The City Council voted Wednesday to amend a longstanding ordinance prohibiting liquor license holders from opening within 500 feet of each other. The new amendment allows plenary retail consumption license holders to open closer together in certain parts of the city.
Also at the council meeting, the council approved contracts to place free WiFi kiosks in town, and petitioners asked the city to try to buy the Union Dry Dock property on the northern waterfront (see sidebar).
For around 50 years, the city has had a rule that liquor license holders cannot open within 500 feet of each other, although previously existing businesses were grandfathered in. Hoboken currently has more than 130 liquor licenses in a square mile.
Areas that will be exempt include the Southern Redevelopment Area, the Central Business District, the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Area, the Western Edge Redevelopment Area, the Southwest Redevelopment Area, the 3rd Ward (central west part of town), the area of the 1st Ward not included in the Central Business District or Southern Redevelopment Area, plus any area designated as a theater exception. A “theater exception” allows alcohol sales during intermission at certain theater performances hosted by non-profit groups.
In each of the above areas of exception, the amount of allowed licenses would be limited to a specific number, the greatest of which would be in the Central Business District, with 25 plenary retail consumption licenses. The least would occur in the Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Area, with three plenary retail consumption licenses.
The number of licenses in each exception area is related to what currently exists, according to Councilman Jim Doyle.
“There will be no net increase in bars in Hoboken,” said Doyle. He said the amendment simply allows those with licenses to move about more freely in these areas of exception.
The ordinance states, “Based upon changes in the conditions within the city since the prohibition’s initial adoption [in the 1960s] including growth and redevelopment of the city, the city believes that certain modifications to the outright prohibition are in the best interest of the city.”
The ordinance also gives owners of plenary retail consumption licenses the ability to petition the City Council for an exception to the 500-foot rule. The petitioner will have to cite extraordinary circumstances and get six out of nine votes for the exception.
Several members of the public spoke about the change.
Resident Michael Gallucci, owner of The Grand Vin and Green Rock Tap & Grill, said he believes the 500-foot rule has had some “unintended consequences.”
He said that because of the rule, bars and restaurants who rent their space from landlords have very little leverage when negotiating rents because landlords know the bars are unable to move.
He also said that he believes the amendment would “improve the quality of life,” and “keep businesses humming instead of slaves to their landlords.”
Resident Daniel Tumpson said he was concerned there would be a “higher density” of bars in residential neighborhoods that would lower the quality of life.
Resident Mary Ondrejka said she was against the ordinance change and cited a possible decline in quality of life.
“I am against getting rid of the 500-foot rule,” she said. “I think when the council makes changes as serious as this, the council, and the Zoning Board, and the Planning Board can’t see and may not have the foresight to see what might happen.”
Doyle said, “We are trying to create a more dynamic commercial atmosphere… We thought it would be nice to have a couple of restaurants in these [redevelopment] areas to make it a destination because in the current rule that would not be able to happen.”
The council approved the ordinance 6-1, with Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher in dissent and Councilmen Michael DeFusco and Michael Russo absent.
“This is a really exciting proposal.” – Stephen Marks
HUD funding distributed
The City Council approved of funding for several non-profit and charitable organizations in town by disseminating Community Development Block Grants funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The council approved of $25,000 to the Jubilee Center for three lead program staffers for after school and summer camp instruction for children aged 6 through 13 years old; $40,0000 to the Hoboken Shelter for rent and utilities; and $20,000 to the Hudson County Homeless Street Outreach Team Project from the Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation to provide shelter food and services to homeless individuals.
The council also approved of $20,500 to Hoboken Day Care 100 for a portion of salaries for an eligibility specialist/administrator and an assistant teacher; $787,241 to the Hoboken Housing Authority to upgrade security infrastructure; $19,783 to Hoboken Family Planning for an administrative assistant and personal expenses and operational costs for the STD Awareness Program; and $10,000 to The Waterfront Project which will be used to facilitate the Housing Counseling and Legal Advocacy program which will cover operational and personal expenses associated with providing free legal services to Hoboken’s low and moderate income residents.
True Mentors also received $14,684.60 in funding for the TRUE Mentors Mentoring and Club expansion Project. The funding will help cover a portion of the program directors salary “who focuses on the growth safety and improvement of the youth program.”
Wi-Fi kiosks all over
The city will move forward with two contracts, one with Verizon and one with Intersection, both subject to final negotiations, for the city’s Smart City Initiative which will provide free public Wi-Fi in areas throughout town.
According to the resolutions, Intersection will provide free public Wi-Fi via kiosks, free phone calls, USB charging, and more for a seven-year term.
Verizon will provide outdoor municipal Wi-Fi to five municipal buildings; City Hall, the multi service center, the Hoboken Public Library, and Police and Fire Departments headquarters. They will also provide mobile Wi-Fi to the city’s five Hop buses. Verizon will also provide at least 23 to 35 outdoor digital kiosks throughout the city which will provide Wi-Fi.
According to Business Administrator Stephen Marks the initiatives will be at no cost to the city. “This is a really exciting proposal,” said Marks. “Intersection is proposing 30 kiosks for seven years at no cost to the city and will provide 1 gigabyte of high speed Wi-Fi per second. Verizon proposes about 25 to 35 kiosks for a 10 year term at no cost to the city which will also provide high speed Wi-Fi on HOP buses and five municipal buildings.”
Residents urge city to buy Dry Dock
Ron Hine of the Fund for a Better Waterfront presented a 47-page petition containing 2,174 signatures to the Hoboken City Council last Wednesday to ask the city to put the Union Dry Dock property on the city’s open space plan and make acquiring the land a priority.
The Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. is a barge repair company at 901 Sinatra Drive between Maxwell Place Park and Castle Point Park. It’s still operating, but Hine believes the city should make an offer to buy it.
Last month the business owners said the property was not for sale but that they have entertained bids in the past. Those offers had exceeded $15 million.
Several residents including Hine spoke during the public portion of the meeting.
“We have felt the political will to do this is nonexistent, and that is why we put up this petition,” said Hine.
“This is an opportunity for the city to make a commitment to make this happen; to finish our last missing pieces to the waterfront park at Union Dry Dock,” said Hine. “We can complete the waterfront park at this location. I ask all of you to join with us to make sure this becomes a reality.”
Resident Randy Brummette said, “Hoboken’s waterfront is world class. It blows everyone away. It’s breathtaking. Fabulous. It’s one of the biggest assets we have.”
“When I saw this petition it instantly stirred my passion. I sent it to 50 friends and got a 100 percent response rate,” said Brummette. “There are a million questions that still need to be answered. How will it be paid for, what will it look like, how much will it cost, but putting it in the Master Plan validates the idea.”
“What doesn’t make sense is the city not grabbing the Union Dry Dock land,” said resident Ellen Effron. “There are more families and more children who enjoy living in Hoboken and enjoy our parkland. Hoboken needs to create another continuous stretch of parkland.”
Lifelong resident Nick Borg said he remembers the waterfront’s industrial past and the freight trains that lined the road along the piers. “I remember back when it was at its worst and it’s been an amazing transition,” said Borg.
Councilwoman Jen Giattino asked Councilman Peter Cunningham to put the Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. on the north end community development meeting agenda to discuss it in that subcommittee.
Cunningham said, “I should hope without getting to far ahead that there is some money left in the open space trust account that could help support some aspect of that parcel we are discussing.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.