Cliff development allowed to go forth

Activists say they may file suit against freeholders

Last week, the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders – after being forced to hear an appeal from activists fighting a commercial development being built into the Palisades Cliffs – decided to affirm the original Hudson County Planning Board decision to allow the project to move forward.
The freeholders voted 8-0-1 on Tuesday, April 20 to back the county Planning Board’s decision in June of 2009 to allow developers to build a three-store development into the rocks on River Road.
Members of the Coalition to Preserve the Palisades Cliffs (CPPC) wanted to appeal the development after the county approved it last year, but the freeholders at first declined to hear their appeal. After CPPC went before a judge, the freeholders granted them a hearing.
Last week, Freeholder Attorney Edward Florio presented the board with the option to affirm the county Planning Board’s decision to grant a developer hardship stay allowing the project to go forward, or to reverse the county Planning Board’s decision – or to remand the decision back to the county Planning Board.


“It is unfortunate for the cliffs.” – Jodi Jamieson

Tuesday night, Freeholder Thomas Liggio of North Bergen made a motion to affirm the Planning Board’s decision. It was seconded by Freeholder Jeffery Dublin of Jersey City.
Every board member voted to stand by this resolution except for Freeholder William O’Dea of Jersey City, the vice chairperson of the board, who said he abstained because he did not believe that the Planning Board necessarily had sufficient evidence to move forward.
“I’m not at all surprised,” said Susan Kraham, an attorney representing the CPPC. “This was a decision they had made before we said our first word. It was clear from the fact that they didn’t even respect the community enough to hear their appeal [last year] the first time.”

Construction continues

The freeholders vote allowed Avak Properties and U&G Development to continue construction of a Walgreen, Bank of America, and coffee shop.
Currently, developers have been clearing the rocks and soil at the site, located across from Palisades Medical Center, and have been installing reinforcements into the cliff face.
Developers first purchased the land for $5.8 million in 2006 from the township of North Bergen.
Last year a document was released from the Hudson County Department of Parks, Engineering, and Planning that stated the area was approximately 71 percent “steep slope,” and that State Water Quality Management Planning Rules and the Hudson County Master Plan state that slopes of that grade should not be developed. It also stated that construction could interfere with the stability of J.F.K. Boulevard East.

In the beginning

The developers had at first received Planning Board approval from North Bergen Township, which wanted the annual $200,000 of tax funds it would provide. But they were forced to go to the county when it was found that they had been working on the site without a county permit. North Bergen officials felt that while the developers were clearing their land, they had the right to do so and had not started construction yet.
At a heated June 17 county Planning Board meeting, board members voted to not fine the developers and to allow their construction to continue by granting them a hardship waiver.
The CPPC appealed the county Planning Board’s decision soon after that, and while according to state law they had to hear an appeal by the aggrieved party, the board did not do so until a New Jersey Superior Court Judge ruled that they were obligated to do so.

Future decisions

Kraham said that she was not sure why O’Dea abstained from voting instead of sponsoring another resolution. O’Dea said that there would have not been enough votes for another resolution to pass.
Kraham said that she and the other attorneys for the case will review the board’s resolution before deciding whether the CPPC will pursue an appeal at trial court.
“I am surprised and I’m very disappointed by our officials,” said CPPC member Peggy Wong. “[They should have] remanded it back to the Hudson County Planning Board because that was a right decision to make, and instead, they supported a very poor decision. We feel that depending what is in the resolution, they may have made a very serious mistake.”
Jodi Jamieson, the Sierra Club’s chairperson for its Hudson-Meadowlands group, said that she was disappointed as well. “It is unfortunate for the cliffs,” said Jamieson.

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