There will be budgets cut, political comings and goings, new developments, and demolitions of old buildings.
Here are some of the issues that will be big news in Hudson County’s towns in 2009.
New park: According to recently-elected Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, one of his main priorities is a new waterfront park on River Road that could be completed as early as spring 2009.
Guttenberg received a $192,000 Green Acres Grant and a $400,000 Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund Grant for this project. Now the town is ready to look for contractors to begin work.
The park, which has been in the works for some time, will be the second for the town, which also has a small playground area by the Anna L. Klein School.
Mayoral election in November: This past Nov. 4, Mayor Drasheff was elected to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor David Delle Donna, who had been indicted on corruption charges. Thus, Drasheff’s term expires Dec. 31, 2009. In November, another election will be held to decide who will be the mayor for the next four years. Drasheff has said he plans to run again. Mayor of Guttenberg is a part-time job, as the town is only four by 12 blocks in area.
Train terminal towers: New Jersey Transit and Hoboken officials have been hammering out the specifics of the redevelopment of 36 acres of rail yard adjacent to the Hoboken Terminal. The plan calls for a cluster of tall office towers as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development, plus creation of park space and infrastructure improvements.
Mayor David Roberts favors the plan, but many residents went to three meetings that NJ Transit held in Hoboken last year and opposed the towers for a variety of reasons. The planners sought feedback and input from residents, but didn’t seem to incorporate any of their ideas into their plan.
The southern region of Hoboken along Observer Highway will also see other development plans. A private developer is preparing to build on the city’s former Municipal Garage site, and another developer has been testifying in zoning hearings so he can demolish and build on the site of the old Neumann Leathers buildings. A group of artists and small business owners in Neuman Leathers has opposed that plan.
Mayoral election: Several City Council members are currently making last minute decisions on whether to run for mayor in this May’s elections. At the same time, three of the nine City Council seats are up. Mayor David Roberts has said in the past that he may run again, but hasn’t made an official announcement.
Councilman Peter Cammarano, a young attorney, is one rumored mayoral candidate. Other council members considering a run are Beth Mason, Michael Russo, and Dawn Zimmer.
Whoever wins the election will get the prize of running a popular mile-square city whose budget has swollen to $121.7 million and whose taxpayers were hit with a 47 percent tax increase in the first two quarters of fiscal 2008-2009.
Mayoral election: In May 2009, the mayoralty and all nine seats on the City Council will be determined by the voters. The winning candidates will be sworn in July 1.
Those expected to run for mayor include Mayor Jerramiah Healy, state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, former Mayor Bret Schundler, and community activist Dan Levin. Former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo has already announced his intention to run.
Downtown Councilman Steve Fulop was expected to run, but announced in December that he will instead run for re-election to the council.
On the council, six members represent specific wards and the other three serve “at large,” or citywide.
More work on Journal Square plan: During 2009, city officials will further discuss the redevelopment of the rundown Journal Square area. It is expected that the City Council will approve the Greater Journal Square Redevelopment Plan by the year’s end. Then the city will seek developers for various aspects of the project.
The plan pertains to a 244-acre area from Vroom Street to the south, Tonnelle Avenue to the west, State Highway 139 to the north, and Baldwin Avenue to the east. It calls for 10,000 to 15,000 new residential units and thousands of square feet of commercial and retail space. It also includes nine acres of park space.
Two $400 million hi-rise towers adjacent to the Journal Square Transportation Center will be at the center of the project. They will be constructed by the private developer who already owns that land. They have been approved to rise to 50 and 68 stories high, and are scheduled to break ground in March.
Trailer residents evicted: Residents of about 87 permanent mobile homes in the Manhattan Mobile Home Park will be forced to leave in January, 2010. The location on Tonnelle Avenue near the light rail station has made the land desirable for development, and the residents received eviction notices last year after property owner Julius Wassil died.
The court-appointed administrator of the estate, Paul Kaufman, originally sent out eviction notices for June, 2009, but later extended the deadline for six months. Kaufman is responsible for half of the land, and Wassil’s widow is responsible for the other half.
According to Marion Delaire, the president of the homeowners’ association, 250 people may become homeless if they have to leave. Residents purchased their mobile homes for upwards of $25,000, but said their trailers will likely crack in half if moved. Many fear that they will not receive any reimbursement for this loss.
Residents who are members of the park’s homeowners association are being represented by attorney William Eaton, who is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Housing.
New bridge in North Bergen: The 69th Street Bridge, which began construction in October, will span freight railways and reduce traffic congestion along West Side and Tonnelle avenues when it is finished. While this $65 million project, which is being funded through the state Department of Transportation, is not slated to be completed until 2011, other transportation projects currently in the works may be affected by it.
For example, NJ Transit is working on its “Northern Branch Project,” a study of how to restore passenger service on the Northern Branch freight corridor. They are considering whether to use diesel trains or electrified light rail cars for passengers. If they use diesel trains, they may be able to run them on the existing light rail tracks in the area. NJ Transit is currently awaiting review and comment from the Federal Transportation Association, which they expect to receive in 2009.
