Municipal oaths and zoning woes

Some debate at council reorganization meeting

Six newly elected council officials took the oath of office last week to join the nine-member Hoboken City Council for the next four years.
The Jan. 4 meeting solidified Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s 7-9 “super majority” on the council, as all but two members are her close allies.
Those sworn in to new terms were 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr., 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino.
The dynamic of the dais also saw a change in the council president, with Giattino taking over for Councilman Ravi Bhalla, and Councilman David Mello staying on as vice president. Both councilmen, including Councilman James Doyle, have at-large seats with terms that end in 2017.
“My only request for the incoming council president is that now with the new configuration of council members – we have now not just one but two public school teachers on the council dais, Councilman Ramos, Councilman Mello – they need to get to work early,” said Bhalla laughing, implying that meetings not run too long.

Slaughterhouses and ammunition plants are technically allowed to set up shop in Hoboken.
Mello nominated Giattino with a second by Doyle. Giattino nominated Mello, with a second by Russo. Both votes were unanimous.
Russo and Ramos Jr. were the only candidates not backed by Zimmer who won in the November election.

Zoning designations

The meeting was largely tame, with the continued tenure of Doyle as the council representative on the Planning Board.
But tensions were sparked, if not flared, over the new appointments to the Zoning Board since DeFusco and Fisher now have to step down. They had three and four years left respectively as commissioners.
One resident emphasized the gravity of any future zoning appointments.
“What I want to do is come here and stress to you how important that role is,” said Hany Ahmed during the public comments portion of the meeting. “We have a zoning book that…is 40 to 50 years old. Unfortunately we’re still zoning by variance because that book doesn’t allow for day care centers in the western portion of the city [or] yoga studios on the northern portion of the city.”
The city has been wary of overdevelopment, but some have felt that there is too much red tape when a property owner wants to make minor revisions. Residents have also pointed out that there are few renters on the board.
Ahmed went on to note that the $300,000 that the city spent 13 years ago to create a new Master Plan – which is a blueprint for how to change the zoning to reflect the future of the city — is somewhat in vain since it has not been codified since then. He said a lack of an updated book leads to the “faithful eleven” (referring to the seven members and four alternates) making monumental decisions.
The council, he said, only becomes aware of their deliberations if an approval is appealed by a member of the public.
DeFusco, who served on the Zoning Board for five years, clarified later that codifying the book means to update it to “make it solid” for contemporary uses. For instance, slaughterhouses and ammunition plants are technically allowed to set up shop in Hoboken.
“The zoning book does have some pretty dated permitted uses. For instance in the industrial zones you’re allowed to have a cement factory,” DeFusco told The Hoboken Reporter after the meeting. “I think when it comes down to it we know to examine those permitted uses and make it easier for establishments that will benefit the community to be fast tracked.”
Eventually, the council appointed John Branciforte to take over for a four-year term since Elliot Greene’s term has expired. Branciforte has served as board president before.
Owen McAnuff was bumped from 3rd alternate to regular member, stepping into DeFusco’s place for the next three years. Alternates were also decided including Dan Weaver as 1st alternate, Edward McBride as 2nd alternate (in Tiffanie Fisher’s place), and Cory Johnson as 3rd alternate.
“I’m looking forward to moving up to a regular seat, getting more opportunities to vote on applications and serving the community,” said McAnuff after the meeting.
Frank DeGrim, who was nominated for all three alternate positions, was voted down for 1st and 2nd alternate by Bhalla, Cunningham, Doyle, Fisher and Giattino. Johnson was chosen in for 3rd alternate on first vote and therefore the council didn’t vote on DeGrim.
DeGrim, currently the 4th alternate on the Zoning Board, will complete his term on Dec. 31 of this year.
As noted in a Reporter article last year, the city has, in the past, lacked minorities in leadership positions on city boards. DeFusco and Mello acknowledged during the meeting that the Zoning Board should be as diverse as the city itself.
“I’m particularly excited about Cory Johnson,” DeFusco said after the meeting. “I feel strongly that there needs to be diversity of ethnicity, age, and economics, and what I’ve found over the last couple of years is that that doesn’t exist on the zoning board,” he said. “That could influence one’s interpretation of positive or negative criteria and alternate votes.”
Johnson, DeFusco said, is in a leadership position of the NAACP and offers an exciting opportunity for the city.

Other business

Early in the meeting, Mayor Dawn Zimmer presented proclamations to Margaret O’Brien, who is retiring, for her decades of dedication and service as a Hoboken crossing guard (see related story).
Corporation Counsel Mellissa Longo was also recognized, since she will step down on Jan. 15 to take a private job.
The councilmembers also unanimously voted to designate The Hoboken Reporter as an official newspaper for legal advertisements for public notices. The contract will run for a year in efforts to enable community involvement.
Steven Rodas can be reached at

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