State or city rules? Hoboken council debates process of how popular bar constructed parklet

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The Hoboken City Council debated the process and the merits of how a popular bar was able to construct a new parklet in a residential neighborhood without any input from residents or the governing body, as well as why state regulations were followed instead of local ones.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

Hoboken resident Michael Schreiber spoke to the council about the noise issues he and other 1st Ward residents have had regarding the new Bloomfield Street parklet McSwiggan’s Pub had built due to COVID-19 regulations as the weather gets warmer.

He argued that the city set standards on parklets to prevent these sorts of issues in the first place.

“ … The city’s legal counsel noted that the state law made all local rules moot. External legal review has said the state law does not preclude in any way the city from following its process for notification and zoning approvals,” Schreiber said.

“It’s odd that weekly cardboard recycling and occasional snow removal are more strictly regulated, more heavily monitored, and more strongly penalized than any of the noise, trash, physical obstruction issues arising from the parklets.”

Both Business Administrator Jason Freeman and Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said that state regulations are in place that must be followed over local legislation across New Jersey.

“Our understanding and the guidance we have been given is that the governor’s implementation of all this supersedes whatever initial plans the city had,” Freeman said.

“The law actually indicates that not withstanding anything temporary, it is a temporary ordinance or a temporary statute from the state … and it actually stays in effect until November 2022 or until the restrictions on indoor dining are completely removed,” Aloia added.

6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino jumped in to say she personally met with McSwiggan’s staff on Monday, along with other city officials including Assistant Corporation Counsel John Allen, to discuss the parklet and indicated that they were explicitly told to construct their parklet on Bloomfield Street.

Freeman said he’s working on the issue as well and explained that McSwiggan’s has already indicated they’re considering moving it, but that’s wouldn’t be a small feat.

“It comes at a fairly tremendous cost to them, so again, we’re talking about a number of different alternatives, potential relocation, things like that,” he explained, disagreeing with the notion that they had already committed to moving their parklet.

Giattino said she has been working to find cost effective solutions, noting that the city could help with federal monies issued to them during the public health emergency, calling the current set up “a thoughtless place to put it in the first place.”

1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco explained that he was also informed McSwiggan’s had already committed to moving the parklet to 1st Street (their address is 110 First St).

“There shouldn’t be any reason with all the federal funds intended for issues such as this to help small businesses such as this that we wouldn’t use a portion of it to move the parklet,” he stated.

Additionally, DeFusco disagreed with Aloia’s interpretation of the state’s COVID-19 emergency rules and that “people in Trenton” disagreed as well, declining to get into the specifics of who he spoke with.

Other residents also weighed in on why they had a problem with this situation after Council President Ruben Ramos asked his colleagues to halt their discussion until after public portion was finished.

“The quality of our life has been severely impacted by a one-sided decision process that has left us completely powerless. This has stripped us of our rights as citizens and negated the rules within the city’s own zoning code,” Ana Sanchez said.

“My apartment is surrounded by four very loud pubs that have excessive noise every weekend with little to no oversight from the police department, despite it being right next to City Hall and down the block from the police station,” noted Nikki Diaz.

Later, DeFusco contended that while state regulations reference parklets in the streets, the local Hoboken ordinance empowers them to regulate street parklets, blasting Aloia’s interpretation and calling for a new legal opinion.

Aloia doubled down that the state law is clear, though left the door open to research the matter further.

This led to 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher asking where the state statute references streets.

“‘In the streets?’ I believe it does not reference in state law but I’d have to review it completely, but ‘in the street’ it does not reference,” Aloia answered.

“ … I don’t feel like those parklets, those structures, seem to be governed by the state law. So if that is true, it’s not being caught under the state law, then the whole discussion about McSwiggan’s and the parklet that’s in the street and having to give notice to the residents … is actually not governed by the state law,” Fisher stated.

At that point, Aloia conceded that if a structure is operating in the street, it is not governed by state law.

A short time later, Giattino asked Aloia if Scott Carlson, counsel to the Hoboken Planning Board, served as the mayor’s liaison to developers. When she was told that wasn’t the case, she sought further clarification.

“If someone was going to the planning board for whatever reason, Mr. Carlson wouldn’t be the one to speak with the developer to see what is he kind of needed, correct?,” she questioned.

“I don’t think that’s the case,” Aloia said, appearing visibly confused as to why this would happen outside of the planning application process.

“Would it be appropriate for the ABC attorney to be the liaison to the mayor for bars and restaurants?,” Giattino continued.

When Aloia expressed further confusion with this line of questioning, Giattino became much more explicit.

“I went to a meeting on Friday and I was with the mayor and the ABC attorney [John Allen] who was introduced to the bar owners and restaurant owners as ‘this is my liaison to you, if you have any issues you reach out to him and he will call me. Is that appropriate?”

” … I would need to look into it I’m not sure,” Aloia said after a long pause.

