Hoboken planning board votes that rail yard plan is ‘inconsistent with master plan’

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At last night’s Hoboken Planning Board meeting, the board unanimously voted to deem the redevelopment plan for the local rail yard project inconsistent with the city’s master plan.

Latest rendering of the Hoboken Rail Yard redevelopment plan. Photo courtesy Hoboken Planning Board.

By Mike Montemarano/Hudson County View

The city council introduced the latest incarnation of the rail yard redevelopment plan in early November, and a first reading of the measure was approved by a 6-3 vote, with Council members Jen Giattino, Tiffanie Fisher, and Peter Cunningham voting no.

The project spans through about 80 acres of land owned by NJ Transit, and the developer designated for the site is LCOR, which has constructed several large-scale residential and commercial properties along the east coast.

The opinion that permeated across the planning board was that the most recent redevelopment plan, one of the city’s largest proposed construction projects in history at 1,357,000 square feet, was “substantially inconsistent” with the city’s master plan.

Commissioners explained that a major concern was that it proposed an office building at the corner of Hudson Place and Hudson Street at 300 feet tall, dwarfing the 200-foot-tall office building proposed in a much different 2014 redevelopment plan.

“The note in the master plan regarding the redevelopment area says ‘see the waterfront redevelopment plan for Hoboken Rail Yard,’ which was at that time the plan made in 2014. In my opinion, you could say there is no language in the master plan which supports a 50 percent increase in height,” Planning Board counsel George Williams said.

“We find the amendments to be consistent [with the master plan], except for the provision on the height of that one structure.”

The board followed the advice of counsel, voting unanimously (9-0) that that aspect of the development was not in agreement with the master plan.

“The Board finds that the provision contained in proposed Ordinance B-209 that provides for a height increase from 200’ to 300’ is inconsistent with the 2018 Master Plan Reexamination Report and 2018 Land Use Element of the Master Plan,” the approved resolution says.

“The Board finds that the remaining provisions of B-209 are substantially consistent with the 2018 Master Plan Reexamination Report and 2018 Land Use Element of the Master Plan.”

Plans to redevelop the rail yard have been in discussions since 2005.

Some of the biggest changes in the plan had to do with preventing interference with the ongoing $230 million Rebuild By Design plan.

The current redevelopment plan is also about 500,000 square feet smaller than the one proposed in 2014, following the latest amendment that came after a community meeting where residents expressed concerns about parking, traffic, and the environment.

As a result, the council has two options at tonight’s meeting.

They could hope to achieve a supermajority (six yes votes), in order to approve the plan as it stands, but they would still be required to provide a full rationale to the planning board explaining the decision to proceed.

The other option would be to reintroduce an amended redevelopment plan in response to the planning board’s recommendation to scale back on the office building.

Tiffanie Fisher and Jim Doyle sit on both the planning board and the city council.

Last month, Hoboken Council members Mike DeFusco and Vanessa Falco indicated that the latest version of the rail yard redevelopment plan would include a 20 percent affordable housing quota, along with a European-style market at the ground floor.

Neither of these amendments were evaluated by the planning board last night, since they haven’t yet been voted on by council officials.

In another related and noteworthy decision, the planning board also found a proposed measure introduced by Falco which would increase the percentage of affordable housing units developers must construct.

“Affordable” units are priced in relation to regional median income in various areas of the New Jersey.

The quota will raise from ten percent to fifteen percent and the council has the ability to vote on the first reading of the measure tonight.

“Our master plan speaks glowingly about increasing affordability and diversity in our housing stock,” Williams said. “It’s not unreasonable or uncommon for an amendment to express specific changes in this quota.”

Additionally, any development that receives financing or subsidies from any state agency will be required to fulfill a 20 percent affordable unit quota.

The ordinance maintains that affordable housing quotas remain negotiable between the city and developers if construction is taking place through a redevelopment plan.

This appears to be the case for the rail yard redevelopment project, as Falco announced 20 percent of the residential units there will be designated as affordable.

This measure was approved 8-0-(1), with Commissioner Atif Quadir abstaining.

 

Mike Montemarano can be reached at MonteHCV@gmail.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. HCV – are you sure a supermajority is needed to overrule the Planning Board? My understanding is that the PB’s opinion is only advisory and the City Council could still pass the Plan with a simple majority.

    That said, since the Mayor (directly or thru his designee Councilman Doyle) sits on the PB, this unanimous vote is a pretty strong sign that he now opposes the Plan and if he were to veto it 6 votes would be needed to override.

    Is that what you meant? If so it’s a pretty academic point since if the Mayor opposes the plan there is no way to get to 5 votes, much less 6. It sounds like this is likely dead in the water for now.

    • The planning board seemed to be in agreement last night that both a supermajority vote and a report on the rationale are required for the redevelopment plan to move forward tonight.

      • OK thanks. Learn something new every day. The point about the mayor’s opposition still stands. There clearly aren’t even 5 votes for this with the Mayor opposing it – certainly not 6.

        Looks like cutting backroom deals with DeFusco may not have been the wisest move for LCOR.

  2. First Ravi Bhalla bumps off Jim Doyle at a Planning Board meeting to shepherd ahead his NJ Redevelopment RailYards plan. Now he’s against it because DeFusco might get some credit. Utterly hilarious.

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