Will he or won’t he? As 2008 came to a close, there was no final decision on whether Town Councilman Michael Gonnelli will be sworn in as chief of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department. The swearing in, which was scheduled to take place on Jan. 1, has been in limbo since last month, when Town Attorney Frank Leanza advised the town clerk not to conduct the ceremony.
New schools, new parks, new development, and old rivalries.
Gonnelli has been the focus of debate since winning his 2nd Ward council seat in 2006. Already a battalion chief when he was elected, Gonnelli is currently the deputy chief of the department and was scheduled to begin his tenure as fire chief on Jan. 1.
But since the Secaucus Town Council oversees the volunteer fire department, some elected leaders and attorneys believe Gonnelli’s dual roles as councilman and fire chief would be in conflict. Gonnelli is also politically at odds with the administration of Mayor Dennis Elwell, and there is a history of rancor between the two sides.
Gonnelli and his supporters are waiting to see if the Town Council will pass a recommended ordinance that Elwell and others believe would resolve the conflict of interest. It was proposed just days before Christmas.
Fall elections: The upcoming contest for Secaucus mayor and three council seats could be among the hottest races in Hudson County in 2009. Mayor Dennis Elwell has privately announced that he is running for re-election, and Councilman Michael Gonnelli, a frequent political foe, is widely expected to challenge him for the seat. Although other candidates will likely throw their hats in the mayoral ring – including resident Jules Carricate, UNICO President and Secaucus Public Defender Peter Weiner, and possibly even activist Tom Troyer – the Elwell-Gonnelli showdown will be the main attraction.
Just as important as the mayoral race will be the three Town Council seats up for re-election. Councilmen Richard Kane (1st Ward) and John Bueckner (2nd Ward) are up for re-election this year, as is Deputy Mayor John Reilly (3rd Ward).
New UC high school to open: The new Union City High School building, at 2400 Kennedy Blvd., will be ready for students this September.
Last year, the town’s two high schools, Union Hill and Emerson, were supposed to combine and move into that building, but the opening was delayed a year. Instead, the schools stayed in their own buildings but combined under a new name, calling themselves the north and south campuses.
The project cost $179 million, paid for by a state grant, and was built on the site of the old Union City Roosevelt athletic stadium. Union City Superintendent of Schools Stanley Sanger said that the area was the only open space left in town that could fit such a large structure. Because of the lack of space, the school was designed with a rooftop athletic stadium.
Doric Park to be completed: Union City’s next big park will have its grand opening in June.
Doric Park, near the intersection of Palisade Avenue and Ninth Street, cost more than $5 million, paid for by state and federal grants.
The park will include an Olympic-sized outdoor pool, separate baby pool, water spray play area for kids, and space for greenery and benches.
“The park is probably going to be one of the most beautiful parks we built in the city,” said Union City Mayor Brian Stack last week. He added that the park will be dedicated to Union City firemen who have died in the line of duty.
The expansion required the demolition of the city-owned Doric Temple.
“The improvements will eliminate a city-owned building and provide a safe, modern, state-of-the-art facility for use by all neighborhood residents,” said Stack.
150th anniversary: To commemorate Weehawken’s 150th anniversary, the township will hold numerous events throughout the year, including parades, walking tours, essay contests, and more. The incorporation of the Township of Weehawken took place on March 15, 1859.
The first event will be held at the High School on March 15 and will include readings, a slide show, a panel of accomplished historians, and a book signing of the new book in the Arcadia Publishing Images of America series, called “Weehawken.”
On June 20, the 150th anniversary parade will take place, showcasing members of the indigenous Native American Tribe, the Sand Hill Indians. Later that night, the first concert in the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center’s free summer concert series will take place on the waterfront.
Other events include the completion of an 18-month calendar featuring photos of stained glass contributed by local residents, numerous walking tours of upper and lower Weehawken, and a closing ceremony.
WEST NEW YORK
Additional senior housing: West New York’s newest affordable housing project, Kennedy Tower II, at 438 62nd St., will be ready for its senior residents this year, according to West New York Housing Authority Executive Director Robert DiVincent.
The 11-story tower contains 71 one-bedroom units. The first floor includes the lobby, mail room, and laundry facility, and the second floor has community space, including a lounge area, kitchen, and restrooms. Some of the facilities will be shared by residents of Kennedy Tower I next door.
Both towers also share a two-level parking garage, with an entrance on 62nd Street and another on 63rd Street, as well as security.
New schools in WNY: Two new multimillion dollar elementary schools in West New York are slated to open this September.
The newly renovated and expanded Public School No. 2, near the intersection of 52nd Street and Broadway, will serve students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Currently, the school houses students through eighth grade at the old Public School No. 4 building.
Construction of the new Public School No. 3, at 5401 Polk St., began in March 2007. Once completed, the elementary school will also serve students through sixth grade. The old structure will later hold students from other West New York schools that will undergo renovation.