Giattino further stated that she believes Aloia needs to issue an opinion on this since it could open the city litigation in multiple instances.

5th Ward Councilwoman Phil Cohen chimed in that he had a big problem with this entire exchange.

“There’s a trend on among certain members of this council when they get a legal opinion they don’t like that they threaten the legal counsel and bully the legal counsel when they don’t get the answer they want to hear, which is wrong … it’s shameful, treat our professionals like professionals.”

The council did not take any formal action on the parklet at the meeting, but DeFusco and Giattino both indicated today that they feel McSwiggan’s will relocate their outdoor structure.

” … There are certainly questions that need to be answered about how this was handled by our law department and the mayor’s office, but right now I’m happy we’ve reached an agreement that is favorable for my neighbors who elected me to represent them and the business directly impacted,” DeFusco stated.

“I am now even more confident we will find a solution that will protect the neighboring residents’ quality of life while still supporting our local businesses,” Giattino indicated.

Additionally, this afternoon Fisher questioned if the administration legitimately did not know the difference between state or local regulations, or if McSwiggan’s was rewarded for making campaign contributions to Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

According to campaign finance reports, the owners of McSwiggan’s donated a total of $3,000 to his re-election bid on December 2nd, 2020.

City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said that the administration has worked with the city council to adopt a framework to allow restaurants and bars to build parklets and streateries to allow safe outdoor dining during the pandemic.

“Over the course of several months, over 75 restaurants and bars built some of New Jersey’s best streateries and parklets, which have been enjoyed by thousands of Hoboken residents and contributed to the economic recovery of the city,” he said.

“Just as it has since last summer, the city will continue to work to lend a hand to restaurants and bars for expanded outdoor dining that takes into consideration the major challenges they continue to face from the pandemic, while also taking into account the valid quality of life concerns from nearby residents.”

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from city spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri. 

26 COMMENTS

  1. Hmm, Bhalla get’s $3000 for his re-election from a bar and that bar gets to build a parklet without following the city laws. Hmm, I’m sure it’s all a coincidence. And he puts his ex running mate as the ABC attorney who is friendly with the bars – another coincidence.

  2. More #BHALLATICS from the administration, Puppet Cohen defending his crony attorneys. Meanwhile, a business that donates $3,000 to “Mayor” Bhalla’s re-election is allowed to construct a parklet which clearly affects the QoL for local residents.

    Well, residents, PLEAES VOTE in November. Please realize who on your side, and who is all talk on the local and national news – in his for himself.

    It is shameful, Phil. But you are the problem. And we all know it.

    BHALLA OUT

  3. Obviously voters can’t cast a vote against Ravi as you suggest, they need to vote FOR someone else

    Who is it you think folks should vote FOR? My choice would be Tony Soares, former Councilman and founder of Hoboken’s REAL REFORM movement.

    I know he’s moved on from Hoboken politics but the City really needs him now and I can’t think of anybody else who could fill his shoes.

    He’s a truly generous and selfless man so hopefully he’ll consider stepping forward to save the City from this evil Bhalla character.

      • Folks all around the country have been reading about Tony’s enormous contributions and they all wish their town had a Tony Soares. But unfortunately there is only one Tony and Hoboken is the town lucky enough to have him.

        Please run Tony. Hoboken needs you but it’s bigger than Hoboken now. America needs you. The world needs you. I know it’s a lot to ask but a lot is asked of truly great men.

        • Stupidity by Ravis city hall boys club.
          Nobody knows what you’re talking about
          But trying to distract about someone that was out of office for decades and assuming you know who’s who is dumb… but that’s okay, the residents of Bloomfield street aren’t happy.

        • Stupidity by Ravis city hall boys club.
          Nobody knows what you’re talking about
          But trying to distract about someone that was out of office for decades and assuming you know who’s who is dumb… but that’s okay, the residents of Bloomfield street aren’t happy.

          PS- What’s a Rin?
          Next time cut and paste what LindaStan sends you to post …

  4. Where’s the same outrage against Barbes? They also have a parklet in a highly residential area. Or is theirs ok because they hosted the Councilman’s in-person, non-pandemic compliant fundraiser?

    Let’s call this what it is. Councilman DeFusco is retaliating against a bar that previously donated to his campaign after he promised them everything under the sun. Yet again, the Councilman made empty promises and didn’t deliver. Fast forward to the Ward elections and McSwiggan’s proudly displayed a banner in support of Councilman DeFusco’s opponent, Migdalia Pagan Milano. And now as we head into a Mayoral election, Councilman DeFusco is throwing a tantrum. Maybe if he was actually in town, doing his job, a more productive and collaborative solution could have been determined. But no let’s put an unnecessary financial burden on what’s already been a tough for bars and restaurants and move the parklet because it bothers a few people in a city of 60K.

