Despite appeals from the mayor, the City Council, neighbors, and local open space advocates, the proposed uptown waterfront residential development known as Monarch at Shipyard continues to move through the government approval process. It recently got the go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental protection. The proposal is set to come before the city’s Planning Board in February.
An attorney for Ironstate Development – the developer of this proposed addition to the existing Shipyard project on the north waterfront – wrote a letter to Hoboken’s Planning Board on Dec. 22 complaining city officials have prejudged the company’s project.
“If you want a public waterfront, you don’t build out on the piers.” – Ron Hine
The Monarch project was discussed at Wednesday’s council meeting, with the council unanimously passing a resolution to direct the city attorney to advise the council on a legislative response to “excessive waterfront development, such as the Monarch at Shipyard project.”
Ironstate Development wants to erect its two 11-story residential towers just east of the Hudson Tea Building at 15th and Hudson streets. The project has raised concerns of Hudson Tea Building residents who could lose sight of the Manhattan skyline, and of open space activists, who point out that the city’s master plan calls for the area to be used for open space.
The buildings would be built on inland piers. They would not extend into the Hudson River.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Community Development Director Brandy Forbes have both opposed the plan in letters to the state DEP.
Because the Planning Board has not yet begun to hear testimony on the project, the mayor and council’s comments have the developer crying foul.
On Dec. 22, Kevin Coakley, a land-use attorney and partner at Connell Foley in Roseland, sent a letter to Ann Graham, the chairwoman of the Planning Board, on behalf of the developers. The letter asked that Zimmer, Forbes, Graham, and the mayor’s designee on the board recuse themselves from future discussions about the project.
“In addition, other board members who were appointed by Mayor Zimmer should recuse themselves because they have most likely been influenced by her position,” Coakley wrote to Graham.
Zimmer said that her designee will not be participating in the Monarch discussions, and she has recused herself from the discussion months ago.
“Our waterfront is one of the treasures of our city and I am completely committed to protecting it,” Zimmer said in a phone interview on Thursday. She added that despite her and the council’s statements, she “trusts that the Planning Board will do an independent evaluation.”
Zimmer added that the mayor appoints all Planning Board members, so for her appointees to be recused would not be possible.
Despite naming the Monarch project in Wednesday’s resolution, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, the sponsor of the measure, said the resolution is not specifically about the Monarch.
“We need to stop talking and do something about building on piers,” Mason said.
Is there a legal conflict?
At a council meeting in October, city attorney Mark Tabakin had said that the council wasn’t prejudging the project, although it seems the developer disagrees.
Before the vote on Wednesday, Tabakin was asked if he had concerns about legal ramifications from the passage of the resolution.
“I’m concerned about the possibility of unintended consequences,” Tabakin said, but added that he doesn’t believe the resolution will cause a problem.
Resident Jim Doyle voiced his concerns.
“We may be giving an appeal right that wouldn’t otherwise be there to an applicant,” Doyle said. “I understand why one is motivated to satisfy constituent’s concerns, but I think this and the prior resolution are and were mistakes.”
Councilwoman Carol Marsh, who serves on the Planning Board, left the room during the discussion and vote.
The council eventually passed the resolution by a 6-0 vote, and Tabakin is expected to address the council before Feb. 1 about their legislative options regarding the project.
Developer speaks out
Michael Barry, the president of Ironstate Development, said he does not believe his proposal is getting a fair shake from the city.
“The whole Planning Board process allows for a property owner to present their plan for their property and present what they want to build on it,” Barry said. “The Planning Board is not supposed to be swayed before [the vote] one way or another. The mayor can take a position, but I find it unfair that she hasn’t had a discussion with us. It’s private property. It’s not owned by the city. I have an issue with somebody that decides what to do with your land.”
Barry added that the proposal is “completely compliant with all DEP regulations.”
Tea Building residents and other groups plan appeal, too
Eric Sandler is part of a group of Tea Building residents who oppose the proposal.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a resident of the Tea Building, even sent a letter to the DEP in opposition to the project, according to media reports.
“It’s not so much about views as it is about how we want more open space,” Sandler said last week in an interview. He said the group plans to appeal the DEP’s decision.
Why the change?
Documents from the DEP show that in 2008 Ironstate Development, then known as Applied Development, submitted an application to build open space in the same vicinity, but their permit was denied, citing the crumbling piers. Yet, the DEP recently approved the plan to build residential buildings on the site.
“It acknowledged that they know their requirement to build open space,” Sandler said of Ironstate.
Ron Hine is the founder of Fund for a Better Waterfront, which also opposes the project. Hine said his group has retained the Eastern Environmental Law Center to appeal the DEP’s approval.
“If you want a public waterfront you don’t build on the piers,” Hine said. “That should be reserved for a continuous, public waterfront. We’re sticking to that plan.”
Hine penned his concerns in a letter to the DEP back in June, saying the proposal “fails to comply with various requirements of the State’s Coastal Zone Management regulations.”
“The public access requirements of the state [CZM] regulations would be greatly diminished by the approval of this application,” Hine said in his letter.
Even if the local Planning Board approves the proposal in February, appeals will follow, sources say, and the situation will likely head to court.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com