Around 30 local residents gathered in the meeting room of Boulevard East’s Versailles building in West New York on Sunday, bearing protest signs and their concerns over a high-rise building proposed to be built in a lot zoned for mid-rise development across the street.
Virginia Datto, a lifelong resident in her eighties who spends her days caring for her ailing husband, was among those gathered that evening. To say she has an intimate interest in the project would be an understatement. The two-family home she has lived in for 59 years lies a literal few inches south of the lot set to house the thirteen-story Meridia Le Boulevard residential complex.
Many years prior, a mid-rise apartment complex was built so close to the south of her home, nothing but wind can pass through; a wind, she says, that has risen to epic proportions ever since the high-rise Versailles was built across the street.
“The proposed development is one of the worst I’ve seen in terms of breaking every zoning requirement they can.” – Judith Courtney
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “My property is 50’ by 150,’ and theirs is 100’ by 150.’Where is my privacy? What will happen to my trees? It used to be so beautiful here, and now it’s just too much.”
Datto said that a representative from Capodagli Properties met with her two weeks prior to discuss her concerns, and asked if she’d be willing to sell her home.
“Would I consider selling the house my mother and father built in 1953?” she posited. “Only if it would prevent a high-riser next door.”
Capodagli Properties did not return a phone call by press time.
The concerns of citizens
Those who attended the meeting shared a similar sentiment: they don’t necessarily oppose the development of the former Exxon Mobil station that now lies unused on the corner of 67th Street, but they do oppose a development that breaks the zoning laws they believe have been established for good reason.
Resident and lawyer Eileen Tulipan has seen developers attempt to change the law to suit their building needs before. “They don’t actually expect 20 variances to be granted,” she said. “Maybe just half or less than half. We cannot accept that. Our position must be ‘no.’”
Though the area is zoned for mid-rise buildings with a maximum height of 135 feet and 12 stories, Meridia Le Boulevard would stand at 150 feet and 13 stories. It would provide 123 rental units (the area is zoned for 69) and include 107 parking spaces on a 100 ft.-wide lot (the current law requires 132) which is half the required width.
Residents were most disturbed by the proposed increase in lot coverage, which would require an increase from 75 to 95.5 percent.
“The proposed development is one of the worst I’ve seen in terms of breaking every zoning requirement they can,” Hudson-Meadowlands Sierra Club Chair Judith Courtney said during the protest. “The communities that would be affected are not communicating on the impact this would have on everyone.”
For instance, Courtney said, no one has truly considered how the new development would impact the traffic on Boulevard East, specifically in regard to city commuters. Coalition to Preserve the Palisades Cliffs President Peggy Wong travels daily between her North Bergen home and her job in Manhattan. Her commute, she says, has increased significantly over the years and has caused undue stress.
“The open secret is that we are being governed by home rule,” Wong said. “The county defers to the town, and during town planning hearings they claim it’s not within their jurisdiction. These issues are bounced back and forth and no one is taking responsibility.”
Standing together for their community
The residents who have banded together against the high-rise, spearheaded in February by West New York resident Joshua Breakstone, have compiled a website: www.concerned-citizens.net. The site outlines the variances required, the impact on local quality of life, and calls others to join the cause.
They’ve attended several zoning board meetings since, and plan to continue to do so. After the initial discussion session held at the Versailles, the residents took signs and spirit across the street in front of the proposed location of Meridia le Boulevard and appealed to passersby to preserve the neighborhood and its green spaces; an appeal, Versailles resident Rose Puerto explained to those gathered, that is written right into the West New York Zoning Law handbook.
“They’ve touted this as a green project,” Breakstone explained. “What they’re doing is trading 70 and 80-year-old green trees for a green ivy-clad, concrete wall.” He believes if the variances are granted, it may set a precedent that could completely destroy quality of life in the Hudson-side community extending far beyond West New York.
“Many of us have chosen to live on this side of the Hudson because we prefer not to live in an environment like Manhattan,” Courtney explained. “I’m concerned that if this degree of development continues, we’re going to see a reverse migration back to the city.”
The next meeting of the West New York zoning board will be held at Town Hall on May 31 at 6:30 p.m.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com