The city is moving forward with its Southwest Area Redevelopment Plan after presenting four alternative concepts to the public on Thursday. The area near the city’s border with Jersey City may someday host a park, a hotel, and even a microbrewery. But there is some controversy involving the possible use of eminent domain against Academy Bus, who owns a headquarters in the area.
Approximately 30 people attended the presentation at the city’s Multiservice Center at 124 Grand St.
According to the city’s consultant on the project, David Roberts of Maser Consulting, the next steps will be to gather public comment on the four concepts, taking into account the public’s likes and dislikes. Then, the planners can create a hybrid as a choice, encompassing as many of the public’s likes as possible. He hopes the hybrid will be completed by December to present to the public.
The need for open space in that area of town has been a priority of Mayor Dawn Zimmer and was one of the earliest issues in which she got involved in town. Many other residents have worked hard to put a plan in place.
The Southwest Redevelopment Area begins at the intersection of Newark Street and Henderson Street and heads west to the city’s western limit. It does not include two blocks bounded by Observer Highway and Newark Street and Jackson and Madison streets. This is because the area contains relatively new condominium developments which don’t qualify for rehabilitation, according to Roberts.
In June 2012 this section of Hoboken was designated an Area in Need of Rehabilitation, beginning the redevelopment planning process. This means the city can hire consultants to develop a plan to which developers would have to adhere.
In 2014, the City authorized Maser Consulting; a planning and engineering firm, to prepare a redevelopment plan for the area.
This public meeting as well as past public meetings, have been part of this process.
The plan encompasses new revitalized uses for existing properties, traffic flow corrections in the area, and a flood resiliency park.
City wants land owned by bus company
A 1-acre park will help mitigate flooding in the area caused by storm water runoff through green infrastructure and underground chambers.
The resiliency park has been the source of controversy in the area between the city and Academy Bus, as the city is looking to double its park size by acquiring a second piece of land to extend the park that is where Academy has its headquarters and parking lot. Academy is a major employer and taxpayer in the city.
Their portion is bounded by Paterson Avenue, Harrison Street, Observer Highway, and the light trail tracks. Academy has fought the potential eminent domain threat with an ad campaign touting its status as a good neighbor.
The city has used eminent domain in that area before to buy property from a private owner. It acquired its first portion of land for the park in 2013: it was Block 12, bounded by Jackson Street, Observer Highway, Harrison Street, and Paterson Avenue. The administration acquired the land for $4.5 million after a going to court with the former property owner; Manhattan based Ponte Equities, following an eminent domain condemnation.
Under state law, municipalities can exercise eminent domain to seize private property for public purposes in exchange for paying fair-market value. A court decides the price of the land if the two sides cannot agree on a price.
Academy has said it believes the land to be worth $13 million but the city believes the land should cost about $4.7 million based on the amount per acre set by the jury as part of the Block 12 court decision.
In an April letter from Academy President Frank Tedesco, he stated that he believes the land is worth $13 million. He said his bus company has been headquartered in Hoboken for 40 years and employs 440 workers, as well as generating $500,000 in property taxes per year. But he has said he’s willing to let some of their property go if they can redevelop the rest for housing and commercial space.
“I have given a great deal of thought to the City’s proposal to acquire a portion of our headquarters property at 111 Paterson Ave.,” Tedesco wrote in a letter to the mayor. “As an alternative, we are prepared to convey that portion of the property you identified for acquisition in your letters at no cost to the city in exchange for the city’s adoption of a redevelopment plan (or other acceptable mechanism) that would permit the mixed use development of the property on the remainder of our site for office, residential, and some retail uses.”
Brandy Forbes, director of community development for the city, said the city is still in negotiations with Academy Bus and could not go into the details of the negotiation.
William Maer, spokesman for the bus company, said that the company has submitted proposals and is willing to come to the table with an open mind “if and when discussions continue.”
In June of this year, the city hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the 1-acre park on Block12.
The four alternative concepts
Roberts explained that outside of the area reserved for the park, property owners within the plan don’t have to worry about eminent domain or participate in redeveloping their portions, as the plan is voluntary.
The four alternatives all call for low-density mixed use space such as mixed use residential buildings, high density mixed use space, park space, urban industrial and manufacturing space, retail space, hotel space, office space, and community facilities.
They all include a proposed park and possible hotel and garage, but differ in the amount of park space allocated – some extend for all of Block 10, while others take up half the block – and it moves around requirements for possible building densities and functions among various blocks.
Roberts discussed several ideas for building uses including those brought to him by property owners including a hotel.
“An idea that they brought to the table is a niche type hotel which is something that is fairly unique, and what you might see is an extended stay type hotel mixed in with the office building,” said Roberts.
Roberts also discussed the possibilities of microbreweries in the area.
“In every single component that allows for the existing urban manufacturing, [we can] include a number of new type of niche industries,” said Roberts.
Roberts also discussed including more residential uses in the area “done in a way that is creating extensions of those existing neighborhoods in blocks towards the north of Paterson Avenue.”
The redevelopment plan also tackles traffic snarls in the city’s southwestern edge.
The traffic changes will include making Paterson Avenue westbound only between Harrison and Monroe Streets, adding new traffic signals at the intersections of Madison and Observer, Jackson and Observer, Harrison and Observer, upgrading the existing traffic light at the intersection of Paterson and Jackson, and eliminating the right turn onto Jackson from Newark Street to Madison Street northbound.
Roberts said drivers often cut through the southwest edge of town to Paterson Plank road up to Jersey City Heights, Union City, and the northern areas of Hoboken and vice versa. The traffic changes would help alleviate the traffic caused by this maneuver.
Public questions and comments
Monica, who’s lived in the southwest part of town for 10 years, asked if the city would post the alternatives on line and submit comments on line. She said she knew of several families who were interested in the project but were unable to come to the meeting because of child care arrangements. Forbes said she will look into doing so.
Hoboken resident Jim Vance asked why, with the area’s traffic problems, the city would invite more cars into town.
“With regard to traffic and parking,” he said, “It seems to me we are chasing our tails you come up with this new solution to the traffic problem, and then you add all these additional cars in…. we invite people to come to town and bring your car…why the hell do we want to bring more cars into Hoboken when you can’t get in and out of the place anyway?”
Forbes said that they “aren’t trying to invite it. We are trying to get them from Jersey City to the heights of Jersey City” as they do now, but more efficiently.
Forbes also stated that the city is looking into ensuring pedestrian and bike safety by looking into safe crossings and bike path connections, citing the new lights at intersections in the area.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.