Year in Review: 2019

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National issues continued to find expression in Hudson County in 2019. Local Catholics were shocked when Roman Catholic Church leaders named men in their clergy accused of preying on children. Some towns debated whether to charge fees for public defender services.

Commuters and homeowners in the New York metropolitan area face a possible crisis if the North River train tunnel between New Jersey and New York City is shut down for repairs before completion of the parallel Gateway project train tunnel. The Board of Freeholders awarded a $4.45 million bid to clear land and develop a master plan for construction of the new Hudson County Courthouse.

The family of a father of four who died of internal bleeding while confined to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention at Hudson County Correctional Center sued Hudson County. County officials refused to cooperate with threatened ICE raids announced in July by the White House.

The environment and infrastructure were the two most urgent themes in the county in 2019. Virtually all its municipalities have antiquated sewerage systems overburdened by Hudson’s growing population, channeling human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris through the same tunnels through outfall pipes. In heavy storms, wastewater exceeds the intake capacities of sewage treatment plants, and wastewater runs off into nearby waterways.

In March, municipalities submitted evaluation reports to the DEP. Separating sewer systems was considered the most effective treatment. But that would take years, cost hundreds of millions, and disrupt traffic patterns.

If the EPA issues a consent decree, it would dictate how much money townships must spend. North Bergen’s costs will range from $56 million to $700 million. The North Bergen municipal budget for 2019 was $95.4 million. There will likely be zero funding from the federal government.

A excavated sewer pipe

In October an independent research group predicted Hudson County will suffer more annual damage from hurricane flooding than any other county in the state. Communities hard hit by Superstorm Sandy have efforts underway to cope with future storm surges, Hoboken’s Rebuild by Design program being the most prominent.

On the positive side, a new state law protects Liberty State Park from future commercial development. Several municipalities will upgrade or create park space. A proposed electrical generating plant in North Bergen was canceled.

The county’s hospitals also made news when CarePoint Health announced it was selling off Hoboken University Medical Center, Christ Hospital, and Bayonne Medical Center. The first two will be purchased by RWJ Barnabas Health, which owns Jersey City Medical Center. The Bayonne facility was bought by Avery Eisenreich, owners of nursing home operator Alaris.

Bayonne

A digital rendering of the twin 22-story towers under construction at 26 North Street in Bayonne

Bayonne has always been known as the Peninsula City. But until the light rail was built, it might as well have been known as the Insular City. Unlike other Hudson County towns, there was no PATH and no ferry to connect it to its glitzy neighbor across the river.

All that changed in 2000 when the light rail made it easy to link to PATH trains and ferries in Jersey City and Hoboken and travel to other Hudson County towns as far north as North Bergen.

High-rise development came on board, a nascent art scene developed, ethnic restaurants flourished, and immigrants from the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Latin countries joined the Irish, Italians, and Poles who had been in the city for a century.

If you build it …

The Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) is the beating heart of Bayonne development. In March, the city council adopted an ordinance to create a Special Improvement District at Harbour Place on MOTBY, where multiple large-scale developments are under construction.

Plans for the Rte. 440 west area continued in 2019. At South Cove Commons a hotel is in the works, and a pedestrian walkway across 440 from the 34th Street Light Rail station was still being discussed. A transit village development, proposed this year, would provide walking paths leading to this pedestrian bridge.

A development under construction at MOTBY

A ferry is slated for MOTBY’s southern shore, to be run by Seastreak, a private operator that currently has a berth at Pier 11 in Manhattan. It hasn’t yet come to fruition, pending talks with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey regarding the building of a terminal, either floating or on land.

A more quixotic transportation option is the building of a gondola system parallel to the Bayonne Bridge carrying passengers to and from Staten Island. It would connect to the 8th Street Light Rail station, becoming a boon to Manhattan commuters. The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation is on board and a designer selected. But there will be a lot more red tape before there will be aerial accessibility.

When it comes to development, residents don’t always share the vision of city planners and officials. Twin 22-story towers under construction at 26 North Street will be the tallest buildings between Jersey City and New Brunswick. Some residents oppose the ground-floor supermarket, citing congestion and parking concerns. Others just have high anxiety. For years, new high rises have sparked controversy among Bayonne natives nostalgic for the Bayonne box: single family homes with driveways for the essential family car.

