Hoboken’s new Temporary No Parking Sign (TNP) ordinance has come under legal fire from a lawsuit filed by Stevens Institute of Technology Trustees.
The lawsuit alleges the new rules regarding the signs were changed in order to extract more funds, a total of $4 million, from the university, which needs the signs for ongoing construction.
This construction consists of a 70,000-square-foot building with two residential towers, one 16 stories and one 18 stories, for a new University Center, which was approved by the Planning Board in November.
In March, the City Council updated the city’s TNP ordinance, which changed the city’s policies pertaining to the sale of the signs, which are used to temporarily block on-street public parking spaces.
One of those changes exempted registered nonprofit organizations from paying for temporary no-parking signs. Stevens is a nonprofit corporation, according to the New Jersey Division of Taxation and the Internal Revenue Service.
This ordinance was again updated by the council five months later.
The July 10 amended ordinance limited the fee exemption for nonprofits to only 10 calendar days per year.
“Hoboken … demanded that Stevens pay over $110,000 per month for the use of 62 public parking spaces along Sinatra Drive during construction [of the university center],” states the lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court.
A May 7 memorandum from the city’s Director of Transportation and Parking Ryan Sharp informed Stevens it would be expected to pay more than $110,000 per month for the use of 62 parking spaces along Sinatra Drive during construction.
In response, Stevens informed the city that it is exempt because it’s a nonprofit, which they claimed, prompted the city to amend the ordinance in July limiting the number of days fees would be waived for the signs.
“The city, in an effort to extract approximately $4,000,0000 from Stevens, sprang into action to amend the Original TNP Ordinance for the second time in six (6) months, this time to limit the Fee Exemption,” the suit states.
According to the suit, “in an effort to be responsive to the public need for parking,” Stevens began to negotiate an agreement with the city, prior to the July 10 council meeting, which would have made 62 parking spaces available 24 hours a day seven days a week in the Griffith Parking Lot for residents to use during the construction period. It would also have permitted the city to charge meter rates at these spots.
Stevens would pay $40,000 to cover promotional and administrative costs.
It would also keep 50 of those parking spots open for public use during extended hours after construction was finished, in a 20-year agreement.
Stevens states in the suit the city “represented that it would approve the Griffith Parking Lot License Agreement,” and the council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute the license agreement at the same July 10 meeting.
But according to a letter sent from Mayor Ravi Bhalla to Stevens President Nariman Farvardin dated Aug. 8, the mayor said he would not sign the agreement.
”I will not sign this Agreement because it runs strongly against the public policy interests of the residents of the city,” wrote Bhalla. “From a financial and practical standpoint, the Agreement is grossly inequitable, weighing heavily in favor of Stevens and against the financial interest of the city.”
Bhalla noted that 50 parking spots in Griffith parking lot are already available to residents with certain time restrictions. The agreement would simply lift the time restrictions on these spots, provide 12 more, and include a $40,000 lump sum.
“These benefits to the city in the agreement pale in comparison to the benefit the city and its residents would receive through strict application and enforcement of city code…” wrote Bhalla. “I am somewhat surprised this agreement has been presented to me for consideration … this administration had zero involvement in the negotiation of the agreement.”
Bhalla said that Ryan Sharp was at a meeting with Stevens officials and an unnamed member of the city council but notes, “Sharp did not have the authority to negotiate, nor did he, on behalf of the administration.”
“The City of Hoboken values the continued positive relationship with President Favardin and Stevens,” said city spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri. “The City is simply asking Stevens to follow the same rules as everyone else to build their two large buildings which would remove 62 parking spots on Sinatra Drive over a three-year span. In the past, Stevens has acknowledged these rules and regulations by purchasing no-parking signs for other construction projects without objection. To look the other way today, as Stevens is asking the City to do, would create an unfair double standard, would be financially negligent, and a disservice to Hoboken residents, parkers and taxpayers. The City administration looks forward to amicably resolving this situation in a way that is fair to both parties.”
The lawsuit seeks to exempt Stevens from temporary no-parking laws, have the ordinance declared illegal, award attorneys fees and costs of the suit to Stevens, and any further relief the court deems proper.