Residents may want to take a stroll down First Street to appreciate the changes that are in store for the commercial corridor come next year: new trees, flowers and plants, curb extensions, bike racks, and signage.
The City Council voted Monday to award a contract to spruce up the county street, according to a plan labeled “The First Street Revitalization and Citywide Branding & Way Finding Project.” The stated intention is to build a Hoboken brand utilizing imagery from the city’s history.
Council members voted 7-2 – with Councilman-at-large David Mello phoning in and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo absent – to award a $1.1 million contract to River Edge-based Let It Grow Inc. to perform the renovations.
The project will be partially funded by disaster relief funds from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), with $879,401 committed to the project. The other approximate $300,000 for the project was acquired from transportation bonds that the City Council approved in a resolution last year.
Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Marks said $125,000 from the grant was used for the design and “way finding” – signage and architecture to help people navigate through town.
The county Board of Freeholders approved the project last year.
New trees, bike racks, and signage
Most of the work will be done throughout next spring by June 1. The EDA money will pay for a painted train trestle where Jersey Avenue turns into Newark Street as you enter Hoboken , two rain gardens along First Street, painted “sharrows” reminding cars to share the road with bicycles, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps on sidewalks, and ground level perennial plants.
The city will also implement freestanding gateway signage “to distinguish city edges or entryways,” according to the plan. Welcome signs will bear the city’s unofficial nickname, “The Mile Square City.”
“We had a third public meeting on July 23 and this is basically the City Council awarding $1 million for two parts 1) the streetscape improvements and 2) the wayfinding signage,” said Marks.
Most of the work to bring new life to First Street will be done throughout the spring with a project close-out set for June 1, 2016.
Waiting for Neumann Leathers
Residents will have to wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday to find out whether the City Council approves a rehabilitation plan for the old Neumann Leathers factory building on the southern border of town. The council will consider suggested amendments to the plan introduced on Nov. 4 and sent to the Planning Board.
Thus far the building’s tenants have praised the plan for its goal of maintaining their unique demographic of mostly artists and musicians in the building. (See prior cover story for more details.) In past years, developers wanted to put in residential units.
David Glynn Roberts, a senior associate for Red Bank’s Maser Consulting, who is also handling the city’s Western Edge Redevelopment Plan, and Community Development Director Brandy Forbes, met with tenants prior to the Nov. 10 meeting.
“I thought it was a good meeting,” said Tom Newman, a tenant and former councilman who co-chairs The Neumann Leathers Tenants Association (NLTA). “David Glynn Roberts…and Brandy Forbes met with tenants ahead of the meeting and there were about 20 who came to ask questions. I think people were generally pretty pleased, and in my opinion, the plan really makes clear a strong statement of the city’s intention for the arts and industry uses, and plans to protect those uses.”
Newman, who helped form the NLTA in 2008 to advocate for maintaining the complex’s creative footprint, said many tenants didn’t even stay for the Planning Board meeting because they were satisfied with the plan.
However, the council voted during the public meeting on Nov. 16 to carry the ordinance to the Dec. 2 as they await a report of recommendations from the Planning Board.
Councilman-at-large and Planning Board member James Doyle called the amendments “window-dressing,” adding that tenants and planners are satisfied with the plans for the mid-19th century complex.
If the council votes to adhere to any of the recommendations made by the Planning Board, the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Plan will have to be amended and put back on the agenda for first reading before a final vote is held. If the City Council doesn’t vote by the end of year to approve the plan, it may be reintroduced in January since ordinances don’t carry over year to year, said Doyle.
Biking and striping
As the city transitions into a more bike-friendly setting, lead advocate for Bike Hoboken Ronald Bautista has been doing his part to promote safety on the streets for two-wheel commuters.
In recent City Council meetings, including that of Nov. 4 and 16, he spoke in favor of protected bicycle lanes that differentiate from regular lanes. Instead of directly on the road, they would be positioned off the street curb. The “sidewalks for bikes” would not mix with bustling traffic.
A “Ride for Safety” hosted by a citizen-based organization including Bautista took place on Nov. 14 with the help of two Hoboken Police officers. About 25 people including members of Bike JC, based in Jersey City, rode down Washington Street as a small demonstration to advocate for bike safety.
Bautista coordinated the event and met with Hoboken Chief of Police Kenneth Ferrante to voice his organization’s opinion on the bike lanes.
“We noticed during the ride that a lot of cars double parked, which caused a sort of interruption in the ride,” he said. “Having the protected lanes would make it so people on bikes don’t need to go on sidewalks.”
Bautista, 29, has lived in Hoboken for 16 years and graduated from Hoboken High School.
Bautista feels it’s crucial to bring these topics up now in light of the recent launch of a bike share program. In addition, during the last council meeting on Nov. 4, the municipal board voted to award a contract to Boswell Engineers for the design of the bike lanes. The city will pay for the bike lane striping with a $530,000 grant – the result of an application with the state’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).
“We have a bicycle and pedestrian master plan that calls for most bicycle lanes on most municipal and county roads in Hoboken and we’ll be able to implement that,” said Marks. “Every road way is going to have a design scheme of what the bicycle lanes will look like.”
That master plan says that presently the city has 4.22 miles of bikeways. This includes 3.22 miles of off-road bicycle facilities and one mile of ‘designated’ on-road bicycle facilities.
City Spokesman Juan Melli said that for the past few years the city has been striping with in-house resources, which leads to paint wearing off and constant re-painting.
“The purpose of the grant is to permanently stripe the lanes in thermoplastic which is more expensive but lasts many times longer and requires much less frequent restriping,” he said.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.