Sewer issues

In July, Bayonne submitted Evaluation of Alternatives reports to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which evaluate ways to mitigate the negative consequences of a combined sewer system before the city submits its long-term plan in June of 2020.

During rain storms, water entering the sewer system exceeds the capacity of the combined sewer system, discharging human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris into surrounding estuaries through the city’s 30 combined sewage overflows (CSO) and onto city streets through storm drains.

In August, Bayonne officials announced the results of a new technology employed by Suez-Bayonne that can quickly detect and clear blockages in drains and storm lines caused by detergent, grease, and natural substances.

Hospital scare

In September, RWJ Barnabas Health announced it would buy two CarePoint hospitals, including Bayonne Medical Center. In November the owner of a nursing home chain bought BMC, prompting Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti to introduce a hospital transparency bill, while officials sought to establish a Bayonne Hospital Authority. Mayor Davis and other Jersey officials deemed it a medical emergency.

A home for hipsters

In 2019, young, well-heeled hipsters continued to take advantage of the light rail—and soon they will ride the ferry—to fill up new “luxury” rentals and condos. To many of these newcomers, Bayonne is a bargain. They bring with them strong environmental values, preferring bike lanes to boulevards, and paper to plastic.

Many municipalities are banning plastic bags.

This summer, Bayonne joined other Hudson County towns in banning single-use plastic bags and straws. Walking and biking were made easier by the completion of the pedestrian and cycling path on the Bayonne Bridge. Two parks, Cottage Street and 28th, were poised for facelifts, further encouraging an open-space ethos.

Race matters

In February, data released by the NJ Department of Education revealed that while more than 58 percent of the district’s students were kids of color, their teachers were 90 percent white. The DOE is setting a goal to have novice teachers reflect the diversity of public-school students by 2025.

A documentary was released the same month recounting the story of an African American resident of Bayonne who was falsely accused of a Georgia murder in 1960.

In 2019, racial strife persisted. In April, a noose was found hanging in Dennis P. Collins Park. In July, three teenagers were charged with spray painting swastikas at three locations in separate incidents. After this incident Bayonne condemned symbols of hate. But in August, racist dolls had to be removed from a Bayonne store.

Photographs of smiling Bayonne residents were plastered onto a wall in Bergen Point, titled “Faces of Bayonne.”

In June, photographs of smiling Bayonne residents were plastered onto a wall in Bergen Point. The portraits, titled “Faces of Bayonne,” demonstrate the city’s diversity, an important symbol as Bayonne grows and changes.

Hello and Goodbye

In 2019, Bayonne said good-by to Frank Theatres, and Vinny Bottino, the much-loved owner of the Big Apple Sports Bar. The mural of Chuck Wepner was down for the count, but a statue of him will grace Hudson County Park. Meanwhile, peregrine falcons were born in a nesting tower near the Bayonne Bridge. Welcome to the circle of life, Bayonne division.

Hoboken

Hoboken saw a slew of ongoing stories, covering transportation, open space, the environment, and political chicanery, to name a few.

Union Dry Dock

In March, residents and officials protested NY Waterway’s plans to turn Union Dry Dock into a ferry homeport for maintenance and refueling.

Hoboken is a small town, so open space is important to residents, and to its recent mayors. It was this commitment to open space that lead to the saga of Union Dry Dock.

NY Waterway, which owns the Union Dry Dock property, wants to build a homeport for maintenance and refueling on the site. The city and most residents opposed the plan, citing environmental issues caused by idling ferries, and safety concerns with nearby kayakers. More important, the land could be used for a park to connect the contiguous waterfront walkway.

At least a dozen stories focused on the conflict between the city and NY Waterway. In February the city issued a stop work order to NY Waterway. This was followed by the city’s attempt to take the land by eminent domain, and NY Waterway’s counter suits to use the site as it saw fit.

By October, the city had made an offer to buy the land, and NY Waterway was considering it. Stay tuned.

The new Northwest Resiliency Park will be the city’s largest park.

And speaking of open space…

For a mile-square city, Hoboken has a lot of parks that are being proposed, constructed, or upgraded. In January, Madison Square Park got a facelift. The following month, three design concepts were unveiled for Harborside Park. In March, the city council took up a proposal for the city’s largest park, an expensive and multifaceted project called Northwest Resiliency Park. By late June, the city had announced a $50 million contract toward its construction. The project officially broke ground that summer.

