The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission approved the environmental plan for the amusement and water parks expansion for the American Dream project on Wednesday despite requests for further traffic studies by Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli and Carlstadt Mayor William Roseman.
“My municipality has had to deal with significant traffic issues and problems whether on Route 3 or on our local roads, almost every work day when our population goes from 17,000 full time residents to a daytime population of 60,000,” said Gonnelli during the June 27 commissioners’ meeting. “Everybody knows what is happening with traffic [and] there is nothing out there to solve it.”
The $3.7 billion American Dream project, previously known as Xanadu, includes a mega mall, entertainment center, and indoor ski park. It has stalled several times due to lack of financial backing since 2009. Canada-based developer Triple Five Group stepped in at the end of 2010 and proposed an expansion of the project to include indoor amusement and water parks. The developers anticipate 55 million visitors a year.
“We are not traffic experts here.”– Marcia Karrow
Triple Five received a major access permit from the Department of Transportation in May without having to provide a detailed traffic study for the project expansion because peak time traffic was projected at less than 200 or more vehicles in a peak hour.
“A traffic study would be greatly beneficial and at least would give an objective view to what is happening to our communities and our area,” said Roseman.
He asked that the NJMC table the vote to adopt the hearing officers’ report for the proposed water and amusement parks until the developers conduct a traffic study and impact analysis.
“The DOT has complete jurisdiction on traffic,” said NJMC Executive Director Marcia Karrow. “They are the experts and we have to defer to them. We are not traffic experts here.”
She said that the hearing was supplemental and did not reopen the 2004 hearing on Xanadu or change any decisions made then. The hearing addressed ecological concerned raised by the proposal to build 5 acres of the 22 acre park on wetlands.
“We looked over the traffic and this hearing report stands on its own,” added Karrow.
“This board can request additional information or studies,” said Gonnelli. “This board does have the authority.”
“You are right this board has all of that jurisdiction,” said Karrow.
The NJMC voted to approve the hearing officers’ report with one dissension despite the requests to delay the vote from the mayors and a resident of Secaucus.
“There have been extensive studies,” said Alan Marcus, an executive with a public relations firm that represents the developer. “This issue has been studied and studied very carefully.”
He said the traffic plan was put together by a regional task force that included input from key stakeholders, public agencies, the private sector and the New Jersey Transportation Authority.
He noted that 55 million visitors is an ambitious number and that there is a misperception that the visitors will all arrive at once.
“They all don’t show up at the same time they all don’t leave at the same time,” said Marcus. He said visitors will use the train, buses, and arrive from different directions as well as at different times during the day. The developers anticipate the train will be a major means of delivery for visitors to the site.
Lawsuit with Jets, Giants
The mayors are considering taking further action by joining the lawsuit filed June 22 by the New York Giants and New York Jets against Triple Five – a topic that will be up for discussion at the upcoming Mayors Committee meeting on Monday night.
The teams seek an injuction to prevent the developer from reviving the project, according to news reports. The lawsuit filed in a state court in Bergen County alleges that Triple Five did not receive their consent to expand the project and also cites traffic impacts.
“We are actually considering filing an amicus brief and joining the Giants and the Jets suit… because we have no other alternative,” said Roseman. “[We have] no other avenue for us to address the impact this is going to have.”
Both mayors were critical of the teams for filing the lawsuit. Gonnelli called it “ridiculous” and “hypocritical” stating that the teams have never done anything to improve infrastructure or offered to assist municipalities that have to provide services on game days.
However, he said that left with no other recourse Secaucus too will consider joining the lawsuit.
“The lawsuit will still be frivolous,” said Marcus. “It will still be about the Giants and Jets defending a monopoly that they have a sense of entitlement about.”
He said that when the mayors sit down and review the information they will consider the benefit the project has to their communities.
“If you join that lawsuit, you are probably suggesting that there is no need for 9,000 construction jobs and 15,000 permanent jobs,” said Marcus.
While the mayors will take this issue up this week, the NJMC said in a statement that the mayors had time to comment publicly on Nov. 15 and 16 or in writing up until mid-January. East Rutherford and Little Ferry were the only towns to submit or make any comments during that period.
The NJMC said in a statement that it was unaware of the Mayors Committee formally requesting a briefing from the NJSEA or Triple Five, which Roseman said should have taken place.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.