Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who made national headlines last month when she accused members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration of threatening to withhold Sandy aid from the city unless she shepherded a development project on private land owned by the Rockefeller Group, is now questioning the forthrightness of the state’s largest public transit entity about a not-very-public agreement it made with Rockefeller to build a new light rail station across from the company’s land.
Last June 21, NJ Transit and Rockefeller, a private development company that owns three blocks of underutilized property near 15th Street in upper Hoboken, inked a deal to cooperate in trying to get city approvals to build a light rail station from 16th to 17th streets, between Clinton and Grand streets. Among other things, Rockefeller would work to get city approval to extend the existing streets in that area to the train tracks.
On Wednesday, Zimmer told the Reporter that NJ Transit, which oversees the Hudson Bergen Light Rail system, had not provided her with the site plan related to the agreement. The city requested the agreement using the state's Open Public Records Act after she found out about it through a New York Times article three weeks ago.
NJ Transit provided the agreement, she said, but not the attached site plan. The agreement refers to a site plan as “Exhibit A.”
The light rail matter broke in the Times after Zimmer accused Gov. Chris Christie’s top officials of having pressured her last spring to help move along a proposal by Rockefeller to develop a large commercial tower on their property. Rockefeller’s private lobbyist was a close Christie friend and director at the Port Authority.
Zimmer accused one official of telling her that the city would only get more Hurricane Sandy funding if she helped with the development approvals, in essence suggesting a quid pro quo between a private project and public funds. Zimmer has since been interviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s office about the matter.
Apparently, Christie officials were not the only ones who allegedly wanted to help Rockefeller find success with their lucrative development. NJ Transit was in discussions with Rockefeller about the idea of a train station cattycorner to their proposed building. (The station, however, might also be the next logical transit stop in succession, as the light rail already stops at Second and Ninth streets.)
“They’re still not giving up all of the documents related to this agreement,” Zimmer said. “All we’ve got is the memorandum of understanding; not the site plan.”
Zimmer said that a NJ Transit official told her that the site plan could not be located. She also said that her next move will be to ask the Rockefeller Group, a private entity not under the jurisdiction of OPRA law, for the same documents. Zimmer said recently that despite her allegations against the Christie administration, she hopes to include the Group in any plans to redevelop the northwest section of town.
“I can’t OPRA the documents from them, but I’m hoping they’ll be forthcoming,” she said.
Bill Smith, a spokesman for NJ Transit, declined to comment about the mayor’s OPRA request.
NJ Transit has, for several years, been in discussions with the city about another project – a proposed mixed-use development on the opposite end of town, on NJ Transit property along the city’s southern border. The agency once wanted to build a 70-story tower there, but has been pushed by a development-wary City Hall to find ways to scale down its plans.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org