The Hoboken City Council voted to table an ordinance that would have approved the long discussed city rail yards project, “one of the largest development projects the city has ever seen,” opting instead to hold a public meeting prior to a critical vote being taken.
The development, which was originally proposed in 2014 for the roughly on-mile area along Observer Highway, was shelved, but was reintroduced earlier this month after the site plan was “drastically reduced” to include infrastructure that would prevent flooding in the southern portion of the city.
The site, much of which is owned by NJ Transit, is being developed by LCOR.
City Council members Wednesday night heard a brief presentation from the city’s community development director, Chris Brown, who said the addition of a flood wall “terminated much of the redevelopment potential.”
As a result, the original plan for nine redevelopment sites, totaling more than 2 million square footage, was cut down to three sites: an 18-story office building on the southeast corner of Hudson Place and Hudson Street; a 28-story residential building on the southern side of Observer Highway between Washington and Bloomfield streets; and another office building at the southeast corner of Henderson Street and Observer Highway.
After hearing the presentation, some council members expressed that they felt the public had been left out of the process for such a large-scale project.
“Given the size and scope of this, was there any thought to do a community meeting to discuss these changes, and what’s driving these changes?,” 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham questioned.
The project would stretch over a huge swath of land in the Mile Square City, encompassing one of the area’s busiest transportation terminals – which serves as a hub for NJ Transit, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and PATH trains.
Additionally, Councilwomen Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino asked why a nixle alert, a service for residents to receive notifications on major public safety and community events, was not sent out for the project.
Fisher further suggested that the Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s administration “doesn’t want the public to have a seat at this table.”
“The fact that this administration sends nixle alerts out for special meetings about non-binding resolutions but can’t send a nixle out to participate in this process … The majority of the people in our community are not aware that we’re voting on the most controversial development in the city. We owe it to have a public meeting.”
Despite those exchanges, not everyone was in agreement to table to proposal.
3rd ward Councilman Mike Russo said that he had seen the project stall for more than ten years, and was cautious about moving it to the next meeting.
“Is this just something we’re going to push down the road again?” he began.
“To get all of the entities on the same board has been virtually impossible, but we’re at this point now. If we’re going to decide to table this, I’m begging you to have a public meeting as fast as humanly possible.”
The matter was further complicated after a resident suggested two Council members-at-Large Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour, should recuse themselves from the vote because they were part of Bhalla’s election slate that received support from Stronger Foundations (who sent out mail against 1st Ward Councilman Make DeFusco).
The entity is a labor-connected group that has spent liberally on municipal elections across the state including Hoboken and Bayonne.
Cunningham later suggested that the matter could wait until after the election on November 5th ward council races, particularly due to the potential conflicts, leading to a short but tense exchange with Russo.
“You see councilman, that, that right there, that’s the … ” Russo started before getting cut off.
“Councilman, it’s been 14 years: what’s another month, what’s another two weeks?,” Cunningham exclaimed.
“Because I’ve heard that before,” Russo answered before again being interrupted, with Cunningham noting he’d love to see the land get developed, but only if the appropriate measures were taken.
“Sometimes, when we wait until after the election, it becomes politically expedient,” Russo said.
“This is politically expedient too,” Cunningham shot back.
They concluded their exchange with Cunningham saying “c’mon this is not a cop out, you know this all about money.”
“Of course it is, they’re developers!,” Russo shouted back.
In a vote to table to ordinance, Jabbour abstained “out of an abundance of caution, having been accused by a member of the public and another council member about a potential conflict” and the motion passed 7-1(1) – with Doyle still voting yes to table (Russo voted no).
Ironically, Doyle has been attacked by Stronger Foundations before, specifically when he voted no on the Hilton Hotel project in October of last year.
The public meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 15th at the Multi Service Center on Grand Street, a day before the next regularly scheduled council meeting.
“The mayor invites all members of the community to attend and provide input on the proposed plans,” a city spokesman said.
Chief News Correspondent John Heinis contributed to this report.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_