, with the construction of 42 brownstone town houses along Port Imperial Boulevard. However, the development firm has already received preliminary approvals to build the second and more extensive stage of the project, which would include several office buildings, a shopping area and a hotel. Litigation by the local group, the Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront, that is opposing the $500 million project.
Hartz Mountain Industries, owners of the Lincoln Harbor complex, will also move forward with its plan to build two new office buildings to its existing structures, which will bring more employers and jobs to the Weehawken waterfront.
West New York
Strolling on the river
Last year, West New York accepted a Hudson County Improvement Authority grant on behalf of waterfront developer Roseland Properties to complete the town’s Waterfront walkway. This walkway will connect to Hoboken’s waterfront and along the entire Hudson County riverfront area. The construction on this project should be completed this year.
Affordable housing to come
All three of the buildings included in the town’s multi-site affordable housing project will be completed and accepting applicants this year. The first of these buildings, located at 60th and Madison streets, held its grand opening in 2001. The remaining sites, Dewey Manor and Filmore Place, will be completed by the summer of 2002. This project will include more than 140 units.