The City Council debated at its meeting Wednesday night a proposed $1 million bond ordinance to allow the redesign of some Hoboken landmark streets. They include Washington Street, Sinatra Drive, Newark Avenue and Observer Highway.
The ordinance was rejected in a 5-4 vote. Six votes were needed to approve the bond.
The council is typically split with five members voting in favor of the initiatives of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and four people voting against. Generally, Zimmer is able to get her initiatives passed 5-4, but in this case, she would have also needed a vote from one of the opposition members.
“That’s a shame; we’re elected officials,” said Council President Cunningham, who is allied with Zimmer, Wednesday night. “Obviously you don’t have [trust].”
Councilman Michael Russo responded, “Trust works both ways.”
Exchanges at the council are likely to get more heated since Zimmer is up for re-election in 2013.
Residents filled the room to hear the fate of the improvements, which would make the streets more pedestrian-friendly. The bond was introduced last month with a 6-3 vote.
Business Administrator Quentin Wiest said that prior to the adoption of a bond ordinance, the New Jersey Administrative Code requires that an Amendment to the Capital Budget be adopted.
The council members who voted against the ordinance were: Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, Councilwoman Beth Mason, Councilman Tim Occhipinti, and Councilman Michael Russo.
“We need to convert a city that was really never designed for the automobile.” – Brian Wagner
“I’m not entirely thrilled of how this bond was put together,” said Councilman Occhipinti. “Engineering work should have been included in our budget.”
Councilman Russo did not consider it a mere $1 million bond.
“You want to manage your funds correctly,” said Councilman Russo. “It’s not just about the million dollars; it’s about the funding in totality. There’s things that we still need to do and there is alternative funding.”
Mayor Dawn Zimmer was in support of the bond ordinance.
“Bonding is the fiscally prudent and fair way to pay for long-lasting improvements to our neglected infrastructure,” said Zimmer in a press release. “Residents today shouldn’t bear the full cost for benefits that future residents will reap from these investments. We’re seeing progress on parks because the council approved bonding for those improvements. But just like our parks, our streets, waterfront, garages, police headquarters, and other infrastructure have been neglected for too long.”
Roughly $800,000 of the bond would be used for the design and engineering costs for Washington Street. Approximately $100,000 will be allocated to the design and improvements to Sinatra Drive. The remaining $130,000 will be used for improvements on Observer Highway and Newark Street. According to Director of Transportation and Parking Ian Sacs, the total for improvements could reach $16-$18 million.
Councilman Occhipinti suggested the council wait until next year for federal Department of Transportation money to resurface Washington Street.
“Separating the issues and seeking out more creative ways of funding,” said Castellano. “I don’t want to put our taxpayers or our city in anymore debt.”
“Who wants to have their streets have potholes all over them?” asked Councilwoman Mason. “We all think this is a good idea, it’s how each [project] gets paid for.”
Sacs’ worry was that the council would possibly lose the $2.4 million grant from the Department of Transportation for Observer and Newark.
Attorney Mark Peck, who represented Stevens Institute, said the road repairs would impact the school, since the campus is on Sinatra Drive.
“As Hoboken’s largest land owner and employer, Stevens would like to be involved in any planning process that affect Sinatra Drive,” said Peck.
According to the city press release sent after the meeting, the improvements will be reintroduced separately and the administration will continue to work with the council as well as the public.
Residents weigh in
Residents came forward to voice their support for the bond ordinance.
“Now is the time to put the infrastructure in place before it gets worse,” said resident Brian Wagner from Bike Hoboken. “Not just for motorists, but for pedestrians. We need to convert a city that was really never designed for the automobile.”
Resident Scott Siegel said, “Washington Street is the business corridor of the city... If you vote against it, you’re voting against the motorists and pedestrians.”
“We are concerned about this town, from one end to the other,” said resident James Vance.
Resident Aaron Willett said he blew a tire on Washington Street.
“The city’s capital budget and capital plan is dependent on the city’s future, what our community will look like in the years ahead,” said resident Ron Hine. “Deferring the city’s infrastructure needs which have done so often in the past is no longer an option. This is a win/win for everybody.”
A senior resident, Helen Hirsch, said she hoped for the ordinance to be passed to make it easier for disabled seniors like herself to get around. She mentioned that Sinatra Drive is not scooter friendly.
“Please do something to help us,” she said.
The council approved payment for land for a southwest park near Harrison Street, Jackson Street, Observer Highway, and Paterson Avenue.
The $2.35 million to purchase the land comes from a Hudson County Open Space grant and the final purchase price will be determined in court.
Phase 1 renovations for Church Square Park were approved with a unanimous vote. They will be paid by a bond that was approved last year. Renovations will be done to two playground areas, the basketball courts, and restroom. The city will be bidding for construction soon.
Future phases will be completed when additional funding is secured.
The council introduced new rules that would be effective immediately.
“We had council meetings in the past that have gotten a little out of hand,” said Council President Cunningham. “We’re going to maintain decorum among ourselves and the members of the public.”
The public portion of the meeting that used to be at the end of the meeting will now be closer to the beginning. The public will have the standard 5 minutes to speak, but if the council finds there are too many speakers in the hour allotted, they will hear the remaining of public comments toward the end of the meeting.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org