Hoboken Briefs

New school proposal in exchange for increased density is a ‘non-starter’ for Mayor Ravi Bhalla

According to a Friday, Jan. 11 community message from Mayor Ravi Bhalla to the city council, he will not support a new project in the Southwest Redevelopment Area proposed by Academy Bus that would include a new middle school, and would require “major changes to the existing Southwest Redevelopment Plan.”

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The proposal includes office space for Academy Bus, a new Hoboken Middle School, 439 residential units, and public open space.

Bhalla said he supports the original southwest redevelopment plan, passed unanimously by the council in 2017, and he has concerns about the increased density of the Academy Bus proposal.

At press time, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson had not answered requests for comment on Bhalla’s message. In the past, Johnson and Board of Education members have said they may need more seats for students in the coming years.

“If enrollment continues to grow at the rate we’re seeing recently, we will surely face the need for additional space or buildings,” said then-school board president Thomas Kluepfel a year and a half ago at a school board meeting.

Bhalla said since learning about the project he has received several inquiries from residents of Southwest Hoboken, “who are rightfully concerned that the proposed dramatic increase in building heights and residential density would be harmful to their neighborhood and make the already existing traffic problem worse.”

One of the main gateways to the city for vehicles is in southwest Hoboken, which is regularly gridlocked during peak travel periods. City administrations and the council have tried to relieve the congestion with the Southwest Traffic Circulation Plan.

The Southwest Redevelopment Plan was created after several community meetings, surveys, and property owner meetings.

“The plan that was passed unanimously was a result of substantial collaboration between Mayor Zimmer’s administration and the city council, and incorporated substantial resident feedback,” said Bhalla noting that the feedback from residents often included a request for limited residential density.

“Residents of the Southwest (and throughout the city) are rightfully concerned about over development that poses a threat to our quality of life and to the charm and character of our city,” wrote Bhalla. “In addition, particularly in the Southwest, which is the southern gateway into and out of our city, traffic is an enormous problem. With these concerns in mind, the plan that was adopted provides for residential density additions consistent with the density levels in most of the other residential neighborhoods of our city, while also keeping the plan financially feasible for property owners.”

“To be clear – I remain 100 percent supportive of the scale of residential density permitted in the existing Southwest Redevelopment Plan, and I will not consider any developer proposals inconsistent with the Plan’s scale and vision…,” he wrote.  “For all the above reasons, the Academy Proposal (which includes massive increases in density on the Academy property – 439 units versus the 192 units -19 affordable permitted under the current plan) is a non-starter for me.”

For more information go to hudsonreporter.com.

Hoboken man indicted in alleged 2015 vote-by-mail scheme

Hoboken resident William Rojas, 68, was indicted on the charge of promoting a voter bribery scheme by use of the U.S. mail in 2015  according to a Jan. 11 press release from U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

During the 2015 election, six ward council seats and three Hoboken Board of Education seats were up for election.

Rojas is charged with violation of the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery contrary to New Jersey state law, according to the release. He was scheduled to have his initial appearance Jan. 11 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court.

Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail rather than in person.

To receive a mail-in ballot, voters must complete and submit to their county clerk’s office an Application for Vote by Mail Ballot. After the application is processed by the county clerk’s office, voters receive a mail-in ballot.

According to the press release, from September 2015 through November 2015, Rojas allegedly agreed to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots for the November 2015 Hoboken municipal election.

Rojas allegedly provided these voters with VBM Applications, allegedly told the voters that they would get paid $50 for casting mail-in ballots for the 2015 Hoboken municipal election, and then allegedly delivered the completed VBM applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office.

After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, Rojas allegedly went to the voters’ residences to collect the mail-in ballots and mailed the completed mail-in ballots to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office.

After the election, Rojas allegedly delivered checks to these voters.

According to the release, bank records show that voters living in Hoboken allegedly received $50 checks from an entity associated with the campaign that employed Rojas.

Rojas faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This is the latest in a string of indictments for vote-by-mail schemes in Hoboken. The first three indictments occurred in September and October of 2018. They were against local political player Frank Raia and campaign workers Lizaida Camis and Dio Braxton for their alleged involvement in a vote-by-mail scheme during the 2013 election.