Also in late June, the city announced the opening of the 7th and Jackson Park. In late September, the council addressed a proposal to expand Southwest Resiliency Park. In another eminent domain threat, the city had to first wrest the property from Academy Bus. Lawsuits ensued, and by mid-November a judge, siding with Academy Bus, said that Hoboken’s case “doesn’t pass the smell test.” Back to the drawing board.

‘Pupie’ in deep doo-doo

The city began construction on the Northwest Resiliency Park which will help prevent flooding caused by heavy rains.

Hudson County isn’t noted for its upstanding politicos. Witness 2009’s Operation Bid Rig in which scads of high-level New Jersey elected officials were convicted of bribery. This year, the saga of Frank ‘Pupie’ Raia ate up a lot of web space. Raia, a well-known Hoboken politico, was charged in a vote-by-mail bribery scheme.

From January through June, various accomplices pleaded guilty to the scheme in which voters were offered $50 bucks each to vote for Raia in a 2013 election and support a referendum to loosen rent-control laws.
No go. By the end of June 2019, Raia had been found guilty of bribery, and by early December, he had been sentenced to three months in prison and fined $50,000.

Residents in Hoboken took advantage of an electric scooter sharing pilot program for six months, becoming the first in the state to launch one.

Scoot over

Who would have thought that five-year-olds’ favorite ride would become the motor vehicle of the moment for Hoboken adults and elected officials?

Talk of scooters, scooter safety, and scooter regulations took up an inordinate amount of time in 2019.
In April a pilot program for electric Lime Scooters was adopted, and the city’s electric scooter sharing pilot program was launched in May.
In mid-June law enforcement was cracking down on scooter scofflaws, and by the end of June, Hoboken police had made their first scooter-related arrest.

The summer saw the Hoboken City Council considering e-scooter referendums and e-scooter-sharing contracts. And by September, amid safety concerns lodged by police and the public, the council was considering further e-scooter regulations. A newly renegotiated contract prompted the city to hire enforcement officers. Good thing. By mid-November three men had been arrested for scooting under the influence.
The pilot program came to an end on Nov. 20, but a permanent program could return as the council subcommittee reviews data from the pilot and additional legislation.

The Rebuild By Design project which will create resist structures to protect the city from flooding progressed this year, but design challenges necessitated an extension.

Water, water everywhere

With the west side flooded, and the memory of the Hudson River surging into the PATH station during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, something had to be done. Seven years later, prevention measures were still in the works.

Rebuild by Design, the project charged with preventing flooding, held workshops for residents and city officials throughout the year.

The Department of Environmental Protection announced the project was behind schedule, and it was requesting an extension.

Meanwhile, the city considered new contracts for Suez, its water provider, after years of water main breaks that flooded city streets.

The city adopted a new contract in May, forming a new public water utility that will allow the city to better invest in repairs.

In September, the city instituted water main upgrades, and in October hired a new superintendent of the city’s water system. Over the next two years the city will replace more than 14,000 feet of the Hoboken water main system.

Over the next two years Hoboken will replace more than 14,000 feet of its water main system.

Going on up

Ongoing development projects include the Monarch, proposed 11-story towers on Hoboken’s northern waterfront. Lawsuits involving zoning were ongoing, and in July the Monarch litigation marathon ended. The developers agreed to settle with the city and not develop the uptown waterfront property in exchange for redeveloping the Public Works garage at 256 Observer Hwy.

The Redevelopment plan for the Public Works Garage saw amendments through the year. New amendments will be introduced at the Hoboken City Council in the coming year. Hoboken Yards Redeveloped Plan was another much-discussed project. The area, south of Observer Highway, caused resident concern about scope, view, traffic, and the flood wall.

Amendments were introduced in November, and new ones will be introduced in 2020.

Discussions were held regarding the North End Redevelopment Plan for the area north of 14th Street and West of Park Avenue.

In September, the city’s planning consultants presented a draft redevelopment plan. The area could include two light rail stations, open space, a pedestrian plaza, and mixed-used buildings for retail and residential.

The Post Office Redevelopment Plan was also on the agenda. The city would have KMS Development partners develop the parking lot behind the River Street post office into a Hilton Hotel, but the project came under legal fire by two neighboring businesses.

They sought to void the deal, claiming the givebacks the city would receive amounted to a quid pro quo and cronyism.

