On Nov. 6 residents voted overwhelmingly to reinstate runoff elections.
The city could see runoffs as soon as November of 2019, when six council seats will be up for grabs. The two top finishers in a ward race would go to a runoff in early December, if neither draws more than 50 percent of the vote.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her allies led the charge to do away with runoffs, by public referendum, in 2012.
Residents indicted for vote-by-mail scheme
Hoboken, like many small U.S. cities, has a long history of alleged voter fraud but often those involved go unpunished.
This changed after the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced on Oct. 31 the indictment of longtime Hoboken political player Frank “Pupie” Raia — a former councilman, mayoral candidate, and current real estate developer — for his alleged involvement in a vote-buying scheme in Hoboken in 2013.
Raia, 67, who has been involved in Hoboken politics for decades, was charged with “conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery.” Hoboken resident and 2013 campaign worker Dio Braxton, 43, was also charged.
Raia’s indictment comes after the indictment of Hoboken resident and campaign worker Lizaida Camis in September. She was charged with a violation of the Travel Act for allegedly using the mail system to aid voter bribery.
Raia and Braxton both pleaded not guilty.
Rebuild by design
Several public meetings and workshops were held to discuss possible features of the Rebuild by Design project.
The project, funded with $230 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, calls for construction of flood-resistant structures and storm-water control systems to protect areas vulnerable to flooding along Weehawken Cove to the north, and in and around NJ Transit’s Hoboken rail yard to the south.
The structures include flood walls and soft landscaping such as berms and levees.
The public also discussed the southern section of the project, and a “middle ground” alternative was announced by N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy this fall.
This option would see a flood barrier constructed on southern portions of Washington Street, Observer Highway, and on NJ Transit rail yard property.
Hoboken residents will discuss the project throughout 2019.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020.
City continues to fight for Union Dry Dock
The city will continue to fight NY Waterway (NYWW) for the former Union Dry Dock (UDD) property, which the ferry company purchased in 2017 for a refueling and maintenance facility.
Members of the public who have spoken out against the project have cited quality-of-life and environmental concerns because the property abuts Maxwell Place Park and Hoboken Cove.
The city wants the waterfront site for public open space. It offered the company $11.6 million, but after NYW refused to sell, the city moved to obtain it via eminent domain in February.
This spurred NJ Transit to offer to purchase the property and lease it back to NYWW, causing the city to cancel eminent domain proceedings.
The city conducted an engineering study to find alternative locations, analyzing 24 sites south of the George Washington Bridge.
Of the top five, UDD placed fourth. The top sites were Hoboken South at the Lackawanna Terminal, followed by the Bayonne Peninsula in Bayonne, and Binghamton Ferry in Edgewater.
Despite the hundreds of residents who spoke out against NYWW at a public hearing held by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), in December the USACE granted permits to NYWW.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and State Senators Brian Stack and Nicholas Sacco support Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla in his fight for open space.
The city awaits a study of alternative sites currently being conducted by the state.
Hilton Hotel results in big givebacks
Construction will begin next year on the new Hilton Hotel, which was approved by the city council after months of negotiations between the administration and the developer, KMS Development Partners.
The 20-floor, 200,000-square-foot hotel, which will hold 8,000 gallons of storm water underground, will be built on the parking lot and loading area of the Frank Sinatra Post Office on First and River streets.
Developers will renovate the post office and provide $4.85 million in community givebacks. They include $1.165 million for infrastructure upgrades, $1 million to fund the endowment for the Hoboken Public Education Foundation (HPEF), $485,000 to Hoboken’s three charter schools, $200,000 into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and $2 million to help revitalize the Hoboken Community Center (former YMCA.)
Mayor Bhalla said this would set a precedent for other developers hoping to build in Hoboken.
Washington Street still under construction
Washington Street is still under construction and will likely not be complete until May, 2019, despite the original summer 2018 deadline.
The project, approved by an 8-1 council vote in 2016, will replace old water mains, add safety features like bump-outs, timed pedestrian crossing signals, ADA-compliant ramps, and new pavement.
The glacial pace is the result of ancient, below-ground, often undocumented infrastructure that causes workers to confront unforeseen problems, though test pits, field surveys, and reviews of records and drawings were performed prior to construction.
The original contract with Underground Utilities has ballooned from $17.5 million to $19.2 million. The project so far has cost a total of $21.9 million, which includes the $2.8 million for T&M Associates, which manages the project for the city.
Master Plan finalized
The 2018 Hoboken Master Plan Reexamination Report and 2018 Land Use Element Report were finalized after a year of surveys and public input.
The reports address how Hoboken’s socioeconomic profile, population, vision, and needs have changed since the 2010 Master Plan Reexamination.
The Master Plan provides guidance to elected officials on what changes residents want to see in the long- and short-term.
The Master Plan’s objectives include more facilities and events for the arts and education, protecting historic structures, more affordable housing, nonresidential facilities in underserved areas of the city, and reducing traffic.
Recommendations included an arts and cultural district, a linear park along the west side, enforcement of rent control laws and affordable housing rules, and flood prevention.
A major recommendation of the Land Use Element is a new zoning map with seven residential zones, with height and size restrictions.
The map also expands the Historic District, business districts, and creates new commercial and light industrial mixed-use districts.
A Higher Education District was also proposed that would support the expansion of the Stevens Institute of Technology.
New parkland moves forward
Construction could begin in 2019 on the city’s largest park after the Northwest Resiliency Park team unveiled a design concept last summer. A final design will be chosen in 2019 with construction soon after.
At roughly six acres between Madison and Adams streets, it will be the city’s largest park. A key element in Hoboken’s resiliency strategy, it will integrate green infrastructure and innovative storm water management to reduce flooding.
It will manage at least 1 million gallons of stormwater.
The property was purchased by the city in 2016 from BASF, a chemical company, after the city council voted unanimously to authorize the $30 million purchase.
In the summer of 2017, Hoboken opened a temporary popup park so that residents could begin using the land while the city underwent the design phase.
The concept includes a forest-like garden with trails and play spaces in the northwest corner, a central plaza with a café and community meeting space, and an open lawn on the eastern side.
A fitness loop and storm water gardens are planned throughout.
Twelfth Street between Madison and Jefferson streets would be closed to allow for a multi-use athletic field in the southwest corner.
Marijuana policies enacted
After months of debate, the Hoboken City Council enacted marijuana legislation that would permit three medical dispensaries.
The ordinance would permit three medical marijuana dispensaries in town, no more than one per zone.
They would be allowed only in the city’s industrial zones, primarily in the southern and northern edges of the city and the Central Business District.
Marilyn Baer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.