The City Council will conduct a public hearing on Feb. 1 for an ordinance to allow the city to use eminent domain to acquire an acre of land owned by Academy Bus to expand the Southwest Park under development at Jackson Street and Paterson Avenue.
The ordinance was introduced at last week’s council meeting, and roughly 35 residents supported or condemned the ordinance when the meeting was opened to the public.
During the four hour meeting the council also approved funds for the 9/11 memorial construction, discussed the Washington Street Redesign Project, and appointed Edward Friedrich Jr. to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.
Of the appointment, another candidate who wanted the position, former school board trustee Leon Gold said, “I’d like to congratulate Mr. Friedrich on his appointment. On a personal level I do feel a bit disappointed.”
Bus company targeted for Southwest Park expansion
The city has already begun building the 4th Ward park on a 1-acre parcel of land it obtained for $4.5 million through eminent domain. The other borders of the parcel are Observer Highway and Harrison Streets, and the city wants to expand the park by adding a currently empty acre to the west owned by Academy Bus, which is resisting the takeover.
Eminent domain allows the government to condemn property and buy it for a fair market price for a common public good.
Academy bus Chief Operating Officer Thomas Scullin said the company has been in Hoboken for 40 years, employs residents, and “is a major driver of the local economy and significant payer of local taxes.”
“We are disappointed that the municipality has quickly decided to potentially take eminent domain action against Academy,” he said. “It is our hope that this action is not part of any election year posturing.”
He added that Academy feels they have been left out of negotiations and the company has worked with its neighbors to create a proposal which “if accepted would not only expedite development in the Southwest section of Hoboken, but would assure that a new community park is built quickly and at absolutely no cost to the local taxpayer.”
According to Bill Maer, spokesperson for Academy, the company has proposed donating the park for free in exchange for higher density on the remainder of its property.
Scullin said that the use of eminent domain would result in a lengthy legal battle that “will cost millions and stretch this project out by many years.”
Architect John Nastasi, said he supports the mayors efforts in creating a park in southwest Hoboken and that he has worked with Academy Bus on designing their proposal and believes the city and the property owners should work together in a cooperative process without the use of eminent domain because “we all want the same outcome.”
Hoboken resident and mother Madeline Bud said she believes the city and the community would benefit from a southwest park.
She said she and her 3-year-old son often have to walk to Church Square Park or take the light rail to Jersey City to use the Newport Green.
“We are the only neighborhood without a decent sized park,” said Bud. She said she believes the city needs to use eminent domain as a tool to get a fair price because if they don’t she believes the park won’t be built any time soon.
“Time is of the essence to us, and I urge you to think about this vote as a crucial vote. It may be just a park to some of you but for us it will change our lives.”
Twelve year resident Edmond Lo said he believes the city needs to have all the tools to negotiate for the park.
He said that while development and improvements have been occurring all over the city, “I haven’t seen much improvement in the 4th ward, in the southwest quadrant.”
“Do you want to walk into negotiations and be a bully?” – Deno Bogdanos
He said he knows some may argue that Hoboken is not that large, so “why not walk a little further,” but he believes “building a park in the southwest contributes to the quality of life of the people that live here.”
Six year resident Jenny Labendz said, “Eminent domain is there to allow for purposes of the public good. It seems very obvious that this is what’s good for Hoboken.” She believes the park, which has water retention features built into its design, will help alleviate chronic flooding in the area.
Fourty year resident Deno Bogdanos said, “Do you want to walk into negotiations and be a bully?” disagreeing with the council’s possible use of eminent domain.
Bogdanos asked the council to follow the model of negotiations used in creating open space on the west side of town with developer Larry Bijou.
Instead he said he thinks the council believes, “ ‘These people are bad, evil and we need a big stick to negotiate with them’.”
He asked the council to table the ordinance for six months and try to negotiate. “You did it once, I believe you can do it again.”
Zimmer issues assurances on cost
The council introduced the ordinance on first reading with an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Michael DeFusco’s vote as present.
In a press release from the city Mayor Dawn Zimmer thanked the residents for supporting the use of “the tools needed to negotiate a fair price for the long-promised expansion of the Southwest Park.”
Of DeFusco’s vote Zimmer said, “I hope Councilman DeFusco, who voted ‘present’ will after reviewing the materials provided to him, join his colleges in providing unanimous council support on the second reading.”
Zimmer said residents received robocalls before the council meeting which discussed the park and its increase on taxes.
Of the phone calls one anonymous resident said “I just got a call. It was an old woman reading from a script. She said that Academy has been in the city for generations and was shocked by the council’s eminent domain proposal.”
She said the woman on the phone asked for support before the council meeting.
“She said, ‘This harsh turn of events is shocking in its suddenness…we’re looking to gain support from residents of Hoboken…will you support academy bus and stand up to the thuggish actions of city hall?’”
Zimmer said land acquisition of the park would not increase taxes as funds would come from the Open Space Trust Fund which currently has a balance of $7.2 million as well as open space grants.
In a letter to the city council Zimmer said, “Just as we did with block 12, we are hopeful that a significant portion of the Block 10 acquisition can be funded through grants,” which she said the city has already applied for.
“I am focused on taking a financially responsible approach with respect to all of these project, ensuring that between various grant opportunities with the county, state, and federal government and the City’s Open Space Trust Fund, we are able to fund both the BASF build out and the two-acre Southwest Park build out,” Zimmer said in her letter.
9/11 memorial contract approved
The council approved a construction contract with Jaroff Design for the city’s 9/11 memorial for $1,288,350.00. According to Director Leo Pellegrini the construction should be completed by next year’s anniversary of the tragedy.
Of the project Councilman Michael Russo said, “I’ve spoken about this for a number of years. It’s been in my opinion appalling that it has taken Hoboken this long. I pray this helps to move us forward faster. ….I can’t say it enough, it is imperative we get this completed.”
According to Pellegrini the memorial honoring the residents who died in the World Trade Center attacks has had several structural setbacks, including fabricating the memorials glass panels to ensure they won’t break.
Councilman Ravi Bhalla said he believes, “The best way to honor the ones we lost is through action like the one we are taking tonight to approve this contract.”
Washington Street Redesign update
The council also heard a presentation on the Washington Street Redesign Project that gave construction updates and a general plan over view.
The project will include new traffic signals, curb extensions, bike lanes, green infrastructure, lighting, watermain replacements, roadway resurfacing and more.
According to the presentation, test pits, will begin to be dug in the next few weeks.
Construction will take place Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The project isn’t scheduled to be completed in its entirety until June 4, 2018 with the first half of the project, from Observer Highway to 8th Street by Dec. 1, 2017.
Work is scheduled to begin at Observer Highway and progress north until completion with a maximum of three two-block long work zones at a time with a minimum of two blocks between each work zone.
During this time streets will remain open in two directions, according to the presentation.
During the project the public will be informed of construction progress through various forms of communication, including social media accounts, and the project website www.washingtonstreetproject.com where residents can sign up for bi weekly newsletters.
The engineer will also be available by appointment at 715 Washington St.
City posters will also be put up around work zones, and signs have been installed on Observer Highway and Willow Avenue. Residents and businesses in the area will also be sent project notice letters informing them of construction.
According to the presentation, Suez Water will be on site during water main construction.
Garbage service pick up may be affected in work zones, in which case residents affected in the work zone area will be notified and informed of changes.
The project did warn that parking will be affected as “No parking on either side of roadway in work zones,” will be allowed as the contractor is permitted to store material and equipment in work zones overnight.
According to the presentation, access to bus stops and transit will be maintained and pedestrians will have safely maintained routes on corner construction areas.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.