A large development project next to the city’s train station has come to a crucial juncture, and the City Council isn’t sure what to do.
The council tabled a resolution last week that would have increased the amount of the planner’s contract from $155,000 to $255,000, after voting down the same measure last month. The increase of their contract is said to pay for work completed and work yet to be completed, but the council claimed that FXFOWLE, the city-contracted planners, ignored public input and were “arrogant” in their dealings.
The non-payment has put a serious wrench in the redevelopment process.
The NJ Transit Development Plan includes the entire the south end of town – where rail yards now sit – from the Hoboken Terminal following along Observer Highway.
The proposal that was planned by FXFOWLE has as its centerpiece a cluster of buildings, some approaching 70 stories in height. The planners conducted a study and designed a plan for the city, but the FXFOWLE contract is being bankrolled from afar by LCOR, the developer-in-waiting for NJ Transit. Although the council and residents are glad the financial burden is falling elsewhere, the arrangement presents a conflict. Some officials believe LCOR is dictating to FXFOWLE what should be built on site, while the cries of residents of the city – for whom the planners work – are going unheard.
Two weeks ago, the project’s “stakeholders” – city officials, council members, NJ Transit, FXFOWLE, and the presumed developer, LCOR – met to discuss the project, but the only outcome of the meeting was the reappearance of the administration-backed resolution to increase to amount of funding for the planners. Wednesday, after some discussion, the council voted to table the contract until they understand the situation better.
Teetering over the towers
The council said they would withhold the pay increase from FXFOWLE until they presented a plan that took into consideration citizen concerns about height, density, open space, and stress to infrastructure, among other things.
Last year, FXFOWLE held a series of meetings to engage the community in the planning process, but drew harsh criticism when they failed to incorporate much, if any, of the public’s input.
At the second of three meetings, FXFOWLE Senior Partner Mark Strauss said he received no negative feedback from residents at the fist meeting, which set off a wave of rebuttals from irate residents who said they submitted plenty of negative feedback to the plan.
Big developments in big development
Since then, the relationship between the planners and the community has deteriorated further, until the council used the contract increase as an opportunity to step in on behalf of concerned taxpayers.
Councilman Michael Russo said at the council meeting that he is willing to look for a new planner, if need be. “If it’s not them, that’s fine, but we need to move forward with the process,” he said.
Councilwoman Beth Mason said it would be a terrible precedent to set to allow contractors to overrun contracts without approval.
“We cannot have our vendors running around spending money that we haven’t approved,” she said.
Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said the planners need to go back to their notes and revise the plan according to what the public asked for.
State-appointed fiscal monitor Judy Tripodi has said publically that she will not intervene with the council’s role as the redevelopment agency for the city. But she did send a memo to the council asking for them to approve the contract increase and to work with the planners on a new plan that included more public input.
At the meeting, resident Cheryl Fallick questioned why Tripodi was involved at all.
“To say that it is disproportionate to the size of Hoboken is an understatement, a huge understatement.” – J.D. Capuano
The city did not respond last week to inquiries about any involvement they might take as the situation progresses. Strauss was not available for comment either.
Resident J.D. Capuano said at the meeting: “The size of this project is colossal. To say that it is disproportionate to the size of Hoboken is an understatement, a huge understatement.”
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.