The City Council’s designation of the Neumann Leathers Building on Observer Highway as an area in need of rehabilitation on Wednesday evening will likely protect the space for the current tenants, but the decision will also likely pave the way for litigation between the city and the property’s ownership group, according to Vic Zarish, the general manager of the property.
The former Neumann Leathers factory has become a hub for small businesses and artists in the city, and is currently filled with tenants occupying large office spaces and lofts.
The Hoboken Planning Board spent the summer reviewing the property, and ultimately decided to recommend to the council that the area be designated in need of rehabilitation, which will lead to a plan put forth from the city on how to renovate the property.
“This is one of the few sites where manufacturing businesses can survive.” – Tom Newman, tenant
The issue of the Neumann Leathers Building has been before the council intermittently since 2005, when the council began to consider the idea of rezoning the property. Ever since that time, attempts to rezone the property have been met with strong opposition from the tenants of the building.
Redevelopment vs. rehabilitation
The assignment of an area in need of rehabilitation has never been done before in Hoboken. Unlike a designation for redevelopment, a rehabilitation designation does not permit the city to condemn private properties in order to develop them.
Zarish said he wants the property to have a residential building with small businesses and restaurants on the property. In order for that type of development, the city would need to change the zoning through redevelopment or a zoning change.
Zarish said after the meeting that he is hoping for B-3 zoning, which allows for the mixed used residential and commercial development.
Many artists spoke out in favor of the designation of an area in need of rehabilitation at the meeting on Wednesday night before the council voted unanimously to support the Planning Board’s recommendation.
Ira Kaplan, a musician and tenant in the Neumann Leathers building, spoke about how he moved all over Hoboken and Jersey City to find a property that would allow his band to practice. His wife is also in the band.
“It meant the world to us to work in the city we live in,” Kaplan said at the meeting. “Being part of this city means a lot to us.”
Tom Newman, a tenant in the building, also spoke in favor of the designation.
“A virtual tsunami of condo conversions has eliminated a large majority of these loft buildings in Hoboken,” he said. “This is one of the few sites where manufacturing businesses can survive.”
Alan Krantz, a Hoboken resident, also called on the council to support the designation of rehabilitation, saying the Neumann Leathers Building is “an economic driver in this city.”
Chris Mehos and Tom Daly, two tenants, asked for the council to support the resolution.
Artists fear that if the buildings were to be designated an area in need of redevelopment, the property would be transformed into condominiums, driving them out of their workspaces.
However, Zarish believes that a transformation of the property through a zone change would cause the site to “blossom overnight.”
The building is in the ward of Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, who called the building part of “the fabric of the community.”
Bill Potter, an attorney representing R. Neumann & Co., the owners of the property, opposed the designation, claiming it to be “contrary to the governing law and basic principles of due process of law” in a letter to the council.
City officials have said that part of the rehabilitation designation would mean improvements to the water and sewer infrastructure.
“If the city truly seeks to rehabilitate my client’s properties, the city will work cooperatively with the owner to zone the site for productive and appropriate uses,” Potter wrote in a letter to the council.
The next step in the process is the development of a rehabilitation plan, according to city officials. The development of the plan will include a dialogue between the tenants, owners, City Council members, and other officials.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com