    And last time I checked, Hoboken is a city, not a suburb. A vibrant city with dining, nightlife and entertainment. If people don’t like the noise, move out. We won’t miss you.

  5. Looks like Fisher uncovered something quite shady here…
    John Allen facilitates for Ravi… Donations come rolling in during his Executive powers…Bar builds outside nightclub… No wonder sleazebag Romano and “Carry me Home” Jim are deflecting with the stupid Air BnB stuff.

    #Pay2Play
    #CorruptionISBack
    #HobokenCityHall4Sale

  6. “5th Ward Councilwoman Phil Cohen chimed in that he had a big problem with this entire exchange.”

    Of course he did!

    Just like he was the ONLY Councilman to vote against asking the State to step into to racist flier investigation that arguably afforded his owner the mayorial position over DeFusco:

    “Gimme a break! Gimmeabreak!! This is a nnnJOKE! GIMMEABREAK!”

    Holy nerd.

  7. I knew this had to be another protection racket with money going to Ravi.
    Look at his mob and it’s rinse, repeat and more of his terror flier tactics.

  8. This whole comment read says it all about why Hoboken needs Tony. Besides being a brilliant policy maker and infallible on political matters, his skills as a conciliator are legendary. Nobody can bring people together the way Tony can.

    When Tony speaks, people listen with respect even if they start off disagreeing, because his reputation for intelligence, objectivity and personalism precedes him.

    • Yes all true and he won’t meet with shady politicos or “bag men” for others that lead to public agency’s getting sued for racism.
      Multiple Lawsuits that citizens had to pay out to settle or from a Jury trial.

      • Peter Cammarano — guilty! Too bad he didn’t have his transition-team bigwig Tony Soares strategizing for his defense. Tony is known for his persuasive, winning manner and could have convinced a jury there are a lot of important real estate agents who need bribery-fueled development to put food on their tables.

        His legacy looms large!

        • You have the wrong jury …

          https://observer.com/2015/10/garcia-vs-grossbard-emails-point-to-hoboken-housing-authority-involvement/

          https://hudsontv.com/jury-rules-favor-ex-hoboken-official-angel-alicea-awarded-440000-damages/

          https://hudsonreporter.com/2018/01/07/ex-housing-chair-public-would-be-shocked-2/

          “I am eager to tell the story of what happened there under oath and on the record. Stan Grossbard is a bad person, in my opinion, and the smartest thing I did during my time as an HHA commissioner was staying far away from him until after I ended up being dragged into this lawsuit — a fact I wish I had gotten to put on the record in a deposition because that also protected the agency.”
          She ended her post by stating that “The thing that drove this settlement is not on anyone’s radar and must remain confidential for the moment (one of those things that really has to remain confidential because of litigation), but when it comes out, and I’m sure it eventually will, it will shock people.”
          In an email on Thursday, Grossbard responded to Wefer’s statement about him, stating, “It is unfortunate that Ms. Wefer, a practicing attorney who ought to know better, has chosen to repeatedly and irresponsibly issue public statements about the subject matter of an ongoing litigation.”

          • It’s always curious to see people calling people bigots while quoting bigots to support their claims of bigotry.

            Did Wefer say all that? WOW! That’s pretty dramatic. What other dramatic things does Wefer say? Is it true that anti-LGBTQ bigotry got her kicked off Twitter?

            If only she’d listened to Tony Soares, Hoboken’s true arbiter of kindness, tolerance and gentility!

          • Is that the same Dana Wefer who has announced her intention to sue twitter for banning her from their service?

            She would be a great addition to Tony’s ticket but I’m not sure she still lives in Hoboken.

  9. I’m a ward 1 resident. I think McSwiggans has one of the nicer parklets around. What’s the issue, noise? They had an outdoor area there already. Absolutely RICH to hear from someone who moved into a neighborhood “with four noisy pubs” to suggest that this parklet is the reason they have noise at night.

    We’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s caused bars like McSwiggans (a bar that I don’t even particularly like!!) to lose a ton of money. 50% capacity limits for over a year, at a bar that caters to the shoulder-to-shoulder bar crowd. That has GOT to be hurting them. There’s a legit procedural issue here over whether the state or city laws apply, and I don’t know the answer there. But GIVE IT A REST with the whole “quality of life” line. Buy acoustic curtains or move to the suburbs.

    I can’t believe how much of our public officials’ time was spent debating this non-issue. Because of one or two people who didn’t realize living by bars would be noisy.

    • You must live in a different part of the 1st ward – or not in Hoboken. As someone who actually lives near McSwiggans, the issue is that the city let McSwiggans build a parklet without following the city ordinance. This would mean public meetings and discussion about issues. Instead Bhalla just used the state law, incorrectly, to do as he wants and take the public out of the process. And yes, there is more noise – what do you expect if you move outdoor closing hours from 9pm to midnight and add another 70 people outdoors, all in a residential neighborhood. I think you’re smart enough to know the real answer.

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