To the dismay of a room full of residents, the West New York Zoning Board voted 5-2 to approve an application to build the controversial Meridia Le Boulevard high rise complex on the corner of 67th Street and Boulevard East at a meeting last Thursday, Jan. 24. Although the project still must be approved by the town’s Board of Commissioners, the decision was the climax of a struggle between residents and Capodagli Properties, the developer, that lasted nearly a year.
Residents have argued consistently that the construction of the 13-story, 123-unit Miami Beach-style high rise would increase congestion and parking issues in the area, and work against the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
“It’s a really unbelievable decision,” said resident Doug Borden, who lives across the street from the proposed development, in the Versailles apartment building. “It’s completely counterintuitive to rational thought.”
Joshua Breakstone, who has been at the forefront of rallying West New York residents against the project, expressed disbelief at the board’s decision.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” he said. “It’s almost as if they were instructed how to vote.”
“To me, it seems that this application is simply trying to cram an elephant into a hamster cage.” – West New York Zoning Board Chairman Kenneth Blane
Blane said later that he was concerned about the sheer number of variances from the town’s zoning laws that the application required. Before the vote, he said that to approve the project would be to “usurp the authority of the town’s founding fathers.”
“To me, it seems that this application is trying to cram an elephant into a hamster cage,” he said in a written statement.
Still, the board, with the exception of Blane and David Rivera, voted to approve the high rise. Of the seven board members, Blane was the only one who elected to state his reasoning.
“I assume that all board members had their good reasons for voting the way they did,” Blane said in a later interview. “However, they did not state them on the record.”
For the project
Alvaro Alonso, the attorney for Capodagli, said he thought the decision was merited.
“I think the board made the correct decision,” he said. “They are required to consider all of the evidence, and I believe that evidence supported granting the variances.”
The application required 13 such variances, which range from exceeding the minimum allowed lot surface area (zoning laws require an elevator building to have 40,000 square feet, the Exxon lot is only 13,194 square feet) to the percentage of said lot which is allowed to be occupied by the building (the law requires that only 75 percent can be occupied, while Meridia would occupy 95 percent of the space).
Additionally, the town, which is the third most densely-populated in the country, requires that only 80 units can be built per acre, while the Meridia would have 406 units per acre.
Breakstone said that an activist group, the Concerned Citizens of West New York, may appeal the decision. But they will first make a plea to the town’s Board of Commissioners at their next meeting.
Jeffrey Kantowitz, the lawyer who has represented residents of the Versailles building, said that he was disappointed in the board’s decision, and Versailles residents stand a good chance at overturning it.
“There can’t be an appeal until we see the board’s resolution at the next meeting,” he said. “But if there is an appeal, it will be about critiquing the argument made in that resolution. And as of now, there was no board member who voted to approve that explained their affirmation.”
Conflict of interest?
Before the vote took place, Blane addressed the other board members and the public regarding a possible conflict of interest that was discovered by the board’s attorney, Jennifer Carillo Perez, since the high rise was last discussed publicly. Although neither he nor Perez went into detail, the attorney said she had uncovered a relationship between Capodagli and the West New York Parking Authority.
Blane then requested that any zoning board members who had a connection to the Parking Authority make that connection known, in the interest of protecting the board’s integrity.
Alternate zoning board member Richard Rivera stated that he had taken over as executive director of the Parking Authority in the weeks prior to the vote. Rivera is a former West New York police officer whose candidacy for the position of special aide to Mayor Felix Roque was rejected by the Board of Commissioners at a November meeting.
However, Rivera’s position on the board is only as an alternate member who votes if any of the seven board members be unable to vote, so the relationship was deemed irrelevant.
Voting board member Armando Alvarez then stated that he currently serves as a commissioner on the Parking Authority, an unpaid position. After consulting with Perez, Blane stated that the zoning board’s governing ordinance states that it is up to the board member to decide if there is a conflict of interest, and that the decision whether to vote lies solely with him or her.
Alvarez stated that he believed no conflict existed.
“I have been involved with this issue for some time, and I would like to cast my vote,” said Alvarez.
He voted in favor of Capodagli’s application.
Kantowitz would not say specifically whether he will address the potential conflict if an appeal takes place, but he did say he would “examine every aspect of the proceedings.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com