The Hoboken City Council okayed a Union Dry Dock lease for New York Waterway, as well as a $1,174,146.90 contract to create a maritime park design, at last night’s meeting.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“New York Waterway is gonna be leasing public land. They’re gonna [be] refueling and maintaining 20 ferries and from the 2,600-word Nixle from the City Hall, it didn’t brush aside some of the facts and it left a lot of remaining questions,” 1st Ward council candidate Paul Presinzano said during public comment.
“So why are we betting on that our sister city will play ball and allow the waterfront to be home for New York Waterway? Did we do the research on the cost of boat slips? Whose gonna ensure that the lease details are gonna be enforced? And most of all, how much would it cost to remove New York Waterway if they refuse to vacate Union Dry Dock?”
Presinzano has been an outspoken critic of the lease, noting that it will only net the city a monthly rent of $4,573 and raising the concern that they may try to overstay their welcome after five years.
He also reiterated a point he has made several times on social media recently, that Bhalla said in November 2018 that Union Dry Dock would only become a ferry refueling and maintenance station “over my dead body.”
While Mayor Ravi Bhalla tried to quell some of these issues in the aforementioned Nixle alert, noting that their primary objective wasn’t to turn a profit, but instead to see their contiguous water park built as soon as possible, others raised similar issues.
“The terms and conditions of this lease are egregious, wholly in favor of New York Waterway, and highly detrimental to this city and its residents. First, the scope of operations allows for a ferry maintenance facility that will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no restrictions for noise,” stated Ruth McMorrow.
“Nothing else in the city has those types of provisions. It’s in an area directly adjacent to residential and recreation areas, which are key to citizens. In addition, there will be parking for up to 20 ferry boats and refueling operations.”
She said that this would be contrary to the decades of work by the city to clean up the waterfront since this would essentially be “reindustrializing” the area, also noting that the lease gives NY Waterway no incentive to leave any time soon.
Furthermore, Noelle Thurlow, the founder and director of Resilience Adventures, thanked the mayor and council for their efforts to acquire Union Dry Dock, as well as for taking some suggestions recommended for the lease.
However, she still felt the lease was not ready for approval just yet.
” … I have a lot of experience and expertise in these waters bringing kayakers and paddle boarders and other human-powered boaters out there. I also run Resilience Paddlesports, we’re different from Hoboken Cove Boat House – we provide lessons and tours to adults,” she began.
” … In 2013, we’re crossing the river, we’re talking about New York now, there was an RFP – Hudson River Parks Trust – and as a a result, there was a shuffling of different entities at different piers. The Manhattan kayak company ended up moving from Pier 66 to Pier 84 – adjacent to New York Waterway. Within three years, there was an accident in which a group of kayakers was run over by a New York Waterway ferry company.”
Thurlow also noted that three years is also the minimum amount of time on the Union Dry Dock lease, and while sun glare contributed to the accident, so did a lack of communication between the kayak company and NYWW – which Hoboken can still work on.
Fund for a Better Waterfront Executive Director Ron Hine put together a large rendering of the Union Dry Dock property to illustrate and emphasize that NYWW will have control of 5.6 acres of an 8.2 acre site.
“They’ll have control of all the piers, they’ll have control over almost all of the land at the water’s edge: it’s 63 percent of the site … So the city is promising that … we’re gonna start building the park, we’re gonna have a contract for you tonight, you’ll be able to hire someone to design the park so we’ll be getting a park soon,” he explained.
“Well, I don’t quite believe that: the light green part, right here, that’s less than an acre. I don’t know how much sense it makes to start building a park on less than an acre.”
He also said that he believed Hoboken Terminal was a better location, which the city was on board with back in November 2018, but Bhalla indicated in the aforementioned Nixle alert that option was no longer feasible.
Prior to the vote, Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher acknowledged that this has been “an incredibly difficult” process, as well as that the public feels “let down” by the lease they were voting on.
“This feels very inconsistent with what we’ve all fought for … Does this lease incentivize New York Waterway to leave or does it incentivize New York Waterway to stay?” she said, noting McMorrow‘s comments from earlier.
“And every single provision in this lease is really built to effectively invite New York Waterway to invest, expand, and stay forever.”
Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle said that while many residents made great suggestions, NYWW would not agree to them without getting other incentives, pointing out that there is a deadline and “this is the best we can do” in terms of a fair compromise.
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo said that there was a deal on the table about a decade ago during Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s tenure where the city could’ve acquired the coveted waterfront property for around $8 million, but it never came to fruition.
Nevertheless, he felt like the lease in front of them now was the best case scenario.
“The reality is we don’t make these decisions in a vacuum, just like you don’t make decisions at home in a vacuum. What are you eating tonight? That decision is based on a thousand things, right?” he surmised.
” … The same thing happens here in the City of Hoboken when we’re talking about something as simple as a lease, it’s not as simple as a lease. We had a member of the public come up and talk about what the fair market value of the lease would be … The reality is we’re getting the land for $18-and-a-half million dollars – I’d probably argue that’s not the fair market value.”
Councilman-at-Large Joe Quintero agreed with Doyle in that “the timing here is critical,” since New York Waterway has the opportunity to contest the lease between now and the next council meeting, which is on March 1st.
“If we do not vote today, they will be compelled to contest, make those filings, and then they will probably be in less of an agreeable position to move forward here.”
4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos said that having control of the land and an equitable price for the land makes the lease worthwhile, while 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino said she believed NYWW will still be there in five years.
“Obviously this is going to pass tonight, but I really feel strongly that anyone who is sitting on this dais that votes yes is literally saying to you ‘here is nothing, hold onto it tightly.’ That’s what they’re saying to you. So I urge you all to vote no.”
When it was all said and done, the council approved the lease 7-2, with Fisher and Giattino voting no.
As for the maritime park design, a the $1.17 million contract was awarded to Manhattan-based Dattner Architects unanimously (9-0).
“After five long, hard years of fighting to save the Union Dry Dock site, Hoboken has finally turned the corner to focus on what we’ve wanted all along – the design of a publicly accessible waterfront park,” Bhalla said in a statement this morning.
“Maritime Park will truly be the people’s park and will reflect what our residents want to see as we collaborate on a world-class park for all to enjoy. I encourage residents to stay tuned for the date of this first community meeting we will be hosting with Dattner Architects.”