Weehawken planning board and Hartz Mountain still slugging it out

Board rejects Hartz Mountain's parking analysis for residential waterfront development

The most recent Weehawken Planning Board hearing on Hartz Mountain’s application to develop two residential towers at Lincoln Harbor had more tepid crowds than the prior hearings which began in May. But the board members were clearly frustrated by what they considered shortcomings in the developer’s parking plan.

The controversy began in May at a redevelopment plan hearing, when Hartz Mountain representatives presented a redevelopment plan for a site at Lincoln Harbor that’s currently a gated parking lot for Weehawken residents only.

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The development calls for twin 18-story towers, which would create more than 300 units, and would be adjacent to Hartz Mountain’s other development, 800 Harbor Blvd., which was topped off a few months ago.

The redevelopment plan for Lincoln Harbor, which was approved by the township years ago, has no height or density requirements for new developments. It allows the Weehawken Planning Board to determine those requirements on a case-by-case basis.

Since the initial Hudson Reporter story covering the proposal, residents have come out in force to voice concerns during public comment portions of planning board meetings.

The Sept. 17 hearing was the tenth. Mayor Richard Turner, who sits on the planning board, said that hearings are likely to continue until an Oct. 31 deadline.

Residents from Weehawken, Hoboken, and Union City are concerned about the impact that the development will have on local traffic. The town engineer’s report on the development indicates that traffic on surrounding roadways would reach “congestion level.”

The developer’s attorney, James P. Rhatican, said 60 public parking spaces would be provided. Residents and planning board members are concerned that these will not be enough to maintain public access to the Weehawken Waterfront.

Parking plan rejected

Rhatican said on behalf of Hartz Mountain that its plan provides 60 metered public parking spaces for Weehawken residents, with a two-hour time limit. Those would be in addition to 257 spaces that the developer is required to build for residents. Some of the residential-only spaces would be shared with nearby commercial properties.

“I’m telling you, 60 is not enough, it’s not adequate,” Weehawlen Planning Board Trustee Carmela S. Ehret said. “People aren’t going to go down to the waterfront because there’s no place to park. It’s not good, it’s not healthy development, and it doesn’t do enough to integrate the public with the waterfront. This doesn’t give us what our residents need. From day one, we haven’t gotten an answer. I’m sorry that these aren’t new questions, but we continue to ask them because we haven’t gotten any satisfactory answers.”

Ehret was one of several trustees who took issue with the fact that none of the parking provided by Hartz Mountain would be free, and that there would be a two-hour time limit. Turner said that four-hour parking would be an adequate minimum.

“We’ve been paying taxes on the empty land that adhere to the amount of residential units it’s zoned for,” Rhatican said. “I don’t think it’s unfair for us to get a revenue stream from parking.”

Rhatican said that he doesn’t believe the redevelopment plan requires Hartz Mountain to provide any free public parking.

“We agreed to provide some, but it’s not required anywhere to include free parking as an element of the plan,” Rhatican said.

“This has been going on for years,” Turner said. He also took issue with the way the developer has handled using the site for residential parking in the interim, before construction is slated to begin.

“We’ve long been concerned about your parking plans, well before you put up gates and started charging on the current site,” Turner said. “The gates weren’t there in 2016. We were looking at an empty parking lot back then.”

Parking analysis gets the ax

After about an hour, Turner filed a motion to reject Hartz Mountain’s parking analysis on the grounds that he believed it to be insufficient. He filed a second motion that the planning board should recommend the township council rework the redevelopment plan.

“In all these years on this board, I’ve never made a motion like this,” Turner said. “I think Hartz Mountain has a great piece of property here, and I think they’re single-handedly turning people away and turning people off. I think they should be ashamed of themselves. I’m making a motion to reject their parking analysis because it doesn’t deal with the issues that this board has continued to bring up for years.”

The second motion was to give a recommendation to the township council to amend the redevelopment plan, to include a requirement that Hartz Mountain include free public parking with a four-hour time limit.

Both motions passed, effectively nixing a component of the redevelopment plan for the site. The next planning board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.

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