Raia and Braxton pleaded not guilty while Camis pleaded guilty to Count 2 of an indictment charging her with conspiracy to use the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2013 municipal election.

Summonses issued to 10 liquor stores for allegedly selling to underage patrons

According to a press release from the Hoboken Police Department, on Jan. 5, the Hoboken Police Department’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Unit conducted a citywide operation to find establishments allegedly serving underage patrons, after the department received multiple complaints about liquor stores in the city. These complaints were for alleged disorderly groups, loud music, and the selling of alcohol to people under the age of 21.

This operation, the first of more to come, was led by Sergeant Charles Kucz and Detective Anthony Caruso with the assistance of two undercover Jersey City police officers who are under the legal drinking age.

Throughout the evening 12 establishments were entered and 10 were issued administrative charges for alleged sale to someone under the legal age to purchase alcohol, according to the release.

Although summonses were issued, each establishment has the right to dispute the charges at a hearing to be held at a later time.

According to the release, the following are the 10 establishments issued summonses: Village Market at 702 Washington St., Cork Wine & Spirits at 1450 Washington St., Blue Ribbon at 450 1st St., Daniel Liquors at 87 Garden St., Ottomanellis at 422 Monroe St., Hoboken Discount Liquors at 98 Willow Ave., Augie’s Liquors at 419 Adams St., Sasso’s Deli at 1038 Garden St., Hoboken Vine at 400 Newark St., and Yash Liquors at 1004 Washington St.

Two establishments were in compliance: Washington Liquors at 211 Washington St. and Willow Liquors and Grocery at 841 Willow Ave.

“Hoboken’s Chief of Police Ken Ferrante would like to thank the citizens who brought this situation to light as well as the ABC Unit and its detectives for their dedication and hard work that made this operation a success,” the release states. “Chief Ferrante would also like to thank Jersey City’s Chief of Police Michael Kelly for his cooperation and use of two of his officers, as well as those two officers for their work and professionalism during this operation.”

Former Hoboken police officer sentenced to 5 years in prison

According to a Jan. 7 press release from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office, a former Hoboken police officer was sentenced to prison on Jan. 7 after being convicted in October of stealing $187,000 by filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy.

Nikola Lulaj, 45, of Seaside Heights, and his wife Majlinda Lulaj, 32, were convicted on Oct. 25 by an Ocean County jury of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by deception, and six counts of fourth-degree unsworn falsification, according to the press release.

On Jan.7, Nikola Lulaj, who left his job as an officer with the Hoboken Police Department as a result of his conviction, was sentenced to five years in state prison; his wife Majlinda Lulaj was sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon completion of 50 hours of community service. They were also ordered to pay full restitution.

Deputy Attorneys General Thomas Clark and Jamie Picard tried the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. They were assisted at trial by Detective Mark Byrnes, Detective Franco Cignarella and Analyst Rita Gillis.

According to the release, the state presented testimony and evidence at trial that Nikola and Majlinda Lulaj filed fraudulent applications following Superstorm Sandy for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, and state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP), the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, and the Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (SHRAP) funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. As a result, they received approximately $187,074 in relief funds; $2,820 from FEMA, $90,200 in SBA loan proceeds, a $69,054 RREM grant, a $10,000 RSP grant, and a $15,000 SHRAP grant.

The release states that the couple falsely claimed in their applications that a home they own on Webster Avenue in Seaside Heights, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, was their primary residence at the time. In fact, their primary residence was in Dumont, N.J. and at the time of the storm, it was a vacation and rental property.

“For a police officer to commit this type of fraud is particularly egregious, because officers take an oath to uphold the law and we rightly hold them to the highest standards,” said Attorney General Grewal. “When disaster strikes, we cannot allow dishonest applicants to divert disaster relief funds from the intended recipients – namely, those victims whose primary homes were destroyed or damaged.”

The Attorney General’s Office has charged more than 120 defendants with fraud related to Sandy relief programs. Most of the cases involve “primary residence fraud.”

The 120-plus defendants allegedly were responsible for diverting more than $8 million in relief funds.

The office is continuing its aggressive efforts to investigate fraud in Sandy relief programs, working jointly with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and the Offices of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Also assisting the taskforce is the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, New Jersey Department of the Treasury Office of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

 Mile Square Theatre to perform “I and You”

Mile Square Theatre will present Lauren Gunderson’s drama “I and You” starting Jan. 30.

