The City Council on Wednesday night voted by a narrow 5-4 margin to authorize the Planning Board to look into two proposed areas of redevelopment and return with recommendations to the City Council.
It was a fractious vote over a complicated matter that overshadowed all other business on the council meeting’s agenda. The vote split down party lines with the five councilmen who are normally in favor of the mayor – Chris Campos, Richard Del Boccio, Ruben Ramos, Nino Giacchi, and Richard Cricco – voting for the study, and the four against the mayor voting against the study. They were Tony Soares, Carol Marsh, Theresa Castellano and Michael Russo.
The controversy occurred because the city already has been reviewing a new master plan for zoning, the first for Hoboken in over 20 years. The master plan suggests how the city should be developed for the next two decades. But some members of the council charge that the plan is being ignored so that influential developers can have their way if new zones are created in contradiction to what is indicated in the master plan.
The proposed zones considered for further study are the Northwest Redevelopment Zone, an area encompassing the light rail tracks near the Hoboken/Weehawken border (including new residences and the new Shop-Rite), and the UED, or Underbridge Economic Development Area that covers Clinton Street and Park Avenue from the Weehawken border to 14th Street. They are being rearranged to include other city blocks that are outside the zone with choice real estate such as 1600 Park Ave.
That incurred the ire of council members such as Soares and Marsh who questioned the merits of this decision during an exchange with Fred Bado, Director of Community Development for the city of Hoboken.
“It looks like we’re flying right in the face of everything, including a $300,000 master plan that is not even adopted yet,” said Soares who referred to this new potential study as a “gutting” of the master plan.
Mayor David Roberts, who did not attend the meeting, said in a telephone interview that he was offended at the charge that this was a “gutting” of the plan. He said that areas considered for development will be in accordance with the master plan. Bado defended the study by saying that the master plan does call for a northern redevelopment zone, and that the proposed study is in compliance with that recommendation.
Some in the audience challenged Bado on why this was being done.
Former Hoboken CFO Michael Lenz asked Bado which developer he might have met with in the past week to influence the decision to bring about the study. This was a reference to developer Sanford Weiss, who is planning a housing project to be built at 1600 Park Ave. But Bado responded that he has not met with any developer in the past week or at any time period.
However, it was pointed out that a representative for Sanford Weiss, Kay Licausi, was in the audience for the council meeting. Licausi offered no comment on behalf of Weiss at the meeting.
The 5-4 approval means that The Planning Board has 45 days to return to the council with its findings.
Some small businesses say they will be affected by potential redevelopment.
One is Kenneth Stahl, owner of Stahl Soap on Willow Avenue near the Lincoln Tunnel. The Stahl Soap building falls within the UED zone, and Stahl fears that he will be put out of business if this study becomes a reality.
“It’s an active business with 65 employees working on two different shifts, and we intend to stay an active business,” said Stahl. He said that there are plenty of other parts of Hoboken that need to be developed.
Also voted upon at the council meeting in a 9-0 decision were resolutions to authorize refunds to taxpayers for overpaid property taxes in the total amount of $193,432.20, and a contract with Stevens Institute of Technology for the operation of a Concession Stand in Sinatra Park for a period of 60 months at $3,500.00 with a 60-month extension clause based on compliance with proper procedure for operation of the stand.
But for some in the audience like Maurice DeGennaro, operator and resident of the Columbian Towers, the contract is seen as too iron-clad and conceding to a prominent tenant like Stevens Institute, and he rebuked the council for giving too much.