A public meeting on the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan had many residents and commuters alike roiled over parking, traffic, and environmental concerns, though they were assured that the plan is in its infancy and won’t move forward any time soon.
Before the public session, hosted at the Multi-Service Community Center at 124 Grand St., Council President Jen Giattino tried to quell some of the worries of the crowd by announcing that the second reading of the plan would not be voted on this evening.
Even so, concerns clearly remained rampant among the crowd of over 100 people, who began yelling out their questions early and often before 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco (the project is in his ward) also tried his hand at trying to calm things down.
“The council is part, is half, of the redevelopment body of the city. It’s a check and balance,” he began, before getting cut off by members of the public.
“When has an agreement ever gotten smaller?,” one woman questioned.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at the study and say ‘hey, based on the traffic study, the most we can have is 10 stories.’ Instead of wasting time, approving 20, then going back and saying ‘you know what, just kidding it should be 10,'” another annoyed resident exclaimed.
As HCV detailed last week, the project spans over about 80 acres of NJ Transit-owned land and will be developed by LCOR.
The current incarnation of the plan, which has existed in some form since 2005 and had another draft approved in 2014, calls for an 18-story, 300-foot tall (up from 200-feet) office building, as well as a 28-story building that was initially expected to be 24 stories tall.
While the 2014 plan called for about 2.3 million square feet of development, the newer version outlines 1,357,000 square feet – though 944,000 square feet of “future potential development” clearly had some in attendance uneasy, at best.
According to 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, the current amendment was a change of pace for what took place under Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration.
“This is a change recently, under this administration, where we are amending plans, and then agreeing with developers to basically fit the development within the plan. I personally think we need to do more work.”
LCOR Senior Vice President Brian Barry said that given the number of partners involved in this project at all levels of government, the time is now to act – or it’s possible the $100 million development goes up in smoke.
“We have NJ Transit’s engagement in leadership. We have the State of New Jersey. We have the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] we’re working with closely. The city: I know there is diverging interest there,” he began.
“We’re working with them closely, trying to move us forward. The PATH is fully engaged: now is the time you have to realize this. This opportunity is not gonna be there forever. One change in leadership … it’s over.”
Barry did his best to try and alleviate two of the biggest concerns among attendees: reiterating several times that this project would not impact Rebuild by Design and that the land allocated for future development would be an industrial site, if anything at all.
“This is a FEMA accredited resist barrier that requires certain clearances – let me just give you a little example. They need to be able to physically get a vehicle [through] in case the wall needs to be repaired,” he explained.
” … I don’t have the ability to build an area clear enough to drive through the base of the building. It’s just not feasible to be able to accommodate whoever controls the wall, whoever manages its modifications … and there’s a significant liability.”
After a short shouting match ensued after yet another audience member still expressed further concerns regarding flood preparedness, Barry doubled down that the $230 Rebuild by Design plan would be untouched by this project.
He also again expressed that seeing any unexpected development pop up here was a non-issue.
“I know there’s a future site, a million square feet. It was 2.3 [million] and I know there’s an opportunity for another site down the road – 1.3 to 2.3 [million] – it’s a smaller foot print. It’s a smaller development,” Barry stated.
“We are not going … the wall that’s built, that development, that area is not built. We have professionals who will speak to that.”
Maser Consulting’s Michelle Briehof briefly tried to address the traffic study performed back in the spring, but that conversation did not last long as concerns were continually shouted from the crowd.
“There’s going to be more traffic, I’m not going to stand here and lie by saying there won’t be more traffic,” she said before the public question and answer session ended.
After Giattino said last week, and repeated last night, that the second reading of the redevelopment ordinance would not be voted on tonight, Mayor Ravi Bhalla weighed in via a statement released after the meeting that he also felt the vote should be postponed.
“While I appreciate the proposed amendment to integrate the elements of Rebuild by Design into the plan by the City Council, it is clear that there must be additional time to incorporate the community feedback received by my office and at tonight’s community meeting before a final vote can occur,” he said.
“I’m asking the City Council, which is the redevelopment entity of the City of Hoboken, to postpone the scheduled vote on the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan so this can appropriately occur.”
According to the City Clerk’s Office, the measure was tabled to the November 6th council meeting as of this past Friday.
The first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously last month and was tabled by a vote of 7-1(1) on October 2nd, with 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, one of the sponsors of the measure, voting no. Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour abstained.
Given that Russo and 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham traded hard shots at that meeting, it’s not surprising that he again took a gloves off approach when weighing in on the project – this time also putting the mayor in his crosshairs.
“Mayor Bhalla has purposely continued to misrepresent the size and scale of this project to Hoboken residents for his own political gain,” Cunningham said in a statement.
“The administration has failed to follow the proper redevelopment amendment protocols to weigh how this could potentially negatively impact our existing community. With Councilman Michael Russo’s support to rush through this approval process, it has become abundantly clear that the two are only concerned about appeasing their union donors and protecting their own campaign contributions.”
In response, city spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri noted that Cunningham “conveniently missed the memo” that the mayor asked for the measure to be tabled, as well as that the councilman okayed the 2014 version of the project.
“The Councilman has likely forgotten that he in fact voted for the original Hoboken Yard plan in 2014 that called for substantially more development, and any amendments are the product of the City Council, not the administration,” he added.