At Wednesday night’s whopping six-hour council meeting, The council approved a resolution for a land swap and new combined substation for PSE&G, a “traffic calming” plan in the town’s southwest area, and the Hoboken Post Office Redevelopment Plan.
Nearly 57 members of the public attended the meeting.
Up, up, and away
The Hoboken City Council approved a redevelopment plan for the Hoboken Post Office property on lower River Street on Wednesday after roughly 18 residents commented.
The plan specifies how a developer would construct a hotel on the parking lot behind the U.S. Post Office at 89 River St., while preserving the post office as a landmark, and allowing it to keep operating.
It requires the redesign and reconstruction of Newark Street with wide sidewalks and streetscape features to improve access to the waterfront, and would allow more activity on the block of Sinatra Drive between Newark Street and First Street.
The implementation of the plan would terminate the existing easement with the post office that provides angled parking for post office vehicles along Newark Street where there currently is no sidewalk. All post office and hotel loading activities would be moved to First Street and take place inside of a building, and the hotel would be required to have lease agreements with private parking garages.
According to the redevelopment plan, the hotel could have no more than 170,000 square feet, 24 stories, and total architectural height of about 290 feet.
For comparison the total height of the existing W Hotel is 333 feet including the “W” sign.
The plan also states a shade study must be performed as “the building should be designed to minimize shadow impact on Pier A Park.”
It is estimated that the plan would create more than 100 permanent jobs and generate approximately $1.7 million annually in real estate taxes in addition to hotel taxes on a site currently exempt from taxes.
KMS Development Partners, the hotels developers, have proposed that the hotel be run by Hilton.
Most residents wanted to see the hotel built, but some brought up concerns about its impacts to traffic and the skyline.
“Every time you raise the height, you are setting a precedence for the next City Council,” said resident Melissa Abernathy.
“I don’t believe you as the city’s redevelopment agency should weigh the recommendations of a hotel consultant over the concerns of the residents of Hoboken,” she added. “I propose the city consider the Hoboken clock towers as the maximum height limit.”
Resident Mary Ondrejka said she was neither for nor against the hotel but believed the area needed an updated traffic study. “When they did their traffic studies, Observer Highway was not narrowed, and First Street and Newark Street weren’t narrowed. Their current traffic study is outdated. A new traffic study has to be done.”
“We need the meeting space, we need the rooms,” said resident Jason Altberger “It’s a clear winner for the town… the positives clearly outweigh the negatives.”
Resident Haney Ahmed said he remembered what Hoboken’s waterfront looked like before Port Authority built the Wiley building and 333 River.
“Do you remember what the waterfront looked like? Do you remember the rocks and the jetties and the beer bottles and floating debris? Our waterfront wasn’t always accessible.”
Councilmen Ravi Bhalla and Jim Doyle both said they took issue with the building’s height.
“I remain unconvinced that a smaller boutique hotel wouldn’t be economically successful in that area,” said Bhalla, before he voted against the plan.
“I remain unconvinced that a smaller boutique hotel wouldn’t be economically successful in that area.”—Councilman Ravi Bhalla
“I don’t disagree with any of the benefits,” said Bhalla. “I’m just not convinced that … it has to be so high.”
“People are saying well the ‘W is right there’ but the W isn’t there, 13 stories are right there,” said Doyle. Doyle also said that he does not view the hotels amenities, such as event space or restaurants, as community givebacks as some others have done.
“Hearing about the amenities as a public giveback… it’s for a fee,” said Doyle. “It’s a business… even allowing public to use the gymnasium is a per fee charge.”
Next the city and KMS Development Partners will need to enter into a redevelopment agreement before the site can move forward.
New more flood resilient substation coming to Madison
Isabel Goncalves-Rooney of PSE&G gave a presentation to the council and the public on the proposed new substation in Hoboken. The project would combine the Marshall Street substation with the Madison Street substation in an effort to “elevate and modernize” the 50-year-old facilities, which were both flooded during Superstorm Sandy.
"This project will ensure that all Hoboken residents, including our most in need residents in the Housing Authority, have reliable electricity for lights and heat through future severe storm events and other emergencies,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer in a statement before the meeting.
This combined new substation would be possible through the approved land swap agreement and sale of the city’s parcel of land on Madison Street next to the existing substation. The city would then obtain the Marshall Street substation in return as well as $1.245 million for the sale and $275,250 in rent per year as the city won’t be able to use the Marshall Street parcel until the construction and reconfiguration of the new substation at Madison Street is completed.
According to Goncalves-Roony who is director of the project, PSE&G has already invested in Hoboken through upgrades including $130 million to upgrade and elevate the 16th Street substation as well as replacing about 60 percent of the gas mains in the city.
Some members of the council and the public wanted to ensure the city was getting the best deal.
“I would implore the council before you vote on this tonight to get a commitment from PSE&G to get additional givebacks to the city,” said resident Julia MacDermott. “This council and our Planning Board and our administration has no problem with exacting givebacks from developers and this is no different.”
Resident Mary Ondrejka said, “I’m just here to say that it is a fantastic idea. It’s in a perfect place and you can’t please everybody…. I had to live without electricity for five days during sandy and every single day at 4 o clock I would take up 58 buckets of water from my basement so the boiler wouldn’t flood that was hard work and it was tiring and... I dealt with it but that’s not fun…”
New circulation of southwest traffic
The council also approved an ordinance that they hope will improve pedestrian safety and traffic congestion in southwest Hoboken.
The plan adds traffic lights to three intersections: at Observer Highway and Harrison Street, Observer Highway and Jackson Street, and Observer Highway and Madison Street.
The plan also includes a right turn lane from Newark onto Madison Street, a left turn lane onto Observer Highway, and a through lane onto Madison.
Jackson Street would have two travel lanes instead of the existing single lane. Harrison Street will have a right turn lane onto Newark Street.
The plan also proposes four total travel lanes on Jersey Avenue instead of two.
Paterson Avenue will also become one-way from Monroe Street to Harrison Street with two travel lanes moving westbound. Currently there is one lane in each direction. This is subject to county approval as it is a county road.
The reconfiguration of streets will increase parking in the area by two spaces.
All night long, all night
The meeting was extended twice until almost 1 a.m., causing some members of the council to leave before it officially ended, including Councilmen Ruben Ramos, Ravi Bhalla, and Michael Russo.
Councilman Russo said he had been up since 4:30 a.m. and just wanted to get through payroll and bills and claims before time ran out.
“We’ve been sitting here all night. My day started at 4:30 a.m… we have rules for a reason,” said Russo.
Years ago, the council would hold a public caucus on the Monday before each Wednesday meeting to discuss some business and explain upcoming ordinances without voting, but the council voted in the 1990s to do away with the caucuses.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.