Two sides to every story
City Council, public discuss development plans for 52 acres at rail yard
by Amanda Palasciano
Reporter staff writer
Sep 16, 2012 | 3981 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RESPECT FOR HISTORY – Paul Somerville, chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee of Hoboken, spoke about the historic value of the Hoboken train terminal.
view slideshow (2 images)

The City Council held a special workshop on Wednesday in which the city and NJ Transit presented differing proposals for what could be built on 52 acres near the train station at the city’s southern border.

The city’s vision for the land, which is owned by NJ Transit, includes 475 units of residential housing, a 19-story commercial building, and residential buildings limited to 12 stories. However, NJ Transit would like to build 1,155 units of housing and buildings rising to 27 and 26 stories.

The city is using planner Wallace, Roberts &Todd. NJ Transit is using planner Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and development firm LCOR.

Both parties were given time to present proposals on land development, although the council at first told NJ Transit they could not present their proposal to the public at the meeting. They were allowed to present it at the very end.

The land

The land to be developed lies along the southern border of Hoboken, beginning at the train terminal and continuing on Observer Highway to Marin Boulevard. The city has made it clear that they will oppose any project that is not in compliance with the scale of the rest of the city.

The city and NJ Transit have said they are negotiating to decide on a final proposal.
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Opinions varied widely from speaker to speaker on what is best for Hoboken.
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The land has been the subject of a debate since 2008. NJ Transit originally proposed a mixed-use vision that included a 70-story office tower and 50-story residential building. Mayor Dawn Zimmer and many city activists were in strong opposition to the original plan. With the help of a planner (WRT) hired by the city to keep the city’s interests at heart, a plan was designed to depict the city’s alternate vision.

NJ Transit also revised their initial proposal, greatly reducing their original building heights and overall square footage. The 2008 NJ Transit proposal spanned 9.2 million square feet, while their 2012 proposal spans 3 million square feet. This is still close to a million square feet more than the city of Hoboken’s plan. Still, both sides say that these different options should not be considered as competing.

Public speaks out

On Wednesday, members of the public who chose to speak at the meeting were given five minutes to convey their thoughts to the council.

Opinions varied widely from speaker to speaker on what was best for Hoboken.

Residents asked for more parks and open space, historic preservation, traffic control, preserving sunlight, limiting density, and limiting overdevelopment.

An activist group in town, the Fund for a Better Waterfront, has criticized the city’s plan, saying it lacks parks.

At the workshop on Wednesday, Paul Somerville, chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, spoke about the historic value of the terminal. He said an application has been submitted to get the terminal national landmark status.

“I have no doubt that NJ Transit would keep the integrity of the terminal,” Somerville said, “but it is something the public should be aware of.”

Some members of the public felt that neither plan had achieved what was best for the city, while still others simply want to move forward no matter what the plan.

City’s plan

The city took 10 minutes to present a plan that includes lower building heights for commercial and residential, accelerator space for start-up businesses, and a performing arts center.

The city’s presenters focused on how much less dense their plan was compared to NJ Transit’s proposal.

At the meeting, Joseph Maraziti, special outside counsel on redevelopment for the city, acknowledged the uniqueness of the situation in which the city is giving recommendations for property owned by a transit agency.

The presentation of the NJ Transit plan at the workshop was initially thwarted by Council President Peter Cunningham, who suggested print copies be given to the members of the council only. NJ Transit representatives expressed disappointment at being denied the opportunity to share their presentation, which had been slightly adjusted last week. The disappointment was shared by some of the meeting attendees and certain members of council.

Toward the end of the meeting, NJ Transit representatives were finally granted the time to present a slideshow. Transit spokespeople and members of the public who favor that plan told the council that it would bring in greater tax revenue for the city, direct and indirect jobs, better transportation infrastructure, and a vibrant nightlife.

Money talks

Mayor Dawn Zimmer said Thursday that the biggest unresolved issue is the amount of residential development. While a consensus has begun to emerge on the commercial and transportation aspects, the city and NJ Transit have yet to bridge the gap on residential differences.

One of the reasons for the discomfort, according to city officials, is a lack of complete financial documentation as to the impact of the added density on the city.

Zimmer said on Thursday, “I am absolutely not comfortable with the level of residential that they are proposing. So far, [NJ Transit] has not provided a full financial analysis to justify why they need that level of development.”

Brent Jenkins of LCOR said Thursday, “We look forward to continuing our work with the city to create a collaborative plan that enables such public improvements and enhances the quality of life in Hoboken.”

Sidebar

LCOR presents rail yard plan at Chamber breakfast

LCOR, the development company for NJ Transit’s plan for the Hoboken rail yards, presented their proposal at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday morning to a receptive audience of local business owners and real estate firms. The presentation focused largely on the economic impact on local businesses.

Brent Jenkins of LCOR estimated that their proposal would generate $11 million more in retail spending than the city of Hoboken’s plan. The presentation also described the terminal as an underutilized asset, decreasing from 100,000 commuters daily in the 1930s to 50-60,000 commuters today.

Reaction to the NJ Transit proposal at the breakfast was in stark contrast to the city of Hoboken’s overdevelopment concerns. In fact, several people said they would like to see more height than what is being proposed.

“I am disappointed that NJ Transit is caving to the city,” attorney and Rutgers professor Jason Orlando, a Hoboken resident, said. “There is an overreaction to soft concerns like shadows. Instead of quibbling over one or two floors, I would prefer to see more height and a soccer field for the kids. I think NJ Transit should stop continuing to concede [to the city].”

Orlando later said during a networking period that right now, the city of Hoboken is not “live, work, play” oriented, and the lack of office space here is the very reason people need to drive to work in traffic. “You can’t open up a law firm here.”

“Those that had the good fortune to grow up here cherish the development,” Freeholder Anthony Romano, who is a police captain, said. “The area has been blighted for so long. I would like to see something happen soon. As a responder to Sept. 11, it is important to remember what a crucial corridor Observer Highway is in terms of entering and exiting the city. Hoboken is not a quaint village; it’s a municipality.”

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at

amandap@hudsonreporter.com.


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September 16, 2012
The City Council meeting was set up for the public to review the City's plan and not to have NJT represent their revised plan.

Not surprisingly the only two members (Castellano and Occhipinti:of the City Council minority who attended the meeting appeared to be advocating for NJT.

Councilman Occhipinti has reportedly taken political campaign contributions from a NJT executive.

The NJT site should and will be developed, but Hoboken should never again put the best interests of a developer over the best interests of the people of Hoboken.

The leadership Hoboken Chamber of Commerce which includes large real estate developers, has made their anti-Administration, pro-developer opinions well known, making their reception of the much larger NJT proposal expected.