A large Hoboken development project that’s at the center of a controversy involving Gov. Chris Christie would have implications for Weehawken as well – and Mayor Richard Turner said last week that the town has been keeping an eye on it.
Three weeks ago, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged on national television that last May, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno suggested to her during a visit to Hoboken that the city would get more Hurricane Sandy aid if Zimmer helped pave the way for three blocks of uptown development by the Rockefeller Group of New York. The proposed development is right near the Willow Avenue Bridge from Hoboken to Weehawken.
The private development company has been steadily buying up underused plots of land at Hoboken’s industrial border with Weehawken since June 2008. They have never submitted a formal development proposal to the city, but they have talked publicly of wanting a 40-story building in an area where the current zoning allows buildings to climb only to two stories. The company’s hope was that last spring, Hoboken’s Planning Board would move forward on a detailed plan to somehow change the zoning in the area. But the city’s Planning Board is taking more time to go through the process.
According to Zimmer, Guadagno and other Christie officials wanted her to move forward more quickly. Rockefeller has been represented by lobbyist David Samson, a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie and the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – hence Christie’s potential interest (or conflict of interest) in the project.
Such a development would obviously have an effect on the traffic in that area. The two bridges leading out of Hoboken are narrow two-lane crossings over quiet neighborhoods. They feed into Weehawken’s streets and into the Lincoln Tunnel, which is in Weehawken.
Last week, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner declined to comment on the dustup between Zimmer and Christie. Several other area mayors have taken a side, either believing or disbelieving Zimmer’s claims.
But Turner did say that Weehawken had been following the rezoning study last May when the Planning Board designated the area “in need of rehabilitation.” After that, there was no movement on it.
“We’ve read about it in the papers,” Turner said. “We monitor everything on our borders and towns surrounding us. If it’s resurrected in some form, we’ll monitor it.”
Turner said that if Rockefeller decides to pursue a 40-story office building, as they suggested in media reports in 2010, “We would have the same concerns that any town would have with a large building on its border: traffic, how does it affect our neighborhoods, their neighborhoods. There are always view issues in North Hudson, something being blocked. We’d have our concerns. Twenty years ago, West New York proposed an amusement park on the waterfront. We went to court to block it. It made no sense. There have been contentious situations, and mutual situations. It depends on the scope of the project.”
According to state law, everybody within 200 feet of a project has to be notified when it is submitted to a board for approval. Turner was not sure whether parts of the Rockefeller project were close enough to Weehawken land. Last year’s vote was on a redevelopment study for a 19-block area, not for a specific proposal.
A specific proposal would also have to be approved by the County of Hudson because it borders county streets (Park Avenue and Willow Avenue).
Turner said that he was never contacted about the project by state officials.
Weehawken’s border with Hoboken was hard hit during Hurricane Sandy. The “Shades” area, otherwise known as downtown Weehawken, is a low-lying area just blocks from the Hudson River and the Lincoln Tunnel. Several people had to be rescued from flood waters during the storm, and many homes sustained damage.
Turner said that his town has applied for $12 million in FEMA and other grants for a mitigation project. He said that in terms of other funding, the town has gotten $200,000 for generators and to create evacuation sites.
Of applying for aid, he said, “It’s a very long process.”
Caren Matzner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org