Council looks at water main breaks, holiday parking

Pursues Neumann Leathers development, Observer Highway repaving

The recent water main breaks in Hoboken seemed to trickle onto just about every topic discussed during the Wednesday, Dec. 2 City Council meeting.
A resolution to allow for the temporary lift of parking fees at city lots during the holidays was passed unanimously to help businesses recover from the boil water advisory and road closures that reduced costumer traffic two weeks ago.
The council also discussed extending the allotted time for repaving and milling Observer Highway, but this matter met with substantial scrutiny since residents already faced transportation tieups after the main breaks.
And the council conferred over the adoption of recommendations made by the Planning Board to the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Plan, located in the southwest where the brunt of the water pressure lag took place. The plan attempts to renovate a former factory building near the city’s border, one that is home to artists and small businesses.
Additionally, after two water main breaks occurred two weekends ago, a third less impactful break took place last Sunday and was repaired Monday afternoon. Council President Ravi Bhalla told the Reporter that the city may look to renegotiate its contract with SUEZ (formerly United Water) to push for more maintenance.

Way to spur shopping

Many businesses were unable to meet their sales goals following the water main breaks, so the council voted unanimously on a resolution in an effort to incentivize shopping. The city will offer free parking at city-owned lots with a $25 purchase at local businesses. Parking fee suspensions will run from Dec. 5 every Saturday and Sunday from 12:01 a.m. through Jan. 3, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. and every day from Dec. 21 at 12:01 a.m. through Dec. 25 at 11:59 p.m.
“The city wishes to incentivize local shopping during the holiday season and seeks to suspend parking fees in city-owned public garages for up to four hours per day which must be within a single parking session, subject to providing receipts showing at least $25 worth of food and/or retail purchases within the City of Hoboken on that specific day,” reads an excerpt from the resolution.
After the allotted four hours, the parking fees will cost the regular rate.

“If this does become such a nightmare or disaster [we will] direct the contractor to pull back on the added hours.” – Ravi Bhalla
Outgoing 1st Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, who lost her reelection bid to Zoning Board Commissioner Michael DeFusco, said last week that the proposed parking suspension is not ideal, but better than nothing.
“When we had regular meters, we used to put post cards on cars throughout the month saying ‘Happy Holidays,’” said Castellano, who served on the council for over 20 years and has owned the retail store, City Discount Clothing, on Washington Street since 1969. “Me being a retailer, I know that helps. We have competition in West New York, Union City, North Bergen and Jersey City.”

Neumann Leathers plan on the brink of passing

The council voted unanimously to adopt recommendations made by the Planning Board for the rehabilitation of the old Neumann Leathers factory building in south Hoboken (see our previous cover story at
The nine-member council also reintroduced an ordinance to adopt the plan. It will be up for a hearing and final vote during the Dec. 16 council meeting.
The council carried over the resolution for the plan from the last meeting on Nov. 16 while awaiting recommendations from the Planning Board.
Where it once produced leather goods, now a range of artisans, architects, niche manufacturers, and vendors occupies the complex. The Neumann Leathers Tenants Association (NLTA) was formed in 2008 to advocate for maintaining the complex’s creative footprint.
The plan aims to also add retail spaces and extension of the street grid at Grand Street. In addition to green infrastructure like rooftop gardens and decks, the city would like to reduce localized overflow conditions because the area is in the city’s most vulnerable flood zone.
The City Council already voted in 2014 to re-qualify the area as “in need of rehabilitation” after it was discovered that the initial 2011 designation misstated the appropriate state statute.
While the city does not own the building, the proposal lets the current owners and potential developers know what the city would likely approve for that plot. Norman Weisfeld, one of four owners of the property, said he was not available to speak about it until next week.
“Most of us went home because we were pretty much satisfied [with the redevelopment plan],” said Tom Newman at the council meeting. Newman is a tenant and former councilman who co-chairs The Neumann Leathers Tenants Association (NLTA).
Residents and tenants still have a chance to voice their opinions on the plan at the Dec. 16 meeting. Nevertheless, tenants of the multi-acre property on Willow Avenue between Observer Highway and Newark Avenue have largely praised the plan for its goal of maintaining their unique demographic of mostly artists and musicians in the building. In past years, developers wanted to put in residential units.
If the City Council doesn’t vote by the end of year to approve the plan, it may be reintroduced in January since ordinances don’t carry over year to year, Councilman-at-large and Planning Board member James Doyle previously told the Reporter.
Among the Planning Board’s recommendations, some of which were outlined by Community Development Director Brandy Forbes during the meeting, was to determine rents “through a financial analysis at the time of negotiating a redevelopment agreement,” according to a portion of the resolution.
The recommendation says rents, aimed to maintain the current tenants, will not exceed the regional market rate based on use and unit size, and instead specify the rent amount in the actual plan.
“This was something we had spoken with the tenants…recognizing that there may be a better formula, or better way of addressing that and making sure those rents are controlled at a reasonable amount, it really should be based on a financial analysis and making sure that [it] works,” said Forbes.
In past interviews the NLTA has told the Reporter that current residents rent month-to-month, which in some cases has led to growing vacancies. They did not immediately respond to comment on how rent is currently paid for or the number of tenants.
The Planning Board made a number of other recommendations that the council will add to the plan: incorporating a new complete street and design standards, add the city’s new way finding signage guidelines to the plan, include provisions of indoor bike parking, and encourage bike and car share spaces for the respective programs.
While Forbes, Doyle, the Planning Board and the City Council were commended for their work on the plan, Castellano was sure to thank an additional party.
“We cannot forget the tenants,’ she said during the meeting. “The long-suffering tenants. They have been phenomenal. [This is] a great example of what can be done when people stick together.”
Recommendations from the Planning Board, such as considering dog parks and incorporating a restaurant row type of atmosphere, were not adhered to. As for the dog park, the resolution says the area already has parks with dog runs, and due to Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Regulations, the city must consider the restaurant row separately.
The Planning Board suggested bearing in mind flexibility in the use of the street for the Grand Street extension for pedestrians and bicycles, which the council will tackle during the redevelopment agreement and deliberations with Hudson County since the roadway extensions would take place on a county-owned road.

