A 36-acre swath of land at the southern tip of Hoboken is an ideal location for a 75-story building, several other tall towers, and 9.2 million square feet of new development, according to NJ Transit officials and Mayor David Roberts.
Broad plans for the proposed $500 million, 20-year development were unveiled on Thursday, at the third of three public meetings held by NJ Transit to talk about their development plans for the tracks at the city’s southern border.
The new development would revitalize an industrial area and bring as many as 6,000 new residents to the city.
But many people believe it is out of scale for mile-square Hoboken.
At the meeting, members of a private planning firm, FXFOWLE – appointed by the city and paid for by NJ Transit – tried to convince some outraged residents that condos, office buildings, and retail and park space could “beautify the blighted area” bordering Observer Highway.
NJ Transit owns the property, but has allowed Hoboken to choose its own planning and architecture firm.
The development would be completed by NJ Transit’s designated company, LCOR.
At the meeting, FXFOWLE Senior Partner Mark Strauss said that the proposed development would include residential units on the western portion of Observer Highway and office buildings in the middle. The east side would be the existing train/ferry terminal.
The project could bring 6,000 new residents and 20,000 new jobs.
But the firm did not have specifics on the number of buildings or the timetable for building, other than to say the project will span 15 to 20 years.
The centerpiece would be a 75-to-80-story office building, and there would be several residential buildings about half that height.
Although Mayor David Roberts is in favor of the plan, not everyone is on board.
Council President Nino Giacchi said the day after the meeting that the proposal is “out of proportion” to the rest of Hoboken, and his sentiment was echoed by several other councilpersons late last week.
“We want to talk about your goals of smart growth,” said land-use attorney and Hoboken resident Leah Healy at the meeting. “Hoboken’s entire city is smart growth. Making it bigger does not make Hoboken have more smart growth; it just makes Hoboken more densely packed in.”
Mayor David Roberts said on Friday that the rail yard is a “quintessential place to put office buildings.”
He said that even though the proposed 75- to 80-story “signature building” for the site is about three times the height of the tallest building in Hoboken, it would be better to have it on the Hoboken side of the project than on the Jersey City side.
Otherwise, Roberts said, the city will be supporting a population influx from Jersey City without the benefits of ratables, or taxable units, and without getting back any upgrades from the developers, like a reworking of the sewage system and the re-routing of Paterson Plank Road.
“It’s like a martial art. You have to use the force to harness the power of development,” Roberts said.
He said the same people who are opposing this project were the same protestors who opposed the W Hotel, the south waterfront development, and the St. Mary hospital bailout.
Strauss said that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, office locations located out of Manhattan are considered desirable.
Strauss said that the park, along with the office buildings, would align with the Freedom Tower in Manhattan and create a “relationship from a business center perspective with both lower and midtown Manhattan, giving business the opportunity to relocate and create centers in this area.”
NJ Transit believes the office buildings will bring 20,000 jobs into the area.
Council cut out
Council members at the meeting said they hadn’t been consulted much about the plan.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said that she was only invited to one meeting at the last minute, which lasted for five minutes and made her feel uncomfortable with the plan.
“This is something that is clearly from the mayor and something he is pushing,” said Zimmer. “I think there is going to be a lot more discussion about it.”
Councilwoman Beth Mason also said that she had concerns about the meetings she went to about the project.
“The plan seems to be talking a lot about the development and not really of the rest of our city,” said Mason. “I would like to see how it relates to traffic.”
Strauss said that the area will have a circular road that will prevent gridlock.
Councilman Peter Cammarano said Friday that he is “adamantly opposed” to the size and scope of the project, and that traffic is a big concern.
Residents at the meeting complained about the project’s sheer size.
“This monstrosity is going to ruin our environment here and might also raise our taxes,” said Dan Tumpson.
Helen Manogue said that she felt FXFOWLE was only considering NJ Transit’s desires and not those of the residents.
Over the years, activists in Hoboken have shot down many projects that were much smaller, including a proposed Devils hockey arena above the train terminal.
“The other thing that is absolutely shocking to me is all I could think of when they were showing the monstrosity up there was [how we] got that magnificent rebuilding of the steeple on our train station,” said Manogue. “I wondered for a long, long time how it was that NJ Transit was doing this for us.”
Another resident, Kim Cardinal, felt that the FXFOWLE erred in their estimate of 260 new public school children in the area with the new residential units.
Different from master plan?
Leah Healy also said at the meeting, “This plan smacks of high-rise urban development, not [of] Hoboken, but what’s really concerning to me is that under the guise of ‘smart growth policies’ and ‘transit developments,’ we are proceeding with a developments that are so far out of whack from the master plan.”
The city’s master plan is a long-range document stating the development goals for different areas of town.
Regarding that section of town, the master plan states, “The emphasis is on historic preservation, economic development and pedestrians. Urban renewal-style ideas – such as massive buildings or rail yard development – are not supported. Such development would add to traffic congestion without compensating improvements to the city’s quality of life.”
Straus responded Friday that the master plan has “some inconsistencies” in regard to the rail yard, as it calls for “intense-use” development to be directed to this area of the city, while warning against overdevelopment.
He said his firm took the increase in population, and in turn the need for services, under consideration while creating the blueprint for this project. He said they actually had to tame their project accordingly.
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