North Hudson Year in Review

Housing development ramps up, rail tunnel still undecided

The greater North Hudson area was the scene of some major stories in 2018.

Major shifts in the housing market are underway as a development boom has led to the construction of thousands of residential units along the Hudson waterfront. Weehawken approved of a $10.5 million renovation to its waterfront recreation area.

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The Hudson Tunnel Project, which aims to construct a new tunnel for the Northeast Corridor and rehabilitate the current North River Tunnel, remains ongoing.

California-based Diamond Generating Corporation is proposing to build a natural gas power plant in North Bergen to channel 1,200 megawatts to a Con Edison facility in Manhattan. Contentions involving local municipalities and environmentalists remain ongoing.

High Tech High School relocated to a newly-built campus in Secaucus, which was dedicated to outgoing superintendent Frank Gargiulo. In the wake of this transition, North Bergen High School passed a resolution to purchase the property with the aim of establishing two campuses.

2018 was an election year for both Union City and Weehawken. Mayors Richard Turner and Brian Stack were both re-elected in unopposed campaigns.

Funding of Hudson Tunnel Project remains in question

The prospect of federal aid for the Hudson Tunnel Project remains up in the air.

The $13 billion project aims to construct a new tunnel below the Hudson River for Northeast Corridor use, and rehabilitate the current North River Tunnel, after Superstorm Sandy caused extensive damage.

The entrance will be the same for that of the North River tunnel on Tonnelle Ave.

President Trump scrapped an agreement made during the Obama administration for the Federal Transportation Administration to fund 50 percent of the project. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with Trump on Nov. 28, but no further consensus was reached.

While tunnel construction is slated to begin in 2019, construction may be held until a later date if the funding plan isn’t resolved.

At a public information session in North Bergen, project spokesman Craig Schultz defended the project, noting “the Northeast Corridor supports 10 percent of America’s gross domestic product.”

Proposed power plant generates conflict

A plan for the North Bergen Liberty Generating power plant was first announced in April 2018. The plant will reportedly burn natural gas at a rate of 1,200 megawatts, channeling electricity across the Hudson River to a Con Edison plant in Manhattan.

Liberty Generating claims the plant will burn natural gas in a way that’s “34 percent more efficient than the average NYC fossil fuel power plant today.” It estimates the plant will create 620 long-term jobs.

North Bergen officials have proposed a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) plan, with North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco claiming there will be “no impact on residential neighborhoods and little to no strain on municipal services.”

The proposed plant has worried neighboring municipalities and environmentalists. Nongovernmental organization Food and Water Watch reported that the plant is a threat to both air and wetland habitats. The report calls any state clearance the plant receives a misstep in N. J. Gov. Phil Murphy’s vow to transition New Jersey to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050.

According to the report, the facility “will emit hundreds of tons of ozone and particulate matter annually.”

In 2017, Hudson was one of 11 New Jersey counties to receive an F grade in an evaluation by the American Lung Association.

On May 8, protesters demonstrated, demanding that Murphy place a moratorium on any new fossil fuel-based power plants.

Several nearby towns in both Bergen and Hudson County have passed resolutions opposing the plant.

New High Tech High School campus dedicated to Frank J. Gargiulo

The new High Tech High School campus opened for its first school year in September. The $160 million development has 70 classrooms in 350,000 square feet on a 22-acre site in Secaucus.

The vocational magnet school moved from its North Bergen campus, serving students from all of Hudson County. The school was dedicated to Frank Gargiullo, the current North Bergen Department of Public Works Commissioner and outgoing superintendent of Hudson County Schools of Technology.

The school specializes in culinary arts, design and fabrication, biomedical sciences, environmental science, media, visual arts, and performing arts, in addition to core high school courses.

 High school expansion project receives voter approval

North Bergen High School received voter approval to fund a major expansion project on Dec. 11. The school will move forward with a $60 million bond issue to purchase the former High Tech High School campus on Tonnelle Ave. and divide the township high school into a west and east campus.

The west campus, in High Tech High School’s former building, will house grades 7-9, along with Culinary Arts and Expanded Career Technical Education programs for grades 9-12. An auditorium, turf field, and student walkway are included in the budget.

The east campus will house grades 10-12. The Board of Education is eyeing new programs focused on business, performing arts, medical arts, and STEM subjects. They will also renovate the building’s air condition and lighting, and make the facility fully accessible.

