The developers of the Western Edge project are suing Hoboken and Union City for allegedly allowing the neighboring city to interfere “at the expense of benefits to Hoboken and its citizens.”
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Union City publicly announced its intentions to challenge and attempt to limit the development of Plaintiffs’ properties as early as April of 2019, and has knowingly interfered with the contracts between Plaintiffs and Hoboken through improper means, as well as with Plaintiffs’ efforts to develop their property and to obtain their fully permitted approvals from the Planning Board,” the suit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court on Friday, says.
“Union City’s improper interference is intended to prioritize the economic advantages of residents of Union City over the rights of Plaintiffs, their prospective tenants, and the low- and moderate-income housing that would be created by these inclusionary projects.”
In July 2020, the Hoboken City Council approved a plan that Mayor Ravi Bhalla had advocated for, which included $3 million in community givebacks that included a pool, affordable housing units, and flood mitigation infrastructure.
This came days after they reached a settlement with Fair Share Housing since the project didn’t initially include an affordable housing component.
The following month, the city executed a redevelopment agreement with Pegasus Partners, through their LLC Just Block 112, that would allow them to build a maximum height of 208 feet and a residential complex with 357 units – including 37 affordable units.
However, the litigation contends that was never going to happen since Union City was allowed to influence the project.
” … Hoboken’s officials had already agreed with Union City that the building heights that it had promised would not be approved, and had made written statements to Union City officials that Hoboken would not approve the specific building heights to which they subsequently agreed in the Agreements.”
In July, Bhalla released a statement that indicated Pegasus had agreed to reduce the Western Edge height to 145 feet, but the developer shot back that they hadn’t committed to anything of the sort, as HCV first reported.
As a result, Bhalla’s office threatened to rescind the agreement, and while that never happened, the council approved two measures that may potentially scale back the project three weeks later.
While state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack isn’t named as a defendant (Bhalla is), he is mentioned and accused of trying to put his thumb on the scale several times.
“Hoboken and the Planning Board delayed hearings and a final ruling on the Application to provide additional time for Union City and Mayor Stack (in his role as a state senator) to move the Palisades Cliff Protection Act legislation forward before the Block 112 project could proceed,” the suit claims.
“The Palisades Cliff Protection Act supported by Union City and Mayor Stack targets the Block 112 and Block 106 projects and seeks to prevent them from being economically viable.”
The bill, first introduced with state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) in December before being amended in June, would limit development east of the Palisades Cliffs in Hudson and Bergen Counties. It has not yet been introduced in a legislative committee.
The Hoboken council approved a non-binding resolution opposing the measure in January, prior to amendments being made.
Finally, the Hoboken Planning Board, also named as a defendant, approved a resolution of denial on September 21st.
“None of the reasons cited for denial of the Application in the Resolution of Denial were justified by reasonable interpretations of applicable law,” the suit asserts.
“Rather, the reasons were purely pretexts to ensure that the Application would be denied, consistent with the public statements by the Mayor and his statements made directly to JB112’s principals.”
Following the resolution of denial, the project is now stalled indefinitely, which plaintiffs say is a violation of their constitutional rights, as well as irreparable harm to their property right and livelihood.
The eight-count, 65-page suit seeks to nullify the resolution of denial, issue an order forcing the planning board to approve their application, award attorney’s fees and costs of suit, along with any other relief the court deems just and equitable.
Hoboken and Union City officials declined to comment on pending litigation.