After two meeting postponements, NJ Transit has officially scheduled a meeting for Monday in which they intend to vote about whether to buy property on Hoboken’s north waterfront for ferry repair. However, the city wants to acquire it and use it for a park.
Regarding the second change of date to Martin Luther King Day, Mayor Ravi Bhalla tweeted Thursday night, “DISGRACEFUL. Just learned NJT rescheduled the mtg for Mon, MLK Day- a fed holiday when we should be honoring Dr King’s legacy, not rushing an 11th hr secret deal. Sparked by a bus boycott in Montgomery but I don’t think the dream was supposed to end with a ferry depot in Hoboken!”
The saga began in November when NY Waterway, the private ferry company, purchased the property from its longtime owner, the Union Dry Dock & Repair Co., for $11.5 million. NY Waterway wants to use it for repair and maintenance of its ferry fleet. NJ Transit informed the city that they plan to purchase the land from NY Waterway and lease it back to them, as the company plays an integral part in transporting people between New Jersey and Manhattan.
This acquisition would likely be approved by the nine-member NJ Transit board just a few days before Gov. Christ Christie leaves office and will be replaced by Governor Elect Phil Murphy. Once Murphy takes office, his appointments to the NJ Transit board would affect future votes.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he has been in close contact with the governor-elect’s office and is “optimistic about Hoboken’s opportunity to acquire the property for open public space” under the new governor.
Over the past few months, Hoboken residents and officials have come out against NJ Transit’s plan, stating that they would like to see the property developed into park space to complete the town’s waterfront walkway and park. The City Council voted in November to acquire it by eminent domain if necessary.
However, if New Jersey Transit purchases the property, the city will not be able to use its power of eminent domain, because the state agency’s power of eminent domain supersedes it.
The Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. site has been a working shipyard for about 130 years. The company has entertained offers for the land for some time.
NY Waterway purchased the property on Nov. 3. The land is currently zoned industrial.
Various officials including Councilwomen Jen Giattino and Tiffanie Fisher, former Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and current Mayor Ravi Bhalla have written letters to NJ Transit asking them not to acquire the property. Bhalla also held a press conference on Monday in Trenton after a state Senate hearing regarding the agency.
By Thursday, an online petition by Hoboken Residents for a Public Waterfront had gathered 1,916 signatures demanding NY Waterway and NJ Transit abandon plans for a homeport at the Union Dry Dock site.
Why purchase the property?
According to the agenda for the NJ Transit board of directors meeting, “acquisition of this property will protect, preserve and ensure the continued use of this vital location in the New York Harbor for the marine maintenance and storage required for operation of a regular commuter passenger ferry service on the Hudson River.”
The purchase price for the property’s acquisition is unknown and was discussed in an earlier executive session, which is not disclosed to the public.
Mayor vows to fight for parkland
Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he will fight for the property to be developed into parkland.
“We are prepared to move forward and advocate for Hoboken,” said Bhalla. “Any further attempts to subvert this process will be met with fierce resistance from me, and I pledge to use every resource at my disposal to protect Hoboken’s interests.”
Zimmer and now Bhalla have tried to save any remaining open space, as this densely populated city of roughly 55,000 residents continues to get built up.
Bhalla said that NJ Transit is moving too quickly without input.
“It’s remarkable,” said Bhalla. “We can’t get a street light fixed on Paterson Plank Road [a county road in which NJ Transit has a light for the lightrail] for years, yet they are teed up to execute a complex real-estate transaction in a matter of weeks. Something smells fishy, and it’s not the Hudson River.”
He added, “I am 1,000 percent committed to ensuring this land is a public park in which residents of Hoboken as well as New Jersey and all over the country can come and enjoy.”
NY Waterway’s founder and owner Arthur Imperatore said in a statement, “The UDD location had long been viewed by us and various leaders of NJT as the only logical, ideally positioned geographic location that is available to us. There are no other alternatives possible between Nyack, N.Y., and Bayonne, N.J..”
Bhalla said that NY Waterway hasn’t looked for any other location option, including Bayonne.
“This goes to show a remarkable lack of diligence on the part of NY Waterway and a failure to approach this issue in a thoughtful manner,” said Bhalla.
Bhalla said he had spoken with the chairman of the Port Authority, which owns land in Bayonne’s MOTBY, a former military terminal currently undergoing development, as well as Bayonne officials. He believes they would welcome the ferry company.
He said an appraiser went to appraise the property last week and he was waiting for the results. He said he would like to enter into bona fide negotiations to purchase the property at market value.
Bhalla said that if the agency votes on Monday to buy the property, “This will be the conclusion of a skirmish but not the conclusion of the war to preserve our waterfront. There are several more hurdles NY Waterway must overcome.”
Those hurdles include the approval of a permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and an individual permit from the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers.
He said that he has been working with senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker to ensure that this permitting process would include at least one public hearing in Hoboken to allow residents to be heard.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.