The most successful film shot in Hoboken, “On the Waterfront,” clairvoyantly pinpointed what would be the most highly debated area in town, more than half a century in advance. A waterfront activist group is concerned about four developments that are being considered for the city’s shoreline, including a possible plan by NJ Transit to buy the Union Dry Dock ship repair operation that is still ongoing near 11th Street and Sinatra Drive.
A Union Dry Dock official said Friday that despite the fact that they’ve heard about the plans, Dry Dock – the last fully functioning vestige of Hoboken’s former shipping industry – is still in operation and not sold, for now. A NJ Transit official said there were initial proposals to buy the site.
One of Hoboken’s most outspoken activist groups, Fund for a Better Waterfront, released a newsletter last week outlining the waterfront proposals about which they are concerned.
Besides NJ Transit’s potential Dry Dock discussions, FBW is concerned about a bill that could allow the Stevens Institute of Technology to circumvent town approval for its future development projects, and about two proposed residential developments on the water.
Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) has long advocated for a “continuous, public waterfront park.”
Various proposals have been floated and sunk for Union Dry Dock.
“When you visit other [Hudson River] waterfronts, said Ron Hine, executive director of FBW, “There are private enclaves, gates, guards. We don’t want that.”
Union Dry Dock
Union Dry Dock, a barge repair company, has been a focal point for various proposals floated and sunk. The property lies near Sinatra Drive and Eleventh Street.
FBW’s newsletter last week said that NY Waterway and NJ Transit have developed a plan to move NY Waterway’s ferry maintenance and fueling station from the Weehawken waterfront to the Dry Dock site. NJ Transit would purchase the land on behalf of the private ferry service, according to FBW. FBW is publicly opposed to this idea.
In addition, Mayor Dawn Zimmer wrote to NY Waterway CEO Arthur Imperatore and NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein on May 15 of this year, expressing concerns about the future of the waterfront in terms of its use for open space. Weinstein responded in a letter to Zimmer on June 1, acknowledging NJ Transit’s discussion of potential acquisition of the property. But he said that so far, no discussion had occurred with the actual owner of the property.
Weinstein said in his letter, “The UDD property is the last remaining working marine property along a major stretch of the Hudson waterfront, and it is zoned for its current use of marine vessel maintenance and repair.”
Weinstein added, “Should this project go forward, NJ Transit recognizes and respects the longstanding community interest in the role the Union Dry Dock property can play in the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, as well as in Hoboken’s open space plans for the city, and would work with [Zimmer] and the city to determine how best to integrate the walkway into plans for the property.”
The reference to the Waterfront Walkway relates to a continuous walkway that will someday run from Bayonne to the George Washington Bridge. By state law, anyone developing property on the Hudson River has to contribute to a portion of the walkway. So far, the city’s parks and private developments have complied.
Paul Wyckoff, chief of government and external affairs for NJ Transit, said Wednesday that no further progress has been made regarding the Dry Dock project.
And a top Dry Dock official, who didn’t want to give his last name, said that there’s no deal right now.
“We have heard the rumors,” said the official. “People make us offers every day. At the last minute they fall through. We have been in the business for 104 years. I suppose everything in the world can be bought, and the day will come. But it’s not today and it’s not tomorrow.”
Exempting Stevens Institute
FBW is also concerned about the Stevens Institute of Technology, which owns property on the central waterfront.
On June 28, the New Jersey State Senate passed a bill that would exempt certain private colleges from local zoning and planning jurisdiction. This legislation would apply to Stevens in Hoboken. The legislation has not yet passed in the Assembly.
FBW has made a concerted effort to fight the legislation, along with two big allies, the NJ League of Municipalities and the NJ Chapter of the American Planning Association. Mayor Zimmer has also fought to oppose legislation, sending a June 27 letter to State Sen. Brian Stack.
“While Stevens is an important member of our community,” Zimmer stated in her letter, “this legislation would unfairly take away the voice of the rest of our community.”
The following day, the bill passed in the State Senate in a 26 to 8 vote, a vote that Ron Hine called “a complete surprise.”
“It was obvious that some institutions were pushing hard to get the bill passed,” said Hine. “If you look at the list of institutions [involved] and the trustees on their boards, they are people with a lot of influence.”
Hine said his activist group has challenged Stevens along the way on past plans. As a result, he said, the compromises have made the town better.
“With this bill, we won’t have a say,” Hine said.
One such past proposal was Stevens’ parking garage along Sinatra Drive. After years of protests and litigation from FBW, Stevens modified the size of the garage plans. However, the garage is still only partly finished.
“Stevens is committed to being a good neighbor and a partner with the city,” Noah Lichtman, a spokesman for Stevens, said last week. “The community has a critical voice in the university’s development plans, and that will remain a constant regardless of whether the legislation passes or not.”
John B. Wilson, president & CEO of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey, said public schools are already free from some restriction, and it’s only fair to allow private colleges the same privilege.
“For over 40 years, this has worked with public institutions,” Wilson said. “There have been no instances of overbuilding or hurting the make-up of the town. Stevens involves the community in their projects now and I don’t see them having any interest in changing that. Designs need to be consistent with the campus and even if [plans] do not go through the Planning Board or the Zoning Board, doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any consultation with the city.”
Regarding the Stevens garage, Lichtman said that there are no immediate plans for further work, but did not comment on the project’s future.
Hoboken Terminal and railyards
Though it doesn’t all sit along the waterfront, NJ Transit owns 52 acres of property near the city’s south border, including its railyards. The transit authority proposed an original vision for the land in 2008 that included residential and commercial towers that could climb up to 70 stories. Since then, NJ Transit and the city have presented various alternative proposals that were scaled down.
In September, both the city of Hoboken and NJ Transit presented their differing updated visions to City Council and members of the public.
According to Zimmer, the City Council is only considering the city’s plan, although they will look at NJ Transit’s vision, which includes close to a million square feet more development.
The city and NJ Transit came to terms on a confidentiality agreement on Thursday that was holding up the process. The confidentiality agreement will allow LCOR (NJ Transit’s development firm) to release financial data in order to better inform the City Council when adopting a final plan. Once the council votes on a final proposal, the Planning Board has 45 days to make adjustments.
Since NJ Transit owns the land, the city’s plan would be a guideline but would not force NJ Transit to build.
The Fund for a Better Waterfront believes both the city’s plan and NJ Transit’s plan are fundamentally flawed. FBW has taken issue with three things in the city’s plan: no new streets, no new parks, and a failure to echo Hoboken’s urban character, according to FBW literature.
FBW has also opposed Shipyard Associates’ plan to build two towers on uptown land near their existing Shipyard Development Project. Shipyard Associates entered into a Developer’s Agreement with the city of Hoboken in 1997 for the construction of 1,160 residential units. Recently, the developer wanted to build two 10-story residential buildings there. On July 10, the city Planning Board denied the application for this proposed Monarch development. The decision allows the developer to submit a revised application to the board at a future date.
On Sept 14, FBW filed a motion to intervene in the city’s lawsuit to help enforce the original agreement. On Friday, Oct. 26, the motion will be heard by a New Jersey Superior Court judge.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.