What a year – presidential campaigns, fears, hopes, new buildings, old politics, and bike sharing. And car sharing. And Frank Sinatra’s birthday. It’s the future, and we also learn from the past.
Learning about the big news in all the towns around you will help you understand what’s to come in 2016. If you missed some of the biggest stories of the year, here’s a recap by town.
If you have suggestions, news tips, or letters in 2016, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put your town in the subject head so we’re sure to see them!
Parking – Despite vehement protests from some residents, Mayor Gerald Drasheff and the Town Council passed an ordinance in June to institute metered parking along both sides of John F. Kennedy Boulevard East. Rather than individual meters, the town will install ticket machines. Full details are still forthcoming. Councilman Alfonso Caso cast the sole vote against the ordinance, noting that Guttenberg would be the only town in Hudson County to have meters on the Boulevard. The new parking regulations were designed in part to encourage a greater turnover of spaces to benefit the commercial enterprises in town.
Residents argued that the meters were being installed solely to benefit Rumba Cubana, a successful restaurant in the area, to the detriment of residents and their guests.
Time limits have also been amended on all metered parking in town, establishing uniform operating hours and grace periods for residents with parking stickers.
New school addition/rec center – Ground was broken in May on a new construction project on 68th Street and Hudson Avenue, adjacent to the Anna L. Klein School. When completed, the new facility will serve as an adjunct to the school during the day and as a recreation center after hours and on weekends. An outdoor park will be located on the roof.
The building is a combined project of the town and the school system, with funding from the state and county. The project is schedule to be built in four phases, with completion scheduled for January 2017.
New faces in schools, council, and Housing Authority – Mayor Dawn Zimmer scored huge in the November municipal elections with four candidates she endorsed claiming victory in the race for six open seats on the nine-member City Council. That means that after January’s reorganization meeting, she will go from having a 5-4 majority on the council to a 7-2 majority. She herself is up for re-election in 2017, along with three council-at-large candidates. She may face Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr., a victorious candidate on the council whom she did not endorse.
In the race for three available seats on the Board of Education, only one Zimmer candidate won, incumbent Tom Kluepfel. Controversy over charter schools seemed to have split Zimmer supporters.
As far as other new faces, former Boonton schools Superintendent Christine Johnson took the helm of Hoboken’s public school district this year, and the Hoboken Housing Authority appointed new executive director Marc Recko (formerly the North Carolina housing executive director).
Anti-flooding efforts – In 2015, the mile-square city held open meetings to discuss upcoming efforts to defend itself from flooding, particularly if another Hurricane Sandy-type storm arrives. The low-lying city, with its century-old water and sewer infrastructure, saw its share of challenges this year: a massive water main break in November, several drenching rainstorms, and the threat of Hurricane Joaquin in October.
The $230 million federal “Rebuild by Design Hudson River: Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge” project has driven much of the controversy over what the city can do to address flooding. Engineers presented five tentative concepts at a public meeting in December and Mayor Zimmer has met with public officials, residents, and neighboring towns (Weehawken and Jersey City) to continue with the arduous process of selecting a final plan by 2017. Some of the proposed concepts have gained flak from the community over “seawalls” that could block waterfront access or views.
In September, the City Council also passed a bond to help acquire 6 acres of land in the northwest for a park and an up-to 900 car parking garage. The park – which the city is negotiating for with BASF (formerly Henkel/Cognis) to acquire – would have at least 1 million gallons of flood mitigation capacity. A bid out for construction for the Southwest Park, which is set to hold its own 200,000 gallons of storm water runoff, is expected early next year and a third parcel of parkland at Seventh and Jackson streets would also have water retention.
Construction on a flood pump at 11th Street is scheduled to be completed in October 2016.
Development and redevelopment – Although most of this densely populated city has already been developed, various new applications still came before the various city boards this year.
While the Stevens Institute of Technology is still awaiting a decision on their Babbio Parking Garage, the school got approval from the Zoning Board in November to construct a two-building Academic Gateway complex on the edge of campus.
