Stevens Institute makes their case for Hoboken council to approve ‘university district’

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Although the Hoboken City Council was unable to take any formal action last night, representatives and employees for the Stevens Institute of Technology made their case to move forward with their “university district” plan. 

“One thing that I would start off by saying is that when President [Nariman] Farvardin came to Stevens in 2011, Stevens was in disarray. The Babbio Garage, which had been unfinished for many, many years, was kind of an iconic symbol of the disarray that Stevens was in,” said Stevens Vice President for Government and Community Relation Elizabeth McGrath.

“We had financial difficulties, we had difficulties with recruiting top notch faculty and students, our infrastructure and front mains were in terrible shape, and one of the first things President Farvardin did was gather our community and develop an ambitious, tenure strategic plan to pull us out of what was really a hole and become a top tier, world class STEM university.”

According to U.S. News, Stevens has rebounded in recent years to earn the rank of number 69 out of 311 national universities, with an average annual tuition of about $50,544.

During her presentation to the council during last night’s special meeting, McGrath explained that the plans for a university district date back to 2015.

She explained that back in 2015, Stevens officials met with then-Mayor Dawn Zimmer and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino to recommend rezoning, the rezoning plan was approved by the city planning board in 2016 and the university district proposal was made to the city in January 2017.

McGrath also noted that Mayor Ravi Bhalla had voiced his “full and enthusiastic support for this ordinance” in a letter to the city council dated Monday.

Keenan Hughes, a planning consultant for Stevens, continued that their plan would focus growth within the easterly portion of campus, preserve open space, expand/enhance view corridors, reduce traffic and the demand for parking, as well as preserving important buildings to maintain the campus character.

Additionally, Hughes discussed the two proposed towers that would serve as student dormitories.

“These will be facilitated as part of the edge sub-area zoning. This is a view from the campus side looking to the river: you see the separation that’s provided between the two dorms – providing view corridor,” he said while detailing an artist’s rendering.

Hughes, who works for Hoboken based Phillips Preiss LLC, added that by building the dorms out of glass and other “lighter materials” it would ensure minimal obstruction of views throughout the city.

The dorms would be 21 and 19 stories tall, respectively, with the larger one standing about 14 feet taller than the university’s Howe Center, Hughes said.

Furthermore, Hoboken Community Development Director Brandi Forbes noted that even with council approval, the project, which also includes a central plaza between the two dorms, will still need to get the okay from the planning board.

After the presentations concluded, dozens of public speakers, mostly Stevens employees and/or alumni, spent about three hours trying to convince the council that the project was necessary – even though there was no vote to be cast.

Another special meeting will be held on August 1st, where the council is scheduled to have a voting session this time.