Even though the Hoboken City Council postponed Wednesday’s vote on a proposed legal settlement between the city and a major developer in town, more than 20 residents came to the meeting to speak out against the settlement.
In a nutshell: the company that built the Shipyard Development project on the northern waterfront, Shipyard Associates, wants to build more residential housing in that area. The city wants them to stick to an agreement from 1997 in which they said they’d include certain types of open space near the piers. After more than a million dollars in legal fees and decisions from various courts and boards, the city and the developers came to an agreement that was announced to the public in an email on Saturday.
But the settlement didn’t sit well with some members of the public. Shipyard agreed to drop the residential building they had planned near the uptown piers, in exchange for being allowed to build more units at a long-planned complex for 800 Monroe St. in a redevelopment zone.
The proposed settlement is now scheduled to be voted on Monday Nov 14 after five years of litigation.
Meanwhile, also at the meeting, the council approved the acquisition of the BASF site in northwest Hoboken to become Hoboken’s largest park.
Shipyard wants to build two 11-story buildings near Sinatra Drive and Shipyard Lane, with 70 residential units. In 2011, the city of Hoboken challenged the project in court, claiming that Shipyard Associates wrongfully abandoned its 1997 plan that included three tennis courts and a tennis pavilion on the North Pier, in addition to residential housing.
The Hudson Tea Building Condominium Association, whose building is next door, also challenged the project, as has the Fund for a Better Waterfront. Neither group was privy to the settlement negotiations.
Shipyard had already won approval back in 1998 to build a 186-unit development at 800 Monroe St. The proposed settlement will allow them to add 79 more units, of which 27 would be affordable housing units. Thus, more than 250 units could soon be developed on the property.
In return the developers will give the city $500,000 toward the cleanup of the pier debris, conduct an engineering analysis, and start the work needed to design and eventually construct a new waterfront walkway.
The city estimated that continuing to litigate could cost another $1 million.
Some residents of the west side of Hoboken are not happy with the idea of giving to the east at the expense of the west. Twenty residents from that part of town spoke out at the meeting. They cited current traffic, transportation, and flooding concerns.
“West Hobokenites are not bargaining chips.” – Amanda Davenport
Ellis said he wishes the community had been made aware of what was happening and asked that the public be involved now. He said a better resolution would be to spread the additional units out over other buildings.
Ariel Kemelman of 800 Jackson St. said he hasn’t heard a good rationale as to why this settlement will benefit Hoboken as a whole.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “It is not a benefit to us or the city in general. Both the Monarch and 800 Monroe should be designed in respect to the neighborhood.”
Kristina Nash, a resident of 800 Jackson, said, “I feel dumped on.”
She said that she and her family believe in Hoboken and want to see it grow, with more retail space and restaurants and parks. She said she’s committed for the “long game” but “the City Council doesn’t want to play the long game with us in the back of town.”
Rastko Tobin of 800 Jackson St. said the lack of transparency has been alarming.
“Announcing it on a Friday with a possible vote on a Wednesday isn’t what you do,” said Tobin.
He cited other city projects in which the city sought community feedback.
Tobin questioned several issues with the settlement, asking if $500,000 was really enough money for the rehabilitation of the pier, and where the rest would come from.
“If the developer didn’t fulfill his bargain last time around… will they this time?” he asked.
Anna Bonaituo of 800 Jackson St. said she would like to appeal to the council’s humanity, stating that they aren’t in this for the money or the glory so they must care about Hoboken.
“Please think about why you are sitting here, because if you vote in favor of this after everything you’ve heard tonight, then I can’t believe that you care,” said Bonaiuto.
Chris Baker, who lives in the neighborhood of the development, said, “We feel like second class citizens on the west side of town. It’s a development area but we shouldn’t be the bargaining chip.”
Amanda Davenport of 800 Jackson St. said she has lived in town for 10 years and has heard a lot of talk about making Hoboken a less transient town and investing in it. She questioned how a building full of small units would aid that sentiment.
Davenport said, “West Hobokinites are not bargaining chips and you’re dumping the problem on our neighborhood.”
She added that the short notice was “disgusting. If that’s how you and the mayor want to act, it’s appalling. We are not your pawns and I urge you to vote this down.”
One resident posted a petition on-line. As of Thursday it had 381 signatures.
Mayor and council respond
Mayor Dawn Zimmer sent out a letter to the public prior to the council meeting addressing some of the public’s concerns.
She said “due to the preexisting redevelopment plan, it is not possible to say that there will be no development at 800 Monroe… Residents should understand that whether we fight on with this litigation or not, a development on the scale of 186 units will be built at that site based on the existing approved plan.”
“For me this is not about anyone’s view but this is about the quality of life for our community and preserving our shared waterfront treasure,” said Zimmer.
She added that the outcome of litigation is uncertain and if the city loses, the waterfront will be blocked, the city will be out a total of $2 million, and density will still increase in western Hoboken.
As to why the conversation has been private, Zimmer said, “Litigation negotiations cannot be conducted as a public process.”
The City Council and Planning Board would have to approve design details of the proposed development and there will be a public hearing.
Councilman Michael Russo, who represents the 3rd Ward on the west side of town, said he is against the proposed settlement. Councilman-at-Large David Mello said he believes the settlement pits one neighborhood against another. He said the council should either not vote on it, or vote it down.
The Hoboken City Council approved the $30 million acquisition of 6 acres for a new park in northwest Hoboken. The park will have an above-ground parking garage and a store, and will mitigate floodwaters in the area.
The acres belonged to BASF, one of the largest chemical manufacturing producers in the world.
Jeff Aris, a three-year resident of Northern Hoboken, said he supports the council’s decision and commends them on creating the park, and on the improvements that have been made in the area including under the Viaduct.
He said he believes the park’s design is critical, and that if the garage is built, it should be given an attribute to stand out, such as a public charging station for cars that run on electricity.
Jim Vance said he has spoke out against the garage before but that he is “not going to tilt at windmills anymore.”
He said he believes a garage next to the park is a bad idea and suggested trading that piece of land for a piece elsewhere in order to create more residential and commercial development near the park and bring it some life.
Waterfront activist Ron Hine made a few suggestions in regards to the park, like ensuring there is a clear separation between public and private land, moving the garage to the interior of the town with the park on the exterior, and allowing commercial and residential units to be built and face the park.
Crossing guards need to eat
Charles Hall Jr., president of local crossing guard and sanitation union, the 108 RWDSU, UFCW, spoke to the council about the concerns of the part-time crossing guards.
Hall said they have been working without a contract for 23 months and that they are having trouble making ends meet and supporting their families.
He said they are requesting an increase in the wage to $15 an hour as other municipalities in the area and across the nation have gotten.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.