The fate of a sizeable and historically significant piece of land will be debated at a township meeting this week. The United Water reservoir near Highpoint Avenue – or, more precisely, 10.2 acres of the 14.4 total property – is up for sale at an asking price of close to $11.5 million.
According to its owner, United Water, a number of private developers have expressed interest in purchasing the reservoir, which has not been in use for more than 20 years, for upwards of $16 million.
Alternate proposals will be discussed with the public at the Oct. 19 meeting at Webster School, 2700 Palisade Ave., at 7 p.m.
“What we’ll discuss at the meeting is a proposal for a potential underground storage facility at the site. That is something that would certainly benefit the community,” said Richard Henning, senior vice president for corporate communication at United Water.
The partially underground site would be no higher than street level, and would help with fire suppression and water pressure in the area.
“Delivering water mostly operates off of gravity and some pumps,” Henning said. “During the night, when people aren’t using water, we pump water back into storage facilities like at the proposed site. When you get up, that’s the water for your morning coffee and shower before you head off to work.”
But local officials are investigating ways to secure federal and state grants to possibly purchase the land for township use.
“It’s absolutely clear that we have to preserve it,” said Mayor Richard Turner. “We’re very concerned about the property being used for commercial or residential use because of the impact to the community.”
The township is concerned that the narrow, quiet streets surrounding the reservoir would be strained trying to accommodate traffic from a commercial facility, like a new shopping mall. In addition, the 4.2 acres of property that United Water is not selling is nearest Palisade Avenue, meaning access to a future commercial center at the site would come from the surrounding side streets.
“A mini-mall would bring hundreds of cars into the area every day,” he said. “There would be more congestion, less traffic, and more turmoil for residents.”
The township takes action
The township has hired a lawyer to look into the legality of the sale with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and two private appraisal firms to verify the value of the land.
After verifying the price of the property, the township will apply for state and federal grants to help fund the purchase. The mayor said the township is also reaching out to Union City, which borders the reservoir on two sides, to jointly preserve the property.
“We may not be able to do it without Union City,” he said. “This is one of the biggest projects since the development on the waterfront took place.”
According to officials, rumors have surfaced of a 140,000 square-foot shopping center – almost twice as big as the Tower Plaza shopping center on Park Avenue – being built, or a 400-unit residential complex.
“This is nothing,” the mayor said. “There’s been rumors [of a sale] since I started in 1982.”
History of the reservoir
Originally, United Water was the Hackensack Water Company, and the reservoir, along with others in the area, supplied Hoboken and other communities with water since the mid 1800s.
“The reservoir and the water tower are some of the original structures of our water system,” Henning said.
The property was then a “finished reservoir,” a holding facility for water that is already processed and filtered at a water treatment plant.
“It was really like a big storage tank,” Henning said. “Like the ones you would see down the shore.”
But according to Henning, United Water was forced to close down the facility some 20 years ago after new regulations mandated all outdoor water storage facilities must be covered.
“You’ve seen the reservoir,” Henning said. “Covering over an entire reservoir would just be impossible.”
For the township, the large space is both historically significant and an important piece of land for the community.
“It’s practically a lake right in Weehawken,” the mayor said. “It’s one of the largest pieces of land in upper Weehawken. We want to keep it as open space.”
The meeting to discuss the eventual fate of the reservoir will take place on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Webster School. For more information, call (201) 319-6005.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org