In private development news, Hoboken-based developer Bijou Properties got the zoning OK to move forward with a development at Willow and 15th Streets, which will include a vacant single-story warehouse with 14,000 square feet of small office space, a retailer, and The Gravity Vault indoor rock climbing gym.
The same property owners welcomed Park+Garden this year, two 12-story residential buildings at 1450 Garden St. connected by a 383-car parking garage. That project opened in July.
Also in the north end of the city, the city named DMR Architects as the redevelopment planner for 30 acres of property bordered by Weehawken. Portions of that area are currently owned by about 37 property owners, including NJ Transit and Rockefeller Group. DMR would establish development standards to make way for potential developers to submit applications.
In the south part of town, the city and NJ Transit will likely continue to negotiate over a redevelopment agreement for the 36-acre NJ Transit-owned Hoboken Rail Yards south of Observer Highway.
Directly across the street, the council approved a redevelopment plan at the end of 2015 for the Neumann Leathers Building, a former factory that now contains artists and small businesses. Under this plan, the developers would maintain the factory’s current tenants while adding new plazas and an 11 to 13-story 210-unit residential building.
In August, the council approved the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan for an 11-acre string of warehouses and empty lots along the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) track between Ninth Street and the Fourteenth Street Viaduct on the west side of town.
The area, which was previously limited to industrial and office space zoning, could see residential neighborhoods, mixed-use development, and opportunities for recreation, entertainment, and shopping.
Sources said last year that a Trader Joe’s is likely coming to the end of the 14th Street Viaduct in 2016.
Gun violence epidemic – The accidental shooting of an 18-month-old girl on Dec. 26 highlighted a year of violence in Jersey City during 2015.
While murders were up from 2014 (to a total of 25 as of press time), the real tragedy has been the number of shootings that have felled innocent victims this year. Episodes of gun violence have occurred throughout the city – in particular the southern and western parts – and have many residents concerned. Two shopkeepers were killed in attempted robberies in the last two months. And at the height of violence, five pedestrians walking in the area of Martin Luther King Drive were shot in one day.
The Jersey City Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office have been cooperating to develop strategies to reduce gun violence in the city, but a number of residents claim not enough is being done.
Many of the shootouts are the result of armed combatants shooting at each other in the streets, people who have a history of crime and violence.
“Gun violence in cities has become a national epidemic,” Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement. “We continue to hire additional officers and deploy more officers on foot patrols, but the challenge is daunting without larger changes to the overall system, such as restricting access to guns by criminals, more witnesses willing to testify and breaking the cycle of criminals returning to the street quickly after violent crimes.”
Public Safety Director James Shea admitted that shootings are up for the year, and said many of them involve two groups of individuals. The Police Department is setting up permanent posts at troubled locations and the city has contemplated an ordinance requiring businesses that are the site of violence to close earlier.
Fulop’s political rise – In 2015, Mayor Fulop managed to fulfill almost all of the promises he made during his 2013 campaign for mayor. He continued to restructure the police and fire departments and began a successful move of government operations out of Journal Square to other locations. Frustrated by several failed efforts in 2014 such as splitting the city’s ambulance contract between two vendors, he successfully oversaw a new volunteer first responder initiative, making Jersey City the first in the United States to offer the service. Perhaps his biggest successes came in folding the Jersey City Incinerator Authority in with the Department of Public Works and having the Jersey City Police Department take over the operations of the Jersey City Parking Authority.
Although Fulop has failed to turn the historic Loews Theater into a Jersey City performing arts center, his administration has pushed ahead with a number of arts programs.
Several key redevelopment plans were approved this year. The city has also pushed for affordable housing development in every part of the city including the waterfront area.
Thanks partly to the efforts of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles, Jersey City regained control of the school district from the state.
During 2015, Jersey City has seen a significant drop in unemployment, due in part to programs seeking to bring new jobs to the city.
On a personal note, this year, Fulop, 38, moved with his girlfriend into a condo in Jersey City Heights. In December, local media reported that he had proposed to her.
Fulop is expected to run for governor in 2017.
