Luxury condos to replace 125-year-old church

Also: rock climbing gym coming uptown?

The steeple of the First Baptist Church has soared high above Bloomfield Street and overlooked Hoboken since 1890. To better place the church in the history of the mile-square city, that same year, the Hoboken Free Public Library also opened its doors. And a year later, the city’s first paid fire department was organized.
But after a decision by the Zoning of Board of Adjustment last month, the church’s days are numbered.
At a hearing on Oct. 20 – which followed introduction of an application on Aug. 11 – the board unanimously approved the property owners’ request to convert the church into six luxury condos after granting three variances.
“This is not an insubstantial effort that is going to be put into preserving what is a gem, and it is a very large gem,” said Zoning Board member Phil Cohen at the Oct. 20 public hearing before voting yes to the proposal. “Everything that is being built is within the envelope of what exists there now.”
With fear looming over the potential demolition of the church, which as recently as 2013 housed a congregation of Spanish-speaking immigrants according to a resident in the area, board members and the architect representing the property owner say they understand some people’s concerns.

“I understand the concerns, and I think they are completely reasonable, but I think that the threat of losing this structure is real and I think there is a real tradeoff here.” – Phil Cohen.
“I understand the fears … and I think they are completely reasonable, but I think that the threat of losing this structure is real and I think there is a real tradeoff here,” said Cohen.
In addition, the architect plans to repurpose many of the aspects that make up the Romanesque-style church into the new condos, such as the restoration of existing European architecture and the installation of five or six of the church’s current stained glass windows as “wall art” in the condos’ lobby.
Chairman James Aibel and Vice Chair Elliot Greene voted yes to push the project forward, as did board members Phil Cohen, Carol Marsh, John Branciforte, and Frank De Grim.
The plan, represented by Attorney Robert Matule, will add two floors to the existing three-story structure, resulting in the need for a height variance, since the ceiling will be higher than the residential zoning permits.
“The exterior masonry facades and the bell tower will be preserved,” said the project’s architect Dean Marchetto. “Some of the stained glass will be will be saved and placed inside the building common area.”

Before shovels hit the ground

Zoning Board Secretary Patricia Carcone said that while the repurposing of the church at 901 Bloomfield St. has been approved, a resolution of memorialization still needs to be written out and agreed upon.
At the City Council meeting on Nov. 4, a number of residents, including outspoken local resident Mary Ondrejka – who also wrote a letter to The Hoboken Reporter about the matter (see “A lighthouse on Ninth Street?” in the Nov. 22 edition) – made comments against the conversion of the church.
City Council President Ravi Bhalla began to inquire about the project, but if opponents of the project file a legal appeal to the Zoning Board, the City Council may have to become involved, so Bhalla ceased discussion.
Zoning Board Attorney Dennis Galvin defined a resolution of memorialization as an eight- to 10-page summary of the meetings written by him, surrounding the facts and findings of the hearings. It will include a list of conditions that property owners must follow during construction. He said he may not have it prepared for the Nov. 30 meeting and may push to have it done by the Dec. 15 meeting.
City Clerk Jerry Lore said members of the public have the option to file an appeal with the Hoboken clerk’s office or the Superior Court. He referred to New Jersey Municipal Land Use law when asked about the process of filing an appeal.
That law says that members of the public are required to file an appeal within 45 days of the notice date of publication (in newspapers) of the board’s final decision. The final decision date is synonymous with the approval of the resolution of memorialization.

Spelling out the details

The Hoboken Historic Commission approved the alterations to the structure last November, according to testimony during hearings for the project. The six units that will make up the condo add up to approximately 12,000 square feet and the build out will cost over $1 million dollars, architect Dean Marchetto of Marchetto-Higgins-Stieve said under oath at the project’s initial hearing in August.
However, the commission did ask that the architect and construction workers remove and properly store the arched iron trimmed wood door at the church’s main entrance, gates, window grates, fences, decorative granite, and the stone and tile work on the exterior of the building.
Marchetto said his firm has been working on the project for almost two years.
“I have been in Hoboken for 35 years working on renovating building and churches and the like,” he said in August.
He testified that his client, the relatively new owner of the building, approached him about finding a “creative, sensitive way” to convert the building and “adaptively reuse it for residential purposes” since it was “out of commission for many years.”
During the Oct. 20 meeting, William L. Rohter, who lives across the street from the church, said the latter part of that statement wasn’t true.
“In reality, 901 Bloomfield was, until 2013, the home of the Seventh Day Adventist Church with a flourishing congregation of Spanish-speaking immigrants. As working class newcomers to this county, they may not have had the knowhow of architects or planners or engineers. But they were devoted to that building, always doing their best to care for it and doing a pretty good job.” Rohter said he moved to Bloomfield Street in the spring of 1985.
“They had their worship services on Saturday morning and Wednesday night and sang their hymns at those services, but never so loud as to disturb the rest of us,” he said. “In addition, they ran a sort of soup kitchen out of the basement on Wednesday nights, distributing food to the needy. All of this contributed to the character and fabric of the neighborhood.”
Rohter said upon speaking to the pastor there, he was informed that the congregation moved because they wanted a larger space and had trouble with parking. The pastor did not respond for comment by press time.
However, Marchetto did speak on the record at the board’s previous public hearing regarding the matter in August.
“It would be great for everybody if we didn’t have to expand this building and just restore it as a monument somehow. But it has been for sale for so long. There is no church buying it,” he said. “It is in disrepair and in order to save this building, this is the kind of thing that needs to be done…that is why I am presenting to you a plan that expands the building…but still allows the funds to pay for it.”
Matule also added at the Oct. 20 meeting that the building has not had significant maintenance for a long time.
“I would suggest to you that this proposal is probably the last best chance for this building. We believe under the circumstances, it is a modest and architecturally sensitive proposal,” Matule said. “There is no question it is going to be something other than what is there now, but we believe it is a win-win situation.”

A rock climbing gym uptown?

In other zoning news, developers are hoping to get approval for a rock climbing gym at 1420 Willow Ave. Last year, the Zoning Board shot down a mixed-use complex with a similar gym at the corner of 13th and Jefferson Street. That project needed approval from the board since it deviated from the zoning guidelines that govern the northwest part of town. In industrial districts, residential or mixed-use buildings are typically not permitted, nor are buildings over four stories in height.
But the Zoning Board will consider the new project at City Hall (94 Washington St.) on Nov. 30 to voice their support or opposition to the application from 1420 Willow Hoboken LLC.
The board will review the application, which adds additional stories to two existing vacant industrial buildings, combines the buildings into one, redesigns the exterior and facades, and increases the height of the combined building to three stories. The total floor area of the combined building would amass 45,388 square feet – of which 16,000 square feet would be dedicated to the rock climbing gym.
The variances requested by the applicant call for the industrial zone to allow for the retail and commercial use of the new center. In addition, the architecture firm – in this case also Marchetto Higgins Stieve – seeks variances associated with lot coverage, setbacks to the yard, lot width, off-street loading dimensions and parking.

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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