Hoboken authorizes ability to use eminent domain to expand Southwest Park

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The Hoboken City Council unanimously approved (9-0) a measure that gives the city the ability to use eminent domain on an acre of land owned by Academy Bus in order to expand Southwest Park.

The council listened to over two hours of public comment before casting their votes, with many Fourth Ward residents expressing that they wanted more green space in their neighborhood – also taking aim at the tactics Academy Bus had used in recent weeks.

“Negotiations remain the main focus and they will be on the table, but the city needs all the tools necessary to have leverage in the negotiations – some leverage, right now, it has none,” exclaimed Madalina Bud of the Southwest Resiliency Park Alliance.

“As most of you know, I’m married to Mayor Zimmer, but I’m also a resident of southwest Hoboken who is part of a resident group advocating for a decent-sized Southwest Park before the thought of running for elected office had even occurred to Dawn,” said Stan Grossbard, a rare presence at council meetings.

He added that 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, who opposed Zimmer for the mayor’s seat in 2013, had earned his respect for throwing his support behind this issue.

On the other hand, those who supported Academy Bus said the city was lying when they said they had been negotiating in good faith, since they had not even gotten the land appraised after a full calendar year.

“I’ve seen eminent domain work both ways, the majority of which was negative. Eminent domain is really a tool that’s used by the requesting jurisdiction to get what they need at the cheapest price,” stated Craig Lydecker, an Academy Bus dispatcher who lives in Hoboken.

“I think the people here tonight, every single one of ‘em, [has] gotten up and said something about fair negotiations, good faith negotiations, confidential negotiations … that’s completely untrue,” said Academy Bus Vice President of Real Estate David Lehmkuhl.

He also pointed out that the city approved a $15,000 contract one year ago to get an appraisal of the land, which still hasn’t happened, and that a private meeting between the city and Academy Bus hasn’t occurred since April of last year.

Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla later responded by claiming the appraisal had not occurred yet because Academy was preventing it from taking place.

While everyone on the council voted yes on the measure, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco noted that he had hoped to amend the ordinance to make it more fair for Academy Bus – but he was shot down by Mayor Dawn Zimmer and his council colleagues.

In a statement issued this morning, Zimmer thanked the council for their support in the endeavor, further stating she looks forward to working with Academy in the future.

“I want to thank the entire City Council for voting 9-0 last night to authorize the use of eminent domain for the direct purchase of land to double the size of the Southwest Park.

“This authorization provides the City with a valuable negotiating tool and will ensure that the property can be acquired for a price fair to both Academy Bus and the City of Hoboken.”

The city has previously said that they believe the land is valued at $4.5 million, while Academy Bus believes the value is much higher at $13 million.

Councilman-at-Large James Doyle explained prior to his vote that the value of the property would be decided in court, either by a judge or jury, not by the city.