In what City Council members called a “historic moment” at the recent City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16, the council passed a $16.7 million bond to help acquire 6 acres of land in the northwest for a park and a parking garage. The patch of land between Madison and Adams Street near 13th Street, owned by chemical-giant BASF (formerly Henkel/Cognis), has been designated for the creation of the Northwest Resiliency Park.
From the total bond, $4.8 million will actually cover the construction of the upcoming Southwest Park, with work set to begin this fall.
From the remainder, $11.9 million will fund the northwest park and the engineering and land for a garage.
The park would address a need for more open-space and parking, and have at least 1 million gallons of flood mitigation capacity.
“This is a tremendously important step forward to creating Hoboken’s largest park in northwest Hoboken, while addressing our flooding and parking challenges,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “I’m very thankful to the City Council for supporting this project and working together to make Hoboken an even greater place to live.”
The same opponents of the introduction of the ordinance at the last council meeting – 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, 1st Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason – voted not to pass the ordinance.
Council members also voted for 30 new parking spots in other parts of town.
“That’s taxpayer money; that’s funding the taxpayer will have to pay over the course of that bond,” Russo said, suggesting there may be other viable options toward building the northwest park.
During the council’s debate over the bond ordinance, Russo asked Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Marks to verify the current total cost of the land acquisition and construction at the BASF site.
Marks confirmed the cost of the land acquisition and construction would be between $37.5 million to $42.5 million, not including possible legal costs and cleanup — not just $16.7 million. The city will have to find more sources for money in addition to this bond.
The city said they may use eminent domain to obtain the BASF property for public use, the same tactic used to acquire land for the upcoming Southwest Park.
The U.S Bill of Rights details the doctrine of eminent domain as allowing local governments to condemn property for public use as long as “just compensation” is provided to the owner. In the event BASF and Hoboken are not able to reach an amicable deal themselves, the courts will establish a fair market price.
If the property owners don’t agree with the price, they can file suit against Hoboken in the U.S Court of Federal Claims.
During discussion prior to the vote, 5th Ward council candidate Eduardo Gonzalez asked the council to seek other options other than eminent domain to acquire the land.
“During the first reading of this ordinance…I expressed my concerns over your efforts to pursue eminent domain to acquire land from BASF for a park,” he said. “Like many of my neighbors and friends, I support open space initiatives…However, I am deeply concerned about the true cost of the current proposal [which may include legal fees].”
Council-at-Large James Doyle acknowledged the pitfalls during the meeting but called the decision a “no-brainer.”
“The words eminent domain seems to evoke a great deal of concern for people. But as far back as 2005 when the redevelopment craze was going on, there was a fair amount of discussion about using eminent domain to take the property from one person and giving it to another designated developer,” he said. “I remain skeptical in regard to the use of eminent domain in that manner, but eminent domain for parks, for schools, for necessary roads are in my view, a no-brainer.”
But Zimmer remains hopeful that a deal will be reached with BASF property owners so the matter doesn’t have to be decided in court.
Why not use $20M bond from 2011?
During the meeting, Hoboken resident David Liebler asked why the council was not purchasing the BASF property using a $20 million bond for open space acquisition that was passed in 2011.
“I’m confused over why do we need more money?” asked Liebler. “If we already have 20 million earmarked for this?”
Hoboken Business Administrator Quentin Wiest confirmed to the council and the public that despite the vote in 2011, the funds have not been borrowed.
City spokesman Juan Melli said after the meeting that the original $20 million bond passed in 2011 was not done in a form that the NJEIT would accept, “so we cannot use it for the NJEIT funding.”
The city’s new hope is to fund the parkland through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT), which would only be able to provide low-interest financing if the city passed the new bond for $16.7 million.
The benefits of the loan through the NJEIT include 19 percent forgiveness on the principal amount of the new $16.7 million bond – in other words, the city has to repay only 81 percent of the loan, plus low interest.
Outside of the 19 percent grant, 75 percent of the loan will have 0 percent interest while 25 percent will be at market rate. The loan could save the municipality more than 45 percent off a different type of loan during the course of the 30 year term, Mayor Zimmer said.
Russo and 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham butted heads on the ordinance, with Cunningham ultimately saying, “The financing that’s involved in this particular situation is very fiscally [appropriate] for the taxpayer. We established an Open Space Trust account. We’re going to be using NJEIT financing, which was just described earlier as being very cost effective.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Russo asked Wiest to add an ordinance – for the next meeting agenda on Wednesday, Oct. 7 – that would undo the authorization of the original $20 million bond that was passed in 2011.
30 more parking spots
There are currently two options for the garage, which would require additional bonding as well: a four-level garage with 600 spaces for $11 million more, or a six-level garage with 900 spaces for $16 million. The next step in the process would be an analysis to determine financial feasibility for various garage size options at the BASF site.
While other efforts to alleviate the city’s parking woes are underway, such as the new bike share program that will launch at the end of September and Zipcar taking the reins of the car share program, a recent amendment to a parking ordinance, voted on at Wednesday’s meeting, could add as many as 30 on-street parking spaces in other parts of town.
The amendment to Chapter 141A titled “Parking Permits” and “Vehicles and Traffic” was passed by the City Council with 8 votes in favor and 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti having stepped out during the vote.
The amendment will alter portions of River and Clinton streets to provide more parking spaces. The ordinance to make the amendment went into effect immediately upon passing at the council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
With a November City Council race approaching, several candidates had to chime in at the meeting.
Both 2nd Ward Council candidate Tiffanie Fisher and 1st Ward Council candidate Michael DeFusco, who are said to be running with the mayor’s support, praised the park project.
“When a park is built it will stimulate small businesses, it will stimulate surrounding residential structures, and it will stimulate all of Hoboken,” said DeFusco. “I think this board needs to vote on their consciences on what they honestly think is best in 100 years from now for Hoboken. So this is an opportunity to really set the stage for a brilliant future.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.