Jersey City development – Few if any years in Jersey City’s long history has seen so much new development as in 2015. And several redevelopment projects are underway, not just along the waterfront, but in Journal Square and other parts of the city.
Spurred by a massive influx of young professionals – many of whom are coming into cities from suburban communities – Jersey City has become a more affordable destination than Manhattan or even Brooklyn Heights.
This year saw the topping off of several iconic developments including Harborside, which is being developed in partnership with Mack-Cali Realty Corporation. Harborside is the tallest residential building in the state, and the first KRE tower of the Journal Squared project in Journal Square.
Also under construction is the second of two Trump towers in the Power House Arts District. In the same area, another developer has nearly completely rented The One, a luxury rental building.
Ironstate Development broke ground on a 44-story residential project near downtown earlier this year.
Local developer Silverman constructed an 11-story residential building with retail business on Grove and Montgomery Street called Charles & Company. Other projects included a ground breaking for an 83-unit apartment building on Suydam Avenue near the Liberty State Park Light Rail station and a new 50-story building on Columbus Avenue near the PATH station at Grove Street.
A project called Provost Square unveiled this year about half of the 900 expected units, while nearby on Washington Street, a Mack-Cali/Roseland project rose with more than 300 units.
The city expects to have 17 of the 20 tallest buildings in the state by 2017, and is slated to overtake Newark as the most populous city.
The city also saw the establishment of a new historic district along its west side.
Braddock Park renaissance – After being sworn into office as a new freeholder on Jan. 1, Anthony Vainieri, also the chief of staff to North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, instituted numerous changes to James J. Braddock North Hudson County Park. On Jan. 23 ground was broken on a new veteran’s memorial. At the same time, several new, regulation-sized fields with synthetic turf were built alongside Kennedy Boulevard in the park. The first Braddock Park Art Festival took place in June. October saw the return of the Hudson County Fair after an absence of more than three decades. One bone of contention among some residents is the preschool consisting of 17 trailers in the end zone of Bruins Stadium inside the park. In 2015 it was announced that the trailers, installed more than a decade ago as a temporary school, would be made permanent in exchange for the creation of three new park spaces elsewhere in the county. This resulted in some complaints about the county giving up public land for development, as well as the safety and appropriateness of housing a preschool in the park.
Police Department restructuring – The 100-year-old headquarters of the North Bergen Police Department is undergoing a complete renovation, with a projected completion date in early 2016. The second floor of the building is being gutted and rebuilt into a high-tech command center, at no cost to the taxpayer. The project is being funded by seized drug funds, to the tune of about $320,000.
The centerpiece of the new construction is a combined 911 dispatch center and CCTV monitoring station, with all CCTV monitoring personnel moving in-house from the current location on Tonnelle Avenue. The facility will also include a new Crime Prevention and Intelligence Center, or CPIC, that will serve as the hub for new technology such as digital crime mapping.
Concurrent with the physical and technological upgrades are organizational changes within the department. A new Problem Solving Division was established, joining the three existing divisions: Patrol, Investigative, and Administrative. The Community Policing Unit will interact with the community to cut crime before it happens. It will fall under the Problem Solving Division, holding events like Coffee with a Cop.
The department downsized from two deputy chiefs to one and hopes to add more sergeants in the near future.
Focus on downtown – Julio Marenco, a self-proclaimed “downtown kid,” was elected to commissioner in North Bergen in May, replacing former Commissioner Theresa Ferraro. Marenco’s addition to the five-person commission created a 3-2 balance of Latinos to non-Latinos, reflecting the demographics of the community.
The son of a truck driver from El Salvador and a factory worker from the Dominican Republic, Marenco is a familiar and popular figure in the 7th Ward, where he lives. His election comes at a time when the town is focusing on providing more services and outreach downtown. Following the opening of a downtown branch of the library at 2123 Kennedy Blvd. in late 2013, the town has expanded several of its popular social events to more downtown locations.
National Night Out increased from three to six locations in town. Similarly, the annual Winterfest celebration saw the addition of two “mini-Winterfests” held downtown.
