The Hoboken City Council has introduced two ordinances that would put referendum questions about the municipal Open Space Trust Fund on the November ballot to financially prepare the city for the acquisition and development of the embattled Union Dry Dock property.
The first question would ask residents if they want to allow more flexibility on how much of the fund could be spent on both land acquisition and development of public parks. The second ordinance would increase the funds in the municipal Open Space Trust Fund to include funds for historical preservation.
According to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, the spending flexibility and the increase may be necessary to develop the former Union Dry Dock site into public open space. The city announced June 13 it will restart condemnation proceedings to seize the property from the facility’s owner.
Public hearings on the two measures are scheduled for the next council meeting on July 10.
NY Waterway, a private company, purchased the property in 2017 and wants to turn Union Dry Dock into its home port for ferry repair and maintenance. The company recently sued the city in Superior Court for the right to continue preparing the site as a maintenance and refueling operation after the city ordered a stop to the work.
“Given the city’s interest in acquiring Union Dry Dock for the purposes of a public park, there will be substantial costs involved to construct the park that go beyond the funding currently available in the Open Space Trust Fund,” said Bhalla. He said approving the referenda would help prevent taxpayers from covering the costs through the city’s budgeting process.
According to Bhalla, if the fund remains at its current level, the city will not be in the financial position to construct a waterfront park in a “fiscally responsible manner.”
Over the last decade, Hoboken has used its open space trust fund to acquire 11 acres of land for public open space and develop city parks, including the Southwest Resiliency Park.
The fund is currently funded through a $0.02 per $100 of assessed property value, according to a memo from Director of Environmental Services Jennifer Gonzalez.
Her memo says that the fund has $14.5 million in borrowing capacity once the city uses it to acquire the former Union Dry Dock site and expand the southwest park.
She also said the trust fund establishes that 75 percent of the annual amount raised by the trust must be used for land acquisition, but the need to develop the city’s parks is increasing. She recommended that the funds should be more flexibly used between acquisition and development.
The second referendum that could be put before voters this November would ask if funding for historical preservation projects should be included in the fund. If approved by the voters, this would increase the fund by $0.01 per $100 of assessed property value, so that the fund would be financed by a total of $0.03 per $100 of assessed value.
According to Gonzalez, Hoboken currently has over 20 eligible state and nationally eligible historic sites.
What about affordable housing?
Councilwoman-at-large Vanessa Falco said she could not support the introduced ordinances because she felt the city needed to make affordable housing more of a priority.
“We as a city will move mountains, we will move barrels, and spend millions and millions of dollars for parks, and I am just amazed at how easily this administration and the previous administration will go to the end to produce more parks in this town and just does not prioritize affordable housing,” said Falco adding that no new affordable housing had been created in over a decade.
Falco, who chairs the council’s affordable housing subcommittee, said her last two meetings with the administration and city professionals to discuss affordable housing initiatives had been canceled.
When she asked if the subcommittee meeting with the administration scheduled for Thursday, June, 27 was still on, Director of Community Development Chris Brown said it was scheduled but not yet confirmed.
When Council President Jen Giattino asked if Brown was instructed not to have the previously scheduled meetings, Brown said: “Due to other things going on, I was told to shift priorities for that time.”
Falco said she had been working with the administration, which seemed receptive to increasing the affordable housing units in the city through increasing the minimum requirement for developers requiring a ‘D’ variance. But for the past two months, there has been “no traction or action.”
“Every other week the agenda is filled with items and millions and millions of dollars and nothing is for affordable housing,” said Falco. “It’s not about me. This is about the people of Hoboken.”
Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher asked Corporation Counsel Brian J. Aloia if there could be a referendum to increase the funds for the affordable housing trust fund. Aloia said he would have to do research to see if that was possible.
Several council members stated that should the meeting be canceled again, the subcommittee could meet without the administration and city professionals.