After a motion to table failed, the Hoboken City Council advanced the latest version of the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan, though the timing of the vote appeared to rub some officials the wrong way.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“We’re a small town: we’re supposed to be a town that’s not Jersey City. People that want to live in Jersey City can go live in Jersey City in the high rises … where are the people gonna go? Where is the density gonna go?,” Amanda Davenport, who lives at 800 Jackson St., said at last week’s remote council meeting.
” … Hoboken is meant to be a small town with cute buildings and it’s just insane that you’re now discussing a 23-story building for a pool? You’re kidding me, right? This is out of control and I just hope the council really hears this and really listens to our constituents.”
Public documents for the project show it would include a maximum of 357 residential units and 207 parking spaces, with the residential component not to exceed 136 feet – as well as permitting a restaurant/lounge on the roof.
While a version of the plan was approved back on August 5th, 2015, the latest incarnation of the plan includes a 15- to 20-story hotel and a 13- to 18-story residential building according to Hany Ahmed, one of the developers for the project.
Nonetheless, both electeds and members of the public referred to the project as a 23-story endeavor, with 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic was not the right time to take a vote on this.
“I would like to consider delaying this, I don’t know if there’s five votes out there for it, but if someone was willing to second it, I would make a motion to table it until we have a public meeting and we can make a presentation to the public.”
Her motion to table was seconded by Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco, but that measure failed 5-4. Councilmen Mike DeFusco and Mike Russo joined Fisher and Falco in voting yes to table.
Prior to the vote on the amended plan, Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle, the council’s designee on the planning board, expressed a concern that the 10 percent affordable housing component could be compromised in the future.
“This consistency review took up a good portion of two full planning board meetings and the issue that was very troubling … Our planner said public benefits don’t have to be limited to affordable housing.”
He added that the planning board also recommended that they continue to include the 10 percent affordable housing component, though they could not make that mandatory.
DeFusco weighed in after Doyle, exclaiming that other mayors had requested a collaborative effort on the plan to no avail, which was unacceptable given the size of the project.
“I supported tabling it because I believe that the mayors of adjacent towns all had contacted our mayor saying ‘Ravi Bhalla, please work with us we’re concerned’ and provided a list of concerns,” the 1st Ward councilman said during the public session.
“It all fell on deaf ears. Why? Because our mayor is looking to make a grand statement that we’re going to have a pool. And by doing this we will deliver a pool. Nothing could be further from the truth … shame on the mayor for not working with mayors from adjacent towns.”
The first reading was approved by a vote of 7-2, with Fisher and Doyle voting no.
Sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, also the state Senator of the 33rd Legislative District, had reached out to Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla directly to voice dissatisfaction with the size and scope of the plan as the council meeting was going on.
The Western Edge project is in close proximity to the Yardley, a 140,000 square-foot industrial building located at 600 Palisade Ave. in Union City.
Neither Fulop or Stack responded to requests for comment.
Still, there appear to be no plans to halt the project any time soon, with Hoboken spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri indicating that the development “will be ready to advance” when the public health emergency subsides.
“As the redevelopment entity for the City of Hoboken, the City Council created and adopted a framework for the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan,” he said.
“Mayor Bhalla respects the central role of the council in this initial process, and appreciated the hard work by Councilman Ramos and the members of the Western Edge sub-committee to pass their plan. Mayor Bhalla looks forward to now negotiating an agreement that provides important amenities and community givebacks that improve the quality of life for Hoboken residents.”
However, Fisher reiterated that she believed the measure was placed on the agenda since the community at large was distracted, asking for more accountability from the administration on these types of negotiations.
“Misleading public statements, finger pointing and lack of transparency on out of scale development has been this administration’s MO,” she said.
“As Chair of the Community Development North subcommittee I know for a FACT our mayor directly negotiated these plan changes for a building close to the height of the W Hotel to be built in our 5th Ward. Unfortunately, the council lacked one critical vote to allow extra time to seek the public’s feedback to these significant changes.”
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen said that despite the pandemic, everything can’t be put on hold, especially a project that has been in the works for quite some time.
“This project didn’t get hatched two weeks ago. This has been discussed for months before I was on the council: it’s been around for a while,” he said.
“My understanding is that the developers couldn’t get their financing until the saw if the council had an appetite for this. Even though this is the middle of the pandemic, we can’t put everything on hold. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.”
Finally, Ahmed told HCV this plan has been in the works since 2012 and now looks forward to working with city officials to make this development a reality that works for everyone.
“From our perspective, we did not want to fully design a building, along with the time and costs associated with that, only to realize months from now, the building size was not acceptable to begin with.”
“This plan has been in a development process since 2012. We really needed to get on the same page with the city so we don’t go in circles any longer.”