Two dozen citizens offered comments, criticisms, and proposals at a Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night as the board prepares to assess how faithfully the city has been following its 2004 “master plan” for development.
A master plan is a document that guides the city’s zoning laws for the future, suggesting how different parts of town should be developed, and what the goals are.
It was six years ago that the city held a series of meetings with residents to produce a 171-page document suggesting how the city should take shape. The master plan details initiatives in seven major areas: transportation, community facilities, parks, housing, economic development, land use, and design.
“Hoboken is more than twenty- and thirtysomethings on bicycles who make millions.” – Margaret O’Brien
As the city worked on its master plan, it also began refining several proposed “redevelopment zones” for neglected areas of town like the southwest border. However, discussions to finalize laws for those zones have languished in the last few years as the city struggled with budget problems and election issues.
The city is required by state municipal land use law to release an official Reexamination Report on the plan every six years. The forthcoming report will serve as both a check on progress and a mechanism for amending the plan. Though no official action was taken at Tuesday’s special meeting, the Planning Board was curious to hear residents’ thoughts.
Comments ranged from critical to persuasive.
Wanted: Arts district, more parks
The arts community was heavily represented. Art supporters cited Hoboken’s past patronage of the arts and suggested an “arts district” in town.
“If we can imagine a master plan that includes arts districts,” said Chris O’Connor, artistic director of the Mile Square Theater at the Monroe Center on Monroe Street, “it will manifest itself by attracting artists and arts organizations, which in turn will provide jobs and encourage tourism, which brings dollars into our town.”
Towns with arts districts have encouraged developers to include moderate income live/work spaces for artists in their projects.
Other speakers proposed more parks, linked with pedestrian and bicycle friendly pathways.
Jim Doyle, who is working on a “green roof renovation certificate,” suggested that a city ordinance mandating environmentally friendly roofs for new and retrofitted buildings would help absorb rainwater and stem street flooding. Street flooding has been a big issue in Hoboken’s low-lying areas.
According to Doyle, both New York and Chicago have implemented the green roof idea.
Joan Able, an architect who told the audience that Hoboken was once an island, suggested building canals and monitoring the marshlands along the perimeter of the city.
Improving and creating new infrastructure was a running theme among commenters, including the need to upgrade Hoboken’s 150-year-old sewer system to prevent flooding.
Some residents complained that past development projects have been too large, and shared concerns about the future. They said that large condominiums and other towering structures have served only limited use, impeded scenic views, and generally contrasted with Hoboken’s down-to-earth, small-town charm.
Longtime resident and local author Margaret O’Brien complained that the city promotes Hoboken as “a super-rich community where real estate people can make money.” She said that Hoboken is more than “twenty- and thirtysomethings on bicycles who make millions.”
What Hoboken needs more of
Other speakers suggested that the plan be revised to strengthen amenities for senior citizens and account for the fact that Hoboken lacks any assisted living facilities.
Other wish-list items included a trolley for Washington Street, new ball fields, and a skating rink. A few suggested a community pool, an idea that on a hot June night was given a warm reception by audience members.
Though many people alluded to the recent economic downturn, few explicitly mentioned tax rates or suggested how the city could raise revenue for new projects.
The Planning Board is considering holding another special meeting to hear additional public comments before it releases a report in the fall. Residents interested in reading the master plan can find it on the city’s website, www.hobokennj.org.