Also coming to downtown is the new Hudson Mews, a gated community at the 11+ acre site of the former Hudson News on Paterson Plank Road. Demolition took place in 2015, with 228 rental units scheduled for completion over the next 15 to 24 months.
Statewide tax-sharing becomes fairer to taxpayer – A new law passed in 2015 will save Secaucus millions of dollars annually. Gov. Christopher Christie signed the Hackensack Meadowlands Consolidation Act in February, merging the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and eliminating the decades-old tradition of tax sharing. Tax sharing was implemented by the Meadowlands Commission in the 1960s. Of 14 municipalities in the Meadowlands region, the ones who couldn’t develop because of environmental protections got money from a pool paid into by those who could develop, like Secaucus and North Bergen. Secaucus has always been the biggest payer.
After many years of protesting, Secaucus received relief two years ago when the state picked up 80 percent of the tab. Last year the state funded the entire amount, saving Secaucus nearly $3 million. Going forward Secaucus will no longer be responsible for paying the annual bill. Instead the state established a new surcharge on hotels in the Meadowlands for the municipalities that previously received tax sharing money.
Town makes more zoning decisions – In the wake of the bill consolidating the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), Secaucus has assumed authority for voting on most of the land-use applications for development within the town’s boundaries. Previously the NJMC decided the zoning for 88 percent of Secaucus, meaning they not only dictated what could and could not be built in the majority of the town, but they could penalize business owners for infractions as minor as displaying too large a sign. The change should result in faster turnarounds for land-use applications and the bulk of the fees generated will now go to Secaucus – possibly several hundred thousand dollars a year.
School construction underway – After a busy summer of excavation and laying foundations, construction continues on the $21.5 million renovation to the high school/middle school complex. Phase one of the project, now completed, consisted of initial construction inside the school. A new gym will be built in the rear of the building, along with new administrative offices in the front. Construction is expected to finish in November 2016.
Once completed, the project will result in a greater separation of the high school and middle school. New traffic patterns were also established around the school.
Saving the reservoir – Union City and Weehawken collaborated in September to preserve a 14.4-acre former reservoir on the border of both cities by opening Palisade Avenue Reservoir Park.
The cities closed off a segment of Palisade Avenue for an event to launch the new park. People danced and kids enjoyed amusement rides. Both Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and state Senator/Union City Mayor Brian Stack presided over the ceremonies.
Although many developers sought to alter the patch of land known as Hackensack Reservoir No. 2, officials in both cities thought it a good opportunity for a public amenity with a park and walkway. With grants and an agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the reservoir will be conserved as a park indefinitely.
The reservoir will be open to the public in the morning, guarded by security, and closed after dusk with no nighttime access or lighting.
Homeless shelter to expand – Following last year’s opening of 12 one bedroom apartments of veteran housing under New Jersey’s “Homes for Heroes” program at 40th Street, just three blocks away, Union City is looking to open a facility for another group in need.
In October, the city’s zoning board approved the expansion of the second floor of the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation homeless shelter on 37th Street. An additional 21 to 25 beds are expected to be located there once construction is completed. The shelter wants to create more beds and services for women in particular. PERC said that Hudson County has seen a rise in homelessness, particularly in women.
Inspector pleads guilty to $400K bid rigging scheme – In March, an inspector at the Union City Community Development agency pleaded guilty to helping to divert as much as $400,000 in federal grants meant for city improvements such as sidewalk repairs and housing development, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced in a press release.
According to a release on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website, former Board of Education trustee Johnny Garces, 52, directed certain contractors to secure agency funds by creating phony contracts and advising company owners to submit false bids. He was charged with one count of conspiring with others to obtain by fraud funds provided by Union City.
During the scheme’s run from 2007 to 2011, the city’s community development agency received more than $10,000 each year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Fishman credited the FBI, who in November 2012 stormed City Hall as part of a growing probe in the agency’s transactions, for their work in the investigation.
Union City Mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack told media outlets at the time of the guilty plea that the city is being cooperative in investigations of misconduct by agency employees.
