Council clears plan to redevelop Neumann Leathers

Factory’s future looks brighter for arts district; some qualms from new resident group

A tense dialogue took up the bulk of the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 16 before the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Plan was passed 8-0-1. Councilman David Mello, who phoned in, abstained on the plan, which outlines proposed redevelopment of an old factory complex near the city’s southern border.
Mello did not say why he abstained, but before the vote, he said he wanted to meet with residents who may still have doubts about the plan.
“This project is a modest proposal,” said Neumann Leathers Tenants Association (NLTA) co-chair Tom Newman during the meeting. “We will keep the arts and industry in Hoboken. That’s a major benefit.”
The group of tenants in the building had formed a decade ago because the then-owner intended to demolish the building and construct two mixed-use buildings. Tenants of the complex, mostly artists and industrial workers, fought efforts by Trammel Crow Residential in 2008 to replace the structure with a five-story residential building.
The new proposal suggests rehabilitating the factory and keeping current businesses and artists. Developers would demolish the single story shed-type structures on the interior of the complex and turn them into plazas, while maintaining the historic structures. The western edge of the plot of land including the complex, at the foot of Grand Street, would be the site of an 11 to 13-story residential building, which could grow higher if affordable housing is added. It could contain as many as 210 residential units.

“This is a process that is not divorced from reality.” – James Doyle
For many it was imperative that the redevelopment plan preserve the factory’s unique footprint in Hoboken.

A new association

Although largely commended by the building’s tenants, the plan was criticized by members of the newly-formed Newark Street Resident Association (NSRA). The group was created in November in response to a draft of the plan for the former factory, bordered by Observer Highway, Newark Street, Willow Avenue and Grand Street.
Following the vote, the NSRA met outside the council chambers and made it clear they were most concerned about a possible 110-foot structure on Observer Highway beside the Grand Street extension. They fear the building would block views and diminish some of the area’s property value.
“We are concerned about the height of the buildings,” said Mike Small, a resident of Newark Street during the public comments portion of the meeting. “In the neighborhood, most of the buildings seem five or six stories, and this one seems substantially larger than the surrounding buildings. The other concern [I had] was the bringing in of 210 units. It seems it would bring a lot more traffic to the area and as you guys know, if you’ve driven by Observer [Highway] and Newark Street in rush hour, it can get pretty congested over there.”
After hearing of the draft for the complex two months ago, Hoboken resident Dev Nayar attended all three public meetings and a Planning Board meeting that touched on the plan.
“I thought we would actually make a difference here, but another thought I had after listening to the comments was that they had their decisions made before[hand],” said Nayar, a member of the NSRA. He brought a petition to the meeting signed by over 150 residents in the Newark Street area.
A number of council members noted that although the proposed height of a portion of the building may tower above those opposite Observer Highway, they would be in line with their adjacent counterparts. They also urged residents, who were opposed to the plan, to consider the fact the plan allows the tenants to stay, and is not final.
Redevelopment special counsel Joseph Maraziti said during the meeting that although the plan has been approved, the city must still “undertake negotiations with prospective redevelopers.” A resolution to grant a redeveloper permission to work on the site, with an accompanying final plan, would be voted on at a later council meeting.
The redevelopment scheme includes 10 percent affordable housing, as well as possibly 20 units of workforce-level housing and street level retail on Newark Street.
But the NSRA said they were mostly alarmed with the expeditious way the plan has moved throughout the process.
“The largest building in the area is 79 units. I mean that this is 210 to 230 units,” Monica Girota said during the meeting.
Girota, who helped form the NSRA, said the mere weeks provided to the public wasn’t enough to fully mull over the plan.
But Newman said during the meeting, that he felt “it’s been quite publicized. If people don’t know about it, I don’t know why they don’t know about it. I think we’re seeing a little not-in-my-backyard-ism here. I can understand it, but I will ask neighbors to consider the benefits that will happen.”
A draft of the plan was first made public on Oct. 19 on the city’s website, and the issue has been written about in cover stories in this newspaper. Since October, the council has amended portions of the plan following recommendations by the Planning Board.
First Ward Councilman-elect Michael DeFusco acknowledged how difficult the process was to determine the future of Neumann Leathers. Although he supported the project, he asked the council to consider the concerns of Newark Street residents.

Turning the page

The city does not own the Neumann Leathers property. But the proposal provides the current owners and potential developers with insight into what the city would likely approve.
In September of last year, the property was purchased by Norman and Bruce Weisfeld, Tony LoConte, and Tony Hector for $25 million, according to public records.
Although Weisfeld did not respond for comment by press time, in the past he has told the Hoboken Reporter that he was working with the city “to find a compromise that retains a lot of the existing buildings as well as some development that will help us pay for the restorations” needed for the complex.
The redevelopment plan aims to add retail spaces, extend the street grid at Grand Street, and add green infrastructure like rooftop gardens and decks. The city would also like to decrease localized overflow conditions because the area is in the city’s most vulnerable flood zone.
Peter Martinez of Jersey City, who opened The Drum Den in the Neumann Leathers Building in 2010, said he is fond of the new owners and supports the plan.
“I’m here today in support of the project,” he said. “We’re all very happy to see this move forward.”
The City Council had already voted in 2014 to classify the area “in need of rehabilitation” after it realized the initial 2011 designation misstated the appropriate state statute.
Per the Planning Board, the plan now includes a new complete street and design standards, adds the city’s new wayfinding signage guidelines to the plan, includes provisions for indoor bike parking, and encourages bike and car share spaces for the respective programs.
The council did not adopt suggestions like a dog park and a “restaurant row” type of atmosphere. The park was shot down because parks with dog runs in the already exist in the vicinity, and due to Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Regulations, the city must consider the restaurant row individually, similar to the Western Redevelopment plan.
The Planning Board suggested flexibility in the use of the street for the Grand Street extension for pedestrians and bicycles, which the council will consider during negotiations with redevelopers and deliberations with Hudson County, since the roadway extensions would take place on a county-owned road.
During the meeting, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo and outgoing 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti said that many of the measures put into the plan are there for economic feasibility. The plan is designed to make the structure attractive to prospective developers who otherwise may not be interested, to avoid the possibility of the building’s demolition.
Councilman James Doyle emphasized that the plan may have other amenities, pending negotiations with developers. “This is a process that is not divorced from reality,” he said.

Changing council members

At the start of the meeting, Mayor Dawn Zimmer handed flags and certificates for public services to outgoing 1st Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason. Castellano and Occhipinti lost their re-election bids in November, while Mason didn’t run to reclaim her seat. They were political opponents of Zimmer.
A reorganization meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 4 to swear in the new councilpeople, Michael DeFusco (1st Ward), Tiffanie Fisher (2nd Ward) and Ruben Ramos Jr. (4th Ward). Regular business will also be conducted at this council meeting.

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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