Hoboken’s case ‘doesn’t pass the smell test’

It's back to the drawing board for the case against Academy Bus

Hoboken will again enter into negotiations with Academy Bus over neighboring property it wants to acquire for the Southwest Park.
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Hoboken will again enter into negotiations with Academy Bus over neighboring property it wants to acquire for the Southwest Park.

After receiving a judge’s lambasting earlier this month, Hoboken will return to negotiations with Jefferson Street Partners II LLC, the entity connected to an Academy Bus property the city wants to acquire to expand the South West Park.

“The city is currently in the process of undertaking good faith negotiations with Academy and is committed to acquiring the property for fair market value to double the size of the Southwest Park,” said city spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri.

Earlier this year the city filed an eminent domain action after negotiations were unfruitful.

On Nov. 6, both parties went before Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso. The judge took aim at the city’s “faulty” appraisal and rezoning of the area.

“First time I’ve ever heard an entity come in here and say our appraisal’s inaccurate, but we’re relying upon it for condemnation,” said Bariso in court transcripts. “I’m getting tired of these condemnations from Hoboken like this.”

 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 with the company to acquire the property, 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.

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

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

On Sept. 17, Hoboken filed an eminent domain action to acquire the 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.

The city deposited $5.3 million, its estimated value of the property, with the court.

Court transcripts

According to court transcripts of the Nov. 6 hearing in Hudson County Superior Court, Judge Bariso said Hoboken’s case for condemnation of the property “didn’t pass the smell test.”

Bariso took issue with several points in the city’s case, including a “faulty appraisal,” and the Southwest Redevelopment Plan that the property was left out of.

“I’m perplexed that you relied on, that the city’s relying on, an appraisal that they concede is faulty,” Bariso said.

“Counsel’s position is you acknowledged your appraisal was faulty,” said Bariso. “You said you were going to revisit it. It was never revisited. That’s the argument. You never revisited the price. And the fact that you filed this proceeding based on what everyone knows is an inaccurate appraisal, how is that right?”

“You can’t low ball somebody and say we’re going to see what the commissioners say,” he added. “That’s not how condemnation works. You don’t get to do that.”

Bariso also took issue with the fact that the council was not made aware of the city’s second appraisal of the property that was $4.8 million, lower than the $5.3 million 2017 appraisal.

He also noted that the city seemed to leave out the parcel of land when doing the Southwest Redevelopment Plan, noting that the property was zoned for industrial while everything else in the area was zoned for residential.

Attorney Ed Buzak, who is representing the city in the case, said this was because it “was always intended to be a park,” noting the city had followed all the zoning laws.

Bariso said the city had to appear trustworthy and that he had trouble establishing the appearance of the city’s trustworthiness.

“It’s not just that you have to be trustworthy,” Bariso said. “You have to appear to be trustworthy. That’s the court’s directive. And I have trouble finding what occurred here to have the appearance of trustworthiness.”

The judge told the city to go back to negotiating with Academy or “take a chance at my decision.”

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