Development on the waterfront – Residents continued to seek luxury condos with views on the Manhattan skyline. The most recent of which, 1200 Avenue at Port Imperial, opened in September with a total of 103 units.
The luxury development is the latest in the $2 billion master-planned Port Imperial community that stretches along two miles of Hudson River waterfront across Guttenberg, West New York, and Weehawken. The Avenue Collection, when fully built out, will encompass 669 condos.
Nearby, the 10-story RiverParc complex at Port Imperial opened in May, boasting 280 luxury rentals, an outdoor terrace, and in-house cinema.
Both developments have drawn substantial interest from tenants since their opening, with the community hoping to form a new “downtown” on the riverfront.
Township workers continued construction on a linear park along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway just south of the Port Imperial ferry terminal. The new open space will feature playgrounds, an overlook garden, and refurbished steps leading to Boulevard East.
New tax map by July – In November, the township of Weehawken was ordered by the Tax Court of New Jersey to conduct a revaluation of all properties in town and complete a new tax map by July 2016, after a group representing 175 homeowners filed a lawsuit.
In New Jersey towns, “revals” are politically unpopular because some older homes are paying taxes on assessments that are in some cases more than 25 years old. Newer homes may be paying taxes that are too high if they were purchased ten years ago when the economy was better, and their market value has dropped. The reval would result in all homes in the township being taxed at current value.
The “reval” would be the town’s first in more than 30 years. The homeowners filed suit in 2013 claiming that the city has failed to assess older properties while delineating new ones at market value, creating an unfair tax burden on waterfront property owners. The Weehawken homeowners maintain that the township was in violation of State law that requires a revaluation be conducted every few years to assure all homes are assessed at their correct market valuation.
Reservoir proposed as a park – Weehawken and Union City announced a project to turn the reservoir on the border between two cities into a park. See the summary under the Union City news, above.
West New York
Roque wins reelection, then suffers second indictment – Felix Roque’s mayor/commission ticket successfully won reelection in May, despite the fact that the mayor had been indicted on federal charges in 2012 that he had hacked into an opponent’s web site (he was found not guilty after a jury trial, although his son was convicted of a misdemeanor).
In West New York’s form of government, voters elect five part-time commissioners, who then pick a mayor from among themselves. Roque, Cosmo Cirillo, Gabriel Rodriguez, Susan Colacurcio, and Margarita Guzman won election to four-year terms from a field of 19 candidates, defying the belief by some political observers that opposing candidates might win one or two of the five open seats.
Commissioner Count Wiley, seen as Roque’s chief opponent, came in sixth in the hotly contested race.
But just two months later, Roque was charged in relation to a widespread medical kickback scheme. He was among scores of doctors throughout New Jersey who were accused by the federal government of allegedly accepting money to steer patients to a particular testing facility in Boonton, N.J.
Roque told The Hudson Reporter that he felt confident he would be vindicated, and claimed that he and others were named as part of a possible plea deal by one of the people involved with the testing facility.
Roque is a surgeon who operates the Pain Relief Center medical practice in West New York. The indictment alleges that between 2007 and 2012 he referred patients to Diagnostic Imaging Affiliates of Boonton controlled by Rehan Zuberi in exchange for cash and campaign contributions. The charges are not connected to the mayor’s office. The case is expected to go to trial in early 2016.
Reformer wins seat on WNY school board – Mayoral critic Matthew F. Cheng won reelection in the November election despite being the target of an aggressive campaign to unseat him by allies of Mayor Roque.
The election was the third since voters approved a referendum in 2013 opting for an elected school board. Cheng had won a one-year term in early 2014 at a time when there was significant opposition to Mayor Felix Roque. But in the next election, held in November 2014, Roque candidates swept despite a large field of candidates. Most people expected Cheng to be defeated in November 2015.
Cheng, the successful businessman and founder/principal of eCoupons Inc., has been referred to as a “watchdog” on the Board of Education. He has previously provided evidence to the School Ethics Commission alleging ethical breaches that included alleged political influence in the school district.