On Nov. 5, Hoboken residents will not only elect new local officials, they will also decide two ballot questions about the municipal Open Space Trust Fund.
The first question asks 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 question would increase the funds in the municipal Open Space Trust Fund to include funds for historic preservation.
According to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, the spending flexibility and the increase in the fund may be necessary to develop the former Union Dry Dock site into public open space without having to raise taxes.
The city officially moved to acquire the waterfront property owned by New York Waterway in early October, offering $13.1 million to purchase the property. According to the city, this price is the fair market value of the property, which was determined by an appraiser hired by the city.
This offer marks the first step in “good faith negotiations” between Mayor Ravi Bhalla and NY Waterway for the former Union Dry Dock property in northeast Hoboken. If its offer is rejected, the city has announced that it would pursue condemnation and acquisition of the property through eminent domain.
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 the work stopped. The suit was dismissed.
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 municipal Open Space Trust 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.
The trust fund, which was created by public referendum in 2007, also stipulates that 75 percent of the annual amount raised by the trust must be used for land acquisition. But, according to the city, the need to develop the city’s parks is increasing, so if the referendum passes, the funds could be for acquisition and development.
The city has plans to expand the Southwest Park by acquiring an adjacent acre of land owned by Academy Bus, which the company thus far has refused to sell. It recently began three years of construction on the Northwest Resiliency Park.
The second referendum before voters this November would ask if funding for historic preservation projects should be included in the municipal Open Space Trust Fund.
If approved by 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.
Hoboken currently has more than 20 eligible state and national historic sites, according to Gonzalez.