Councilmen exchange jabs over water agreement
Also postpone vote on controversial sidewalks for historic Court Street
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Aug 06, 2017 | 1941 views | 0 0 comments | 163 163 recommendations | email to a friend | print
IF IT AIN’T BROKE -- The Hoboken City Council postponed two resolutions last week for contracts for the design and restoration of Court Street, a former access road for stables. Some said the work – including adding sidewalks -- would have harmed the historic features. Photo by Caren Lissner.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE -- The Hoboken City Council postponed two resolutions last week for contracts for the design and restoration of Court Street, a former access road for stables. Some said the work – including adding sidewalks -- would have harmed the historic features. Photo by Caren Lissner.
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The Hoboken City Council meeting began with a bang Wednesday Aug. 2, as five minutes into the five-hour meeting, members of the council inquired as to whether Councilman Ravi Bhalla – who is among several councilpeople running for mayor -- should have to excuse himself from discussions on the new proposed Suez water agreement. The agreement will raise residents’ water rates and allow the company to provide more money for needed repairs and maintenance in a city that has dealt with many water main breaks.

At the start of the meeting, Councilman Ruben Ramos asked if anyone needed to recuse him or herself before the city heard a presentation on the proposed agreement. He said Bhalla’s firm cites Suez as a client.

Bhalla responded by stating, “A partner of mine negotiated the original agreement, I believe, when I was in high school at the time.”

Council attorney Brian Aloia said the councilman could stay during the presentation portion, but that the city would need to research the circumstances before a discussion or vote.

At this point, Councilman and mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco said he had a printout of the firm’s website that includes Suez as a client.

“The perception of impropriety, even in of itself, is an issue for me,” said DeFusco.

Bhalla responded, “I’m astounded. This is such garbage. Councilman, we are in the middle of August. Rather than you being a gentleman, which I mistakenly assumed you were, you could’ve picked up the phone and had a conversation and worked this out rather than in front of the public and cameras….the firm has thousands of clients. I would have to do a check to see if we still represent them or not.”

Although the presentation was eventually heard, Council President and (also) mayoral candidate Jen Giattino had already moved the resolution on the agreement to the Sept. 6 meeting. (See last week’s cover story in the Hoboken Reporter for more details on the agreement).

Additional agenda items were also pulled during the meeting, including two resolutions on Court Street improvements, which several members of the public spoke against. Court Street is a historic cobblestone street with former horse stables, now turned into garages and homes.

The council also approved a contract for the design of the city’s new Northwest Resiliency Park, as well as a resolution about the city adding the Union Dry Dock Property on the north waterfront to the Master Plan for potential parkland (see a previous Reporter cover story).

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“I’m sick to death of having bicycles shoved up everyone’s you-know-whats.” –Mary Ondrejka

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Historic restoration, or a place for bike lanes?

Several residents spoke out against two resolutions to award professional service contracts to Kimley-Horn for the design and infrastructure planning for the “Court Street community Preservation/Enhancement Plan” and to include sidewalks along the historic cobblestone ally.

Court Street stretches between Hudson and Washington Street from Seventh Street to Newark Street.

The contracts would have amounted to $96,750.

Resident Cheryl Fallick said, “I would love to see cobblestones on Court Street restored and repaired, but I ask you to vote no with all of my heart… Such an inauthentic restoration would erase its sense of identity.”

Resident Dan Tumpson said, “I admit there have been problems with Court Street. Some of the cobblestones are broken and there are asphalt patches but it should be restored… Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the direction that it’s headed in. Don’t spend $68,000 for fake public process and then another $28,000 to redesign it when I don’t think anybody in this town wants to redesign it.”

“I’m appalled we want to change this street… I find that repulsive. I’m sick to death of having bicycles shoved up everyone’s you-know-whats,” said resident Mary Ondrejka. “I’m sick and tired of people making changes for changes’ sake. Let’s have some respect for this town. Let’s not erase everything.”

Councilman Michael DeFusco said he originally proposed the city use county grant funding to restore Court Street’s historic cobblestones and that he did not intend for this type of contract or proposal.

Councilwoman Giattino motioned to pull the resolutions as she “received several texts from residents on the Historical Preservation Commission who did not know this would be on the agenda.”

Northwest Resiliency Park contract approved

After much debate and alterations, the City Council approved a contingent resolution, subject to legal review, to award a professional service contract to E&LP for the design of the Northwest Resiliency Park.

The debate between members of the council stemmed from the inclusion of the design of the municipal parking garage that was a component of the RFP and proposed bid. The garage was to be designed on the northern most portion of land.

Councilman-At-large David Mello suggested bifurcating the resolution as members of the public had voiced that the garage may not be well suited for the area allocated, as it would be right next to the park.

Resident Jim Vance spoke out against the garage.

“I think it’s important that we move forward with regard to that design. However, I’ve spoken before on this matter with putting a parking garage across the street from this park…It is terrible urban planning. “ He suggested using the space for affordable housing or senior living to “put some people on this park.”

The council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

More parkland

The City Council also unanimously approved a resolution to recommend to the Hoboken Planning Board that the Union Dry Dock property at 901 Sinatra Drive be added to the list of planned and possible new parks in the 2017 Master Plan Reexamination. A nonprofit activist group, the Fund for a Better Waterfront, had posted a petition favoring this.

Currently the land is owned by Union Dry Dock, a private company who’s been there for years doing barge repairs.

Several residents spoke in favor of the resolution, citing it as the last piece of the puzzle for a continuous waterfront open space.

Gary Hines, a resident and board member of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, said, “This is the last piece missing. This is a beautiful thing our community has done to tie our waterfront together.”

The private company would have to sell the land to the city, however, likely for many millions of dollars.

Resident Jeanne Shanahan said “our building has been very vocal and supportive of the Dry Dock purchase or just the agreement to actually consider it at this point. I know for me, the Hoboken waterfront is the most beautiful thing and what drew me to move here.”

Resident Ann Marshall said she remembered when the waterfront was “crumbling” and now it’s “a huge asset to our town that everyone can enjoy, young or old, rich or poor.”

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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