The fraught battle over Union Dry Dock may see an amicable settlement as Hoboken officials have signaled that they are close to a deal with New York Waterway, who pushed to use for the property for a ferry refueling and maintenance station.
By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View
During last week’s city council meeting, Jason Freeman, Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s operations manager who is also splitting duties as acting business administrator, said that Bhalla had a meeting with the chairman of NY Waterway and that they are “moving closer to a deal that doesn’t involve eminent domain.”
The property has been at the center of a contentious battle between the two entities for several years now.
NY Waterway, who purchased the property in 2017 for $11.5 million and has paid taxes on it ever since, wants to build a maintenance facility for their vessels. The company ferries thousands of people daily between New Jersey and New York.
Hoboken, meanwhile, says the property is necessary to complete contiguous open public space along the Hudson River. Bhalla said in November 2018 that the property would only become a NY Waterway facility “over my dead body.”
The city made an official offer to purchase the Union Dry Dock property from NY Waterway for $13.1 million back in October, but that didn’t appear to go very far.
Details of what a potential deal would look like are largely being kept under wraps for now.
A spokesman for NY Waterway declined to comment, however, sources speaking under the condition of anonymity, say the company is considering building out its current site in Weehawken, despite a residential development set to be constructed in the area.
The company has said many times that this residential build out would mean the company would have to move to Hoboken in order to keep its operations running smoothly.
Freeman’s answer on Wednesday was in response to inquiries from multiple members of the city council concerning a resolution awarding a professional service contract to Maraziti Falcon, LLP for “an amount not to exceed $25,000.”
The law firm has received at least $100,000 from the city over the past two years for legal services for the Union Dry Dock property, according to previous council resolutions.
City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri did not answer questions concerning how much the city has spent on legal costs related to Union Dry Dock, though previously said that those funds come out of the Open Space Trust Fund when discussing the city’s budget woes.
The city, now in a multi-million dollar budget shortfallÂ that will be at least $7.4 million, is pursuing every avenue cut costs and avoid employee layoffs and cuts to city services – as well as a major tax increase.
Much of the back end of Wednesday’s meeting was spent taking a hard look at several resolutions awarding or extending contracts to law firms representing the city for various affairs or projects.
One contract, for example, was a service contract for utilities counsel of $60,000 “for utility related matters” to represent the city for Suez Water, PSE&G, and other related infrastructure matters.
“The reality is … these are conceptually big numbers without any of us being able to see the budget. We’re talking about laying people off,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said at the meeting.
“If we didn’t have a layoff plan with more than 80 jobs on it, we wouldn’t be having these conversations.”
Additionally, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo said the council should only approve contracts that are of “immediate need.”
“And when I mean immediate I mean between now and our next meeting,” he said. “… We don’t have a working budget in front of us.”
The council ended up approving the resolution related to Union Dry Dock, but only after cutting it in half to $12,500.
Facing questions on the dais, Freeman implored the council to keep the resolution for Union Dry Dock legal fees by at least half.
“I would recommend keeping this on the agenda, whether you want to cut it in half or not that’s fine, but yes, with the current status of where things are, this is critical,” Freeman state.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_