Winner of the 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award Winner and finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwrighting Prize, “I and You” is a haunting play about the strange and transcendent connections between us all

In the play, Caroline, ill and homebound, is visited by her high school classmate Anthony to complete a project about Walt Whitman. As they let their guards down and reveal their secrets, the mundane poetry project unlocks the deeper mysteries between the two.

“I’ve rarely been effected by an initial reading of a play as I was with this one,” said director Chris O’Connor. “I find this play funny, heartbreaking, and deeply moving. Lauren Gunderson beautifully captures the voice of the post-millennial generation and renders a play that contains a relatable truth that cuts through all generations. I think this production will strongly resonate with the MST audience.”

“I and You” stars Roland Lane (Scraps at The Flea) and Simone Grossman (Arcade Amerikana at Industry City), both making their MST debuts.

The creative team includes many of MST resident designers; scenic designer Jennifer Price Fick (The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi), costume designer Peter Fogel (The 39 Steps), lighting designer Jason Flamos (It’s a Wonderful Life), and sound designer Sean Hagerty (The Net Will Appear).

“I and You” begins performances on Wednesday, Jan. 30 and runs until Sunday, Feb. 24.

Opening night and MST’s Season Opener Party is February 1.

For more information or to purchase a ticket go to www.milesquaretheatre.org, or call 201-683-7014.

Group sales are available and requests can be sent to abaldwin@milesquaretheatre.org.

Mile Square Theatre is at 1400 Clinton Street.

St Francis Holy Name Society Awards dinner announced

St Francis Holy Name Society will host its 2019 Awards Dinner on Sunday, April 28.

The dinner will Honor Michael Cannarozzi for his service as well as celebrate his 60th birthday.

The dinner will take place at 2 p.m. at Bistro Cucina Italiana, at 107 Moonachie Rd. in Moonachie.

Ticket donations are $50 which includes a family-style cocktail hour, full sit-down dinner with choice of entrée, coffee, teas, soda, and dessert.

There will also be a cash bar, DJ, door prizes, and a 50/50 raffle.

For a ticket or for more information call (201)707-6841. Space is limited.

NJDOT announces Winter Weather Congestion Alert communications campaign

New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti has announced a new communications campaign to help the public make better traveling decisions during winter weather events to improve safety and the department’s ability to clear snow.

New Jersey is the most congested state in the nation; a relatively routine winter weather system can wreak havoc in New Jersey when it occurs between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“In order for NJDOT to clear highways of snow and ice, we need roads free from traffic so our trucks can get through and do their job,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “Our Winter Weather Congestion Alert plan is designed to alert the media and public when forecasted weather may cause congestion, and provide tips on what to do so our crews can get through to keep the roads clear, open, and safe.”

The alerts may provide general tips such as to consider telecommuting if possible or more specific recommendations to avoid certain highways with inclines that are often problematic during a storm, such as I-280 or parts of I-78 in western New Jersey. The media and public will be alerted through press releases, the NJDOT Facebook page, Twitter @NJDOT_info, VMS boards, and www.511nj.org.

NJDOT will encourage people to telecommute, travel before the winter weather starts, and stay put while the winter weather is occurring. Wait a few hours for the storm to subside before heading out. If you are traveling during the winter weather, pull off somewhere safe and wait it out. Always stay clear of plowing and spreading trucks.  If they are behind you, let them pass. Do not pass between trucks that are in a plow formation.

NJDOT will be using Variable Message Signs to alert motorists of the campaign. Motorists are encouraged to check NJDOT’s traffic information website www.511nj.org for real-time travel information.

Flu at high levels in New Jersey

According to the state Health Department, New Jersey is currently one of only 15 states already reporting high levels of the flu virus this year. State officials have confirmed the first pediatric fatality associated with the flu in New Jersey this season.
It is not too late to get a flu shot.

To avoid spreading the virus to others, medical professionals advise staying home while you are sick and up to at least 24 hours after your fever is gone; not visiting people in the hospital; covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; if you do not have a tissue, cough into your elbow or shoulder; avoiding touching your nose, eyes and mouth; and washing your hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing.

If your child is sick, do not send your child to school or afterschool programs until at least 24 hours after fever and symptoms are gone.

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