Hoboken approves eminent domain for Union Dry Dock

City could condemn NY Waterway property for public park

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Ron Hine, executive director of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, hosted a rally on the steps of city hall urging the council to authorize eminent domain in order to acquire Union Dry Dock.
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Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he looks forward to good-faith negotiations with NY Waterway.
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NY Waterway's rendering of their planned renovation of the Union Dry Dock property
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Ron Hine, executive director of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, hosted a rally on the steps of city hall urging the council to authorize eminent domain in order to acquire Union Dry Dock.
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Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he looks forward to good-faith negotiations with NY Waterway.
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NY Waterway's rendering of their planned renovation of the Union Dry Dock property

NY Waterway officials have vowed to continue to fight for Union Dry Dock after the Hoboken City Council unanimously authorized the city to acquire the land through eminent domain in a meeting on Sept. 4.

“On behalf of the 32,000 New Jersey commuters we carry every day, and the thousands of additional commuters we carry in emergencies, NY Waterway will continue to fight for Union Dry Dock,” said NY Waterway President and Founder Arthur Imperatore. “This site is critical to our ability to provide the safe, reliable, environmentally-friendly service on which New Jersey commuters have come to depend – and to our ability to respond in emergencies.”

With the council’s authorization, Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his administration will now begin negotiations with NY Waterway to “amicably” agree upon a potential acquisition price for Union Dry Dock so the city can add the property to its waterfront park.

If the administration and NY Waterway are unable to come to terms, the city can purchase the property through condemnation for the city’s appraisal price of $13.1 million. That is, if New Jersey Transit doesn’t acquire the property first.

The city’s attorney said New Jersey Transit cannot acquire it because its board doesn’t have a quorum.

“Hoboken is one critical step closer to achieving our decades-long dream of a public, waterfront park at Union Dry Dock,” Bhalla said. “We cannot, and will not give up this opportunity to create a contiguous waterfront our children can enjoy for generations to come. I want to extend a special thank you to the many residents and community groups who have made their voices heard throughout the process, as well as the City Council for their unanimous support. I look forward to beginning good faith negotiations with New York Waterway to acquire Union Dry Dock in a process that is fair to both parties.”

Recap

The former Union Dry Dock at Sinatra Drive near Maxwell Place Park was purchased by the ferry company in 2017 for $11.5 million to become its ferry home port for maintenance and refueling.

Hoboken wants the property for public open space and attempted to acquire it from New York Waterway in March of 2018.

At the time, the city council authorized the use of eminent domain. Bhalla sent a letter to the ferry company offering $11.6 million for the land.

Then New Jersey Transit said it would purchase the property and lease it back to NY Waterway, maintaining that New York Waterway plays an integral role in the transportation network.

NJ Transit’s board was set to vote on the acquisition in April 2018, but the meeting was canceled after Gov. Phil Murphy asked Bhalla and the city council to end eminent domain proceedings. They agreed, which caused NJ Transit to cancel the board meeting.

If NJ Transit had purchased the property, the city would not have been able to use eminent domain to acquire it because the state agency’s power of eminent domain supersedes the city’s.

Since then the city has continued to pursue the property, NY Waterway has received state and federal approvals for the site and attempted to begin preparing the property. But in February, Hoboken issued a stop-work order because the New York Waterway had not gotten the appropriate permits from the city to begin construction.

NY Waterway filed a lawsuit against the city, but the case was dismissed, which means the company will have to go before the city’s planning board and zoning board for approvals.

Over the last two weeks, dueling reports from NJ Transit and the city have been released which analyze alternate sites for NY Waterway’s ferry homeport for maintenance and refueling. Environmental groups support public open space, and Bhalla announced he’d met with an alternate ferry provider should NY Waterway decide not to serve Hoboken, a step NY Waterway has said it would not take.

 Council discussion

Before the Sept. 4 council meeting, the Fund for a Better Waterfront held a rally on the city hall steps urging the council and Gov. Phil Murphy to support Hoboken’s acquisition of the property.

“Governor Murphy, I ask you: have you gotten the message yet?” said Executive Director of FBW Ron Hine. “We’re looking for your leadership on this issue. Don’t let a private operator dictate public policy.”

Other speakers discussed the need to preserve waterfront access, environmental and safety concerns about the refueling facility, and the long-term vision of a continuous waterfront park.

Several public speakers urged the council to authorize eminent domain, including Bhalla, who noted eminent domain is simply a tool in negotiations and won’t be used unless it’s a last resort.

Other public speakers opposed the city’s use of eminent domain, one of whom equated it with theft and rape.

Resident James Dickerson said that just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it morally or ethically correct.

“If someone propositions you to engage in adult behavior, and you voluntarily agree to it, that’s called having sex,” Dickerson said. “If someone propositions you to engage in adult behavior and you do not agree, but they force you anyway, that’s called rape. If someone offers you money for a product and you agree to it, that’s called a sale. If someone offers you money and you do not voluntarily agree, and they take it any way, that’s called stealing. In each scenario, one interaction is objectionable and the other is not.”

Joshua Sotomyer-Einsten also opposed eminent domain, stating that facilitating transportation was more important than a public park and took issue with the rhetoric surrounding the acquisition.

“We must address the ad hominem attacks from our honorable mayor’s camp that say that New York Waterway will create a post-apocalyptic seascape and waterfront destruction from which children will be poisoned and Ariel the little mermaid murdered,” he said.

Resident Mary Ondrejka questioned how much NY Waterway would actually be paid considering they would have to most likely remediate the site.

Members of the city council asked Joe Maraziti, the attorney representing Hoboken on Union Dry Dock, questions regarding the eminent domain process, including potentially relocating NY Waterway and remediation of the site.

Maraziti explained that the state does not obligate the city to pay for or build out an alternate site for NY Waterway’s homeport but must assist in providing a consultant to help identify alternate locations and would have to pay moving costs associated with the relocation.

However, he noted that NY Waterway does not currently operate on the site, so there are no costs associated with a potential move.

As for remediation, he said the appraised value of the property assumes the land does not need remediation. “The fact is, if the property is contaminated it reduces the value of the property.”

He said either NY Waterway or the former owners of the site would have to remediate the site should the city identify who was responsible for the contamination. He also said it would be up to the city to decide what to do with the property should the cleanup be more than the appraised value.

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.