The city wants to hear more public comment on the revised Western Edge Redevelopment plan. After hearing much negative public sentiment regarding the plan, which includes mixed use zoning, the City Council voted 9-0 on Wednesday night to table a resolution which would have sent the redevelopment scheme to the Planning Board.
Two weeks ago, in a public session at the Jubilee Center, the new plan was unveiled to the public to mostly negative reviews.
The plan calls for 581 residential units, 58,837 square feet of retail, 353,019 square feet of office space, and 58,837 square feet of business incubator space.
“It is not, in my opinion, appropriate for the council to move forward tonight.” – Councilman Michael Lenz
The negative reaction from the public meeting on Sept. 14 was echoed in the council chambers in the special meeting on Wednesday night.
“The public doesn’t want that plan,” said Hoboken resident David Liebler. “We don’t want that. Mayor Zimmer did not run on office space and economic development.”
Liebler believes the amount of office space proposed would not be a wise move for the western edge of town. Rather, he hopes more communities could be built.
“You [the council] did not run on office space,” Liebler said. “You ran on open space.”
Some of the previously proposed open space will be replaced by a community center. The mayor spoke about the open space versus the community center argument on Thursday.
“I believe it is important to finally fulfill the promise of bringing a community center to the residents of Hoboken,” Zimmer said in a press release on Thursday.
The Zimmer administration has been in discussions and negotiations for the last year to acquire a large area of land adjacent to the Western Edge for a park, known as the Henkel site, according to Zimmer.
Fourth Ward Council candidate Tim Occhipinti also spoke out against the plan.
“Why are we bringing more commercial on top of more commercial just to sit empty?” Occhipinti said. “The plan needs to go back to the table…Don’t rush the process; there’s a lot at stake. You want to make sure you get it right the first time, because you don’t get a second chance.”
Lane Bajardi, a serial council speaker, blasted the plan once again.
“This is the worst of both worlds,” Bajardi said. “There is no rush here; where is the fire?”
But it seems as if the council never planned to send the redevelopment idea to the Planning Board on Wednesday.
‘Not the time to move forward.’
“It is not, in my opinion, appropriate for the council to move forward tonight,” said Councilman Mike Lenz. “Instead, I believe the council should have the opportunity to have a public hearing. We should hear what the public has to say…for now, it’s not the time to move forward.”
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano believes bringing the item to the agenda on Wednesday, then voting to table the plan on Wednesday, was politically motivated.
“This was set up for political gain,” Castellano said. “And it’s very intriguing that Councilman Lenz comes up with the fact that he wants to table it. Do you think we’re stupid, Michael?”
Zimmer denied any political ploys in a Thursday afternoon release.
“The City Council, as the redevelopment agency, has ultimate authority over the redevelopment process,” Zimmer said. “And I thought it was important to clearly mark this transfer by placing the Western Edge resolution on the agenda.”
Lenz is up for election in November, and is being challenged by Occhipinti.
Councilman Giacchi was not happy with the fact that the council had no plans to vote on the redevelopment design, and said he was “a little frustrated.”
Councilman Michael Russo was “angry” that the council was brought in to vote on the issue on Wednesday night when it was not ready.
“We’re paying overtime for people to be here tonight,” Russo said. “We’re paying our professionals, our staff, for a meeting that didn’t have to take place.”
In addition to the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan, a public hearing on the budget was scheduled for Wednesday night.
Russo said he does not believe the plan is ready to be adopted.
“I didn’t hear one person say ‘I love this plan,’” Russo said. “Everyone said ‘I don’t love this plan, I don’t even like this plan.’”
Councilman Ravinder Bhalla defended the decision to table the plan.
“If we had gone forward and referred this to the Planning Board, criticism [would be] ‘you’re not listening to the people, you’re rushing through this,’” Bhalla said. “Now we’ve listened to the public, and we’re damned for that as well.”
Bhalla said it’s not a perfect plan and there is room for improvement, but said, “Overall, I do like the plan.”
Councilman Dave Mello believes more public input should shape the plan.
“I’m not saying the input we received wasn’t meaningful,” Mello said. “But it was limited.”
One criticism of the plan is that it provides less open space than the plan from Mayor David Roberts’ administration, which was rejected by the community.
“I, as much as anyone, want to see as much open space in the city,” Mello said. “Our residents have been cheated for open space for as long as I’ve been in Hoboken.”
But one part of the plan Mello did enjoy was a commitment to three-bedroom housing.
Some public criticisms of the plan called into question the economic feasibility of a plan, which calls for office buildings and mixed used zoning. Giacchi called for an economic feasibility study to be done in the future regarding the plan.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.