A 15 year-old tradition to boost commerce at Christmas by enabling free parking at city meters ended after a tie vote of the City Council on Wednesday.
Ordinarily, the town allows free parking at meters during two weeks in December. Two of the mayor’s opponents on the council wanted to extend the measure for the entire month of December.
While Councilwoman Theresa Castellano and Councilman Michael Russo tried to extend the measure to allow the meter-less parking for the entire month, they later said they were willing to settle for two weeks.
However, after long debate at Wednesday’s meeting, the measure resulted in a 4-4 tie. The council is politically split down the middle, with four members allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer and four opposed, after newly-appointed ninth member James Doyle was forced to vacate his seat.
Some members of council felt that the free metered parking would mean that people could sit at the meters all day long, in a city where parking is already tight.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer sent a letter discouraging the measure prior to the meeting.
Recently, the city approved a new free parking initiative with the help of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce, in which municipal garages in town will allow up to four hours of free parking with proof of $20 purchase at local businesses.
“This is a practice that has worked for over 15 years for the business community.” – Theresa Castellano
Castellano and Russo felt that past experience spoke for itself on the success of the initiative.
“This is a practice that has worked for over 15 years for the business community,” Castellano said. “I am coming up on celebrating my 44th year in business this February and people over the years have been so happy [with the practice].”
But Councilman Ravi Bhalla said, “People could theoretically park on Second and Washington and go to New York, or go to work for the day.”
Councilman Tim Occhipinti and Councilman Russo both pointed out that the PATH is inoperable and argued that people would not come to Hoboken to park free and travel to New York.
Bhalla was concerned about a lack of factual data on both sides of argument, but said past experience had some credence.
Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino said that she spoke with other Hudson County municipalities who were not allowing free street parking this month.
Castellano said she was told the exact opposite that day.
Giattino also said that she spoke with business owners on First Street who said the open meters would not help them.
“It’s a great headline,” said Giattino. “But it does nothing to benefit the businesses.”
Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Marks, who has an extensive planning background, said he felt that businesses relied on the turnover forced by the two-hour maximum parking rule.
Interim parking authority director Anthony Ricciardi said that since the municipal garage parking initiative went into effect, no retail business receipts have been provided, only bars and restaurants.
Councilman David Mello suggested infusing the collected meter money into the Chamber of Commerce revenues and using it for future media campaigns.
Occhipinti argued that Hoboken has an image problem induced by Hurricane Sandy media coverage, and should do everything it could to combat that. Officials here have speculated that the image in the media of a city ravaged by the storm has kept shoppers away.
Castellano charged that those who voted against the parking measure – Mello, Bhalla, Giattino and Peter Cunningham – were following “marching orders” from the mayor.
Staying at the YMCA
The Hoboken-North Hudson YMCA has long been working on a tax credit project that would build 96 total apartments in their buildling, five of which would be market rate, and the rest affordable housing for needy people.
The project was originally expected to cost between $11 and $12 million and was funded partially by the state, partially by the county and the rest by tax credits.
Due to time delays, change in the guarantor, and reduction in tax credits, the project needs close to a half million more dollars to be completed.
YMCA Board of Directors President Paul Somerville explained to the council the importance of finishing the project.
“The YMCA is one of the oldest social services in Hudson County,” said Somerville. “The tax credit project was a vehicle for us to survive.”
Somerville also explained that the reason five units would be deemed market rate units in the project, was that five current residents would be displaced otherwise, since they do not meet the requirement for low-income housing. Currently 20 units are occupied in the YMCA, enabling the project to offer 76 more affordable housing units.
“Right there in front of us, right there in our reach, they are guaranteeing 76 more affordable housing units tomorrow than there are today,” said Councilman Mello.
“We have other large scale projects in front of this dais that would offer affordable housing,” countered Occhipinti. “No one is disagreeing that the YMCA should complete the project, but can we hand over $500,000 to the YMCA when it should have been paid through completion?”
Occhipinti was concerned that the YMCA was asking for funds in the eleventh hour to cover furniture or appliances that were not budgeted.
“Where were the overruns? There is still a gap in funding here,” said Russo.
It was explained to the council that the tax credit value decreased from 88 cents on the dollar at the start of the project to 68 cents on a dollar when it closed. The YMCA also received hardship tax credits after that.
Councilwoman Giattino asked if the payments would be submitted as individual invoices as opposed to handing over a lump sum of half a million dollars. Somerville said they would be invoiced.
Thus, the council people voted unanimously for a resolution to give affordable housing grant money to the YMCA.
Tour de Hoboken
Tisha Creative, a Hoboken-based web design company, was chosen to design a tourism website for Hoboken.
Marks explained that there were a total of 16 proposals for the project, with companies as far away as Virginia, including the “Virginia is for lovers” slogan creator.
“Tisha had the most enthusiasm for creating the site,” said Marks.
The contract is limited to $37,500. The resolution passed unanimously.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at email@example.com.