Schools Superintendent George Solter announced plans to start a partnership with Hudson County Community College, so that students would be able to receive college credits prior to graduation.

American Dream Mall sets opening date in April

The American Dream complex is slated to open next April, according to a release from developers Triple Five in August. Formerly known as Xanadu, the site was like a mirage in the Meadowlands since construction began over a decade ago. Skepticism about its opening grew as the project cycled through developers and opening-date promises fell by the wayside.

The complex will occupy 3.2 million square feet in East Rutherford, and will hold the largest indoor ski slope in the Western Hemisphere, a full-sized ice rink, a CMX luxury theater, a 235-foot diameter observation wheel, a DreamWorks waterpark, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, a Legoland discovery center, and an aquarium.

The mall will also feature a food hall in partnership with MUNCHIES, a syndicate of VICE media.

Hudson County’s battle with opioid abuse persists

N.J. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal reports that statewide prescriptions for opioids have decreased, but the rate of overdoses has been steadily increasing since 2015. Yearly overdose deaths in Hudson County have more than doubled since 2013.

Union City High School held a substance abuse awareness seminar on Jan. 25 organized by the NJ Reentry Corporation to discuss the epidemic. Former N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey led the discussion.

The panel highlighted the increased street presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. Naloxone, a drug used to resuscitate opiate overdose victims, is often ineffective against fentanyl.

According to the report, fentanyl was involved in 69 of 147 overdose deaths in Hudson County in 2017. Fentanyl’s role in countywide overdose deaths has been increasing exponentially.

Mayors Turner and Stack win reelection after running unopposed

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and Union City Mayor Brian Stack were re-elected in May 2018 after running unopposed.

In both municipalities, mayors are elected based on votes cast from a slate of commissioners, who are subject to a popular vote cast by residents.

Turner touted the Hudson River waterfront developments he has presided over since he took office in 1990. “It was important that I committed to campaigning even though I was running unopposed, to show that my investment in Weehawken’s residents is just as strong as it always has been,” Turner said.

In Weehawken, Councilwomen Carmela Silvestri-Ehret and Rosemary Lavagnino were re-elected, while Councilmen Raul Gonzalez and David Curtis took the helm of third ward and at-large seats, respectively.

In Union City, Stack’s commissioners ran unopposed. Commissioner Tilo Rivas was replaced by Wendy Grullon following his decision not to run. Stack has held office since 2000; he also represents the 33rd district in the New Jersey Senate.

Development on the waterfront

This year, North Hudson experienced a boom in residential development. Thousands of units are being constructed, signaling a change in North Hudson’s downtown areas, housing markets, and rental costs. Proximity to New York City makes the waterfront a hot prospect.

In North Bergen, the former Manhattan Trailer Court Park has been cleared to make way for a project by developer James Dematrakis. The site at 48th Street and Tonnelle Ave. will see 240 housing units adjacent to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station. On Paterson Plank Road, the Hudson Mews development will accept rental applications on Jan. 15. Six wood-framed residential buildings hold 288 units. The developer is also constructing a 1.5-acre park adjacent to the site.

At the beginning of 2018, Weehawken approved expanding its waterfront recreational area. By summer 2019, three new pools, a splash park, and an 11,200-square-foot pavilion that can convert into an ice rink are expected to be completed. An open field, the “Great Lawn,” will slope eastward with panoramic views of the New York City skyline. A pedestrian bridge will connect the Hudson Riverfront walkway to the Lincoln Harbor Park walkway. Funding for the $10.5 million project will be provided by waterfront developer fees, the state Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program, and the Hudson County Open Space trust fund.

The extended-stay Residence Inn by Marriott Hotel held an open house at the 154-room Port Imperial complex on Dec. 14. The hotel is within walking distance of the Port Imperial light rail station and ferry terminal. A 210-room Renaissance Hotel is slated to open in the same building this summer. Mayor Richard Turner and council members attended a walkthrough on Dec. 16, and held an unofficial ribbon cutting; only the extended-stay rooms are currently available.

In West New York, developer Hovnanian unveiled a complex with 278 luxury condo units on a 2.8-acre lot near the Port Imperial ferry terminal. The development, named Nine on the Hudson, is one of the largest residential structures in the Port Imperial complex.

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