Historic buildings in Hoboken now have legal protection against demolition, but the City Council has tabled an attempt to extend the city’s Historic District. The council also approved a measure to eliminate longevity pay.
The ordinance sponsored by Councilmen Jim Doyle and Peter Cunningham aims to prevent historic building demolition and preserve adjacent structures which could be affected by the demolition. The ordinance pertains to buildings in residential zones and the central business district of the town, which is most of the city except for the industrial and redevelopment zones on the edges.
The ordinance would force applicants for demolition to undergo review by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) if they plan to remove or substantially deconstruct the façade of their building. The HPC will then hold a public meeting on the proposed demolition and release its findings in 60 days.
If the HPC recommends the building not undergo demolition, building owners may appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. If still denied a permit, the owner would have to take the case to court.
There are a few exemptions to the review process. If a building’s façade is to be altered or removed because it is deemed “inimical to the welfare of the residents,” meaning the building is hazardous or in disrepair from neglect, fire, accident, or lack of maintenance, a review may be unnecessary. Another exemption is if the city building inspector has deemed the building “unsafe or unsound so as to pose an immediate danger to public health or safety.”
Councilman Michael Russo wanted to know the city’s legal standing if an appeal were to go to court. Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said the city would have legal standing if the two previous hearings recognized the building as some sort of landmark.
Councilman Ruben Ramos asked if this ordinance conflicted with the existing flood ordinance that effectively allows for a property owner to build 40 feet above the floodplain. Many homeowners have chosen to add an additional story to their building as ground floor levels have been deemed in the floodplain.
Doyle said the demolition ordinance primarily focuses on the façade of a building and additions can be added away from the property line which make them less visible from the building’s historic exterior.
Councilman Michael DeFusco said he believes the council needs to begin with a foundation, such as extending the historic district, and that these demolitions are occurring because they have not moved on recommendations provided by the master plan and reexamination plan.
“We are starting on the second floor and I think we need to take ourselves back to the ground floor to truly identify what we believe to be historic,” said DeFusco.
Doyle said that he does not believe that his ordinance would be a long lasting one but will at least slow demolition in the interim and prevent it from occurring while the council decides what buildings need to be protected. He said many buildings on the master and redevelopment plans have already been demolished, so the list needs retooling.
The ordinance was originally passed 8-1 with DeFusco in dissension. But the vote was reconsidered and passed with a 5-4 majority after Council President Jennifer Giattino said the vote was “not sitting well with me.”
This time, DeFusco, Ramos, Russo, and Giattino were in dissension.
Historic districts expansion tabled
Currently Hoboken has two historic districts.
The Central Business and Washington Street Historic District stretches from 1st to 14th along Washington Street, and also includes Hudson Street from 1st to 4th street, parts of River Street and the Erie Lackawana Terminal and ferry building, and the Observer Highway and Bloomfield Street intersection.
The Castle Point Historic District extends from 8th and Hudson streets to encompass Elysian Park and parts of Castle Point Terrace.
The tabled ordinance, sponsored by DeFusco and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, would include areas outlined by the 2004 and 2010 master plan and reexamination, adding the Central Hoboken Historic District to the city code chapter on historic preservation.
According to the ordinance, the boundaries created by adding this district would be Hudson Street, 14th Street, 1st Street, and by Clinton and Willow Streets.
This would extend the protections of historic buildings and structures in these residential areas.
DeFusco offered to table the ordinance to the next council meeting on Nov. 2 in order to leave time to discuss and address some concerns of the council.
Longevity pay frozen
The council unanimously voted to eliminate longevity pay for employees hired after a certain date and to freeze longevity benefits for current nonunion employees. Longevity pay is a form of a raise in which employees are given raises based on seniority and time in a position.
Russo was concerned with this ordinance because he was worried that these employees would be relying on the longevity payments.
Business Administrator Stephen Marks said that only two people were affected by the longevity payments and that he had met with both of them and promised to work to the best of his ability to “make them whole.”
Councilman Ravi Bhalla released a statement the day after the meeting. “Eliminating longevity pay for non-union employees represents the advancement of another sound fiscal policy by the council and administration to protect taxpayers.”
He added that the legislation will ensure that raises are earned by merit and not time spent in a position.
Dennis English, chairmen of the HPC thanked Doyle and Cunningham for their ordinance but spoke primarily about the need of expansion of the historic district.
He said that the mandate of the HPC is to enlarge the district and educate people about it. He said that he is in favor of the ordinance.
Claire Lukacs, a 34-year resident, also spoke in favor of the tabled ordinance and said she is concerned that the character of the town will change if more tall and thin buildings like those seen from across the river were built in town.
“Its nice to have a horizontal space and still see the sky,” said Lukacs.
Franz Paetzold, a Shipyard resident, pointed out the city has 10 thousand residential parking places on its streets but roughly 18 thousand parking permits. He wanted the council to consider increasing the cost of the permits and to potentially focus on homeowners or people with more than one car.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.