What should go on 52 acres near train terminal?

Planners present ideas for NJ Transit development

The long process of planning for development near the Hoboken train terminal continued on Thursday night in a community meeting where the city’s planning firm presented different conceptual ideas.
The city and NJ Transit officials are trying to come to an agreement about what exactly will be built on the 52-acre site along the city’s south border with Jersey City. The land is owned by NJ Transit, but the city will have a say in what is built.
A 2006 study conducted by NJ Transit and city officials indicated that 52 acres out of the 65-acre downtown property were an “underutilized resource.” The area near the terminal was declared an area in need of redevelopment by the City Council in 2007.

“I want the area to be a vibrant area.” – Jon Moore, resident
Controversy ensued in 2008 when developers from NJ Transit proposed a 70-story building and residential towers for Observer Highway. Transit officials said the plan would bring 20,000 jobs and 6,000 new residents to Hoboken.
The plan was rejected by members of the community who contended that the size of the development was out of scale with the rest of Hoboken.
In September 2010, officials from NJ Transit introduced a new plan for 1.8 acres of the 52-acre site, called “Phase I” of the project. The Phase I plans included an 18-story office building, a redesigned bus terminal, and open space. The city, however, wanted to see the whole plan, not just Phase I.
After talks fell apart between the city and New Jersey Transit earlier this year over development of the Phase I site, the city hired a planning firm to come up with a plan for the entire 52-acre site. On Wednesday, different conceptual ideas were presented to the public.
Ideas included moving an Observer Highway bus station west, constructing parking garages with green roofs, and including residential and office development. Many of the conceptual ideas showed different heights for buildings, with the largest size around 18 stories.
The city hopes to take input from the meeting back to the planners and other interested stakeholder groups to come to a consensus for the entire site. Community Development Director Brandy Forbes said there would be at least one more community meeting about the site to gather input.

The character of the site

Jon Moore is a Hoboken resident who recently moved from Seattle, Wash.
“I’ve seen firsthand how redevelopment plays into the character of a community,” Moore said. “More important than the design of a building is the tenants you’re attracting…I want the area to be a vibrant area.”
Moore said he hopes to see marquee tenants in the properties that will make the commercial part of the development more than just an empty office park at night. He hopes to see businesses such as coffee shops or bookstores in the area.
John Leon is the senior director of community and government relations at NJ Transit.
“We’re encouraged that the city is moving forward with the reviews of the site,” Leon said. “We have to look at a few things, such as the fact that the city is considering asking to move the bus terminal. We need to make sure something like that doesn’t inconvenience our riders.”
Leon also said that Transit needs to make sure that potentially proposed densities are viable economically. Leon said Transit is not married to any particular concept for the site at this time.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer said that in the past, large-scale plans were rejected because the city wasn’t prepared for thousands of new residents, and the community believed the proposals were out of scale with Hoboken’s current development.
“Our school system couldn’t have handled that,” she said of the prior large-scale plans. “We don’t want to transform our city. We want to build on what is great with our city.”
Transit officials and the city have disagreed on development in the past, including on who has the final say over the plans. Zimmer said that if the case finds its way to court, she is confident in the city’s position that they have the final say over development of the site.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com

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