Mulling over milling, and repaving

The City Council narrowly voted to extend the hours of work to allow for milling and repaving of Observer Highway.
Repaving will begin on Tuesday, Dec. 8 from Hudson Street to the firehouse east of Madison Street, as well as a section of Henderson Street. The project began in April and was initially scheduled to be completed six months later in October.
City Spokesman Juan Melli said the repaving and milling work hasn’t started yet.
“Over the past few months they have been doing concrete work, wiring the new signals, installing the new traffic lights…in preparation for the repaving work.”
According to a city press release on the matter, funding for the project is provided through a $2 million Congressional earmark.
“Due to the recent water main breaks in Hoboken, the construction project has been significantly delayed and therefore the City Administration and AJM [contractor for the construction services] now seek to obtain approvals to begin construction activity [at different times],” reads the resolution.
Director of Transportation and Parking John Morgan said during the meeting that the work was originally allowed until 6 p.m.
The new rules allow for work to commence at 7 a.m. and required it to end construction activity by 8 p.m. on weekdays, and allows for work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays for the next four weeks.
The council voted 5-4 to allow for the construction noise waiver for the work to continue past the presently codified times.
Councilmembers Castellano, Tim Occhipinti, Beth Mason and David Mello voted against the resolution, while Councilmembers Michael Russo, James Doyle, Jen Giattino, Peter Cunningham and Bhalla were in favor.
Those who opposed the resolution mostly did so in fear of the work interfering with rush hour – which would likely draw extra ire following the road closures caused by the water main breaks.
“So we haven’t done this during rush hour? This is [going to] be a disaster,” said Occhipinti during the meeting.
Morgan noted that the resolution is more of a safeguard to allow workers more flexibility during the work. The city assures that workers will “minimize the most disruptive work during peak commuting hours.” Still residents are urged to use alternate routes during the work since some temporary closures may take effect.
Prior to voting “no,” Castellano said it was “on the basis of the public not being informed” since the resolution was added to the agenda last minute.
Russo agreed with a point made by Morgan that despite the potential traffic backup, having to snow plow Observer Highway without the repaving work being done would be more disastrous.
Prior to the meeting Mayor Dawn Zimmer sent a letter to the City Council explaining another reason she feels it’s vital to move on the plan expeditiously.
She writes in the letter that if the work isn’t complete before the brisk cold settles in, “the project will be delayed until the spring, as the contractor legally has until April 1 due to the guidelines of the federal funding.”
A press release from the city says the milling is expected to take three to five days with an additional three to five days for paving depending on the weather.
“If this does become such a nightmare or disaster [we will] direct the contractor to pull back on the added hours,” Bhalla emphasized after the resolution was passed.


The ‘main’ problem

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the council lauded the city’s emergency responders for their work during the water main breaks. But the overarching problem of Hoboken 100-year old infrastructure weighed heavy on the council’s minds.
“These are very unfortunate situations,” said Councilman Peter Cunningham. “We clearly have an infrastructure issue…this is why it’s important we negotiate these contracts with companies that consider the long term implications particularly [when it comes to] development.”
Earlier in the meeting Councilman Timothy Occhipinti asked about the status of a plan to assess the problems with the city’s infrastructure as they relate to water mains.
Business Administrator Quentin Weist said the city once had an agreement with SUEZ (formerly United Water) to create a facilities master plan to recommend capital plan items to be executed over time. Weist said he intends to provide copies of the documents denoting the recommendations before the next meeting, to help as plans move forward.
If the Zimmer administration wants to bond or push for more improvements, the mayor may have more help after January. The mayor’s 5-4 majority on the council will grow to a 7-2 majority with a reorganization meeting in January 2016. At the meeting, city officials will swear in new elected council members and decide on a council president and vice president. Certain types of votes – like votes for bonding for large-scale projects – require a six-vote “super majority.”
“There [are] enough people that were endorsed by the mayor [that] there’s really no reason we shouldn’t be able to get some things done,” said Councilman David Mello.

Steven Rodas can be reached at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group