Hoboken’s Southwest Resiliency Park could expand

City files eminent domain action for property owned by Academy Bus

Hoboken will attempt to acquire Block 10 from Academy Bus through eminent domain to expand the Southwest Park.
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Hoboken will attempt to acquire Block 10 from Academy Bus through eminent domain to expand the Southwest Park.

Hoboken’s Southwest Resiliency Park could double in size, because on Sept. 17 Hoboken filed an eminent domain action to acquire an additional acre of land, known as “Block 10,” a vacant lot owned by Academy Bus just west of the park and bordered by New York Avenue and Harrison Street.

According to an announcement from the city, it will deposit $5.3 million, its estimated value of the property, with the court. If the court authorizes condemnation of the property and the payment, the city can take legal ownership of the property.

“Today is an important milestone for Hoboken as we move forward with the acquisition of Block 10 to expand our Southwest Park,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “This additional acre of land, which currently sits as a vacant lot, will provide much needed open space for our residents without any compromise of added residential density. Not only will the expanded park provide important quality of life upgrades for our community, it will also include infrastructure to further address flooding in the region.

“I look forward to working with our residents through a public process to design the expanded park. Thank you to [former] Mayor Zimmer and the many community members who helped advocate for this successful park expansion!”

In a letter dated June 25 addressed to David Lehmkuhl of Academy Bus, Bhalla said they discussed the city’s most recent offer to purchase the property for $5.3 million based on the city’s appraisal conducted by Federal Appraisal LLC, and that Lehmkuhl “expressed a willingness” to reach an agreement at a lower figure than the $21.8 million that Academy’s appraisal said the land is worth.

Lehmkuhl did not reply to two emails seeking comment on the city’s Sept. 18 eminent domain announcement. What action if any Academy Bus will take to stop the attempt to take the land through condemnation remains unknown, but company officials have harshly criticized the city’s handling of the negotiations.

History

In 2017 the City Council authorized the use of eminent domain requested by Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

Since then, the city has said it has attempted good faith negotiations to acquire the property with the company, which is headquartered in Hoboken.

Last January, the company proposed building the park extension for free in exchange for additional office space for Academy Bus, a new Hoboken Middle School, and 439 residential units.

Bhalla called the plan a “nonstarter,” citing the approved Southwest Redevelopment Plan calls for only 192 units.

Last summer, Mayor Bhalla announced the city would again consider eminent domain.

In a letter on the Academy’s website, CEO Francis Tedesco said the company believed that offering the city a chance to develop the park “would be a cinch.”

“We also thought that giving the park away for free, as part of a very modest development to improve the dreary streetscape entering the city, would be a lead-pipe cinch,” states the undated letter. “The City Administration idly hemmed and hawed about the offer for a year. The park could have been ready to use this summer. Now, in an election year, city officials are turning that lead-pipe cinch into a lead-pipe bludgeoning.”

“They are trying to use eminent domain on a longtime neighbor.” – Academy Bus CEO Francis Tedesco

“Unfortunately, Academy has demanded a development deal inconsistent with the city’s Master Plan and the Southwest Redevelopment Plan unanimously passed by the City Council in 2017,” states the city’s press release. “The overdevelopment demanded by Academy would massively increase residential density and badly exacerbate the already unacceptable traffic problems in the area.”

The city believes eminent domain has become necessary “as a result of Academy’s refusal to negotiate a fair price without an unacceptable increase in the permitted residential development,” and the property is needed to address the neighborhoods open space and flooding resiliency needs.

The park expansion

“Back in 2011, when my Administration started the process of acquiring the first acre of land for the Southwest Park, we promised the residents of Southwest Hoboken that this was only the beginning of a larger neighborhood park, and that we would never pay for that expansion with overdevelopment,” said former Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “I am thrilled that Mayor Bhalla is moving forward to fulfill that promise. “

“We are thrilled that Mayor Bhalla is moving forward to realize former Mayor Zimmer’s vision to acquire Block 10 in order to expand the existing SW Park,” said Council members Emily Jabbour and Jim Doyle in a joint statement.  “The expansion of this park is critical in the overall plan to provide additional recreation options, play spaces, and other open space equitably throughout the city for the benefit of all our residents, in this instance especially those in the Southwest neighborhood of Hoboken. We look forward to supporting this expansion of true public space without adding residential density and bulk concessions to the area.”

According to the city, the $5.3 million will be paid for with a $1 million grant from Hudson County’s Open Space Trust Fund, the City’s Open Space Trust Fund, and $900,000 from State Green Acres funding.

“No tax increase will be required to fund the $5.3 million deposit needed to acquire title to the property,” states the release, noting that the final purchase price will be determined through the legal process provided by state law.

The additional acre of the park will have above- and below-ground green infrastructure to further reduce flooding.

The current one-acre Southwest Park has an underground retention system to hold back up to 200,000 gallons of rain to mitigate localized flooding.

In the coming months, the city will begin a process to solicit input from the community on what amenities could be included in the expanded park.

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.