The city voided the deal, approving a new redevelopment agreement with the developer in June, only to be hit with another suit from the same neighbors that August. The developers went before the planning board several times to hash out the details.

Back to business

To stimulate business, the city passed new zoning codes, expanding the business district to all of Washington Street and along First Street, 14th Street, and a portion of Jefferson Street. This will make it easier for businesses to open because they won’t need to go before the zoning board to get variances.

The city created the first ever Special Improvement District to stimulate business. It will add extra street cleaning, and create a marketing campaign after the council approved its $1.3 million budget.

Management

Hoboken held a contentious election as 14 people ran for six at-large council seats, and five ran for three seats on the Board of Education. Two referendums were on the ballot, which will permit the city to collect funds for historic preservation and city parks. Incumbents were the big winners. Phil Cohen, who replaces Peter Cunningham to represent the Fifth Ward, is the only new face. On the school board, Joyce Simmons was elected to fill the seat of Jennifer Evans.

Reefer madness

As New Jersey addressed legalizing recreational marijuana, three medical marijuana dispensaries will be permitted in zoned industrial areas along the northern and southern borders of town and in the Central Business District. The planning board has discussed the application of a medical cannabis dispensary to be located near Newark and Hudson Streets should the plan be approved.

It’s high time.

Jersey City

2019 was an eventful year in Jersey City as the administration tackled Vision Zero initiatives, open space, housing, and crime, not to mention one or two legal disputes.

Jersey City adopted a Bike Master Plan in October calling for more than 100 miles of protected and unprotected bike lanes on city streets.

Eye on the prize

In 2018 the city launched its Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries on local roads by 2026. To that end, in 2019 the city created protected bike lanes, passing a Bike Master Plan in October. In September, to accommodate residents living in “traffic deserts,” through a $1.8 million partnership with New York City-based company Via, Jersey City will become the first city in the state to have an on-demand bus system.

School funding, suits, and leadership

Jersey City’s Public School District had a tumultuous year, facing funding cuts, new leadership, and a legal battle against the state.

At the first school board meeting of the new year, the board voted 8-1 to seek a new superintendent of schools. On Jan. 31 it voted to remove Dr. Marcia Lyles as superintendent, naming Franklin Walker as interim superintendent, just one day after Lyles filed a federal lawsuit claiming the board’s termination of her contract was part of a campaign of harassment and defamation.

Standing outside President Barack Obama School in Jersey City, local school board officials joined by labor leaders in April announced a lawsuit to regain state aid after the state cut funding to the district.

The state severely cut the district’s funding and plans to continue cuts over the next five years amounting to a loss of $175 million by 2024. In April the school board filed a lawsuit against the state to reverse the cuts, claiming they violated state Supreme Court rulings that called for “a thorough and efficient” education of all students and mandated large aid packages to cities most in need.

In May, more than 270 nontenured teachers received layoff notices as the district attempted to balance a $120 million budget gap. Last summer the board added the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) to the lawsuit alleging the SDA underfunded the district by approximately $1.4 billion.

In November, new board of education members were elected. Gerald Lyon, Noemi Velasquez, and Alexander Hamilton won three-year terms. Incumbents Gina Verdibello and Lekendrick Shaw each won one-year terms. At year’s end, the Attorney General also announced the indictment of five politicians and political candidates, including school board president Sudhan Thomas for allegedly accepting $35,000 in bribes. Thomas’s term expired at the end of 2019.

Embroiled agency

The nonprofit Jersey City Employment Training Program had a chaotic year. Two executive directors left the program: James McGreevey was terminated in January. A forensic audit by its oversight board revealed that millions of dollars were allegedly unaccounted for, dating to when McGreevey was executive director. He disputed the allegation. In July, Sudhan Thomas, who became executive director after McGreevy, gave notice amid accusations that he mishandled the program’s funds; a whistle blower suit was filed by a fired employee. Katrice Thomas is now at the helm of the JCETP.

During a May meeting of the Jersey City Council residents protested short-term rentals as the council considered additional regulations.

Home sweet home

Housing was a major issue this year as the city announced upgrades to several affordable housing complexes, and the council began tackling rent control. In March the city opened Mill Creek Gardens at 565 Montgomery St., a 126-unit mixed-income low-rise apartment building. This summer Marion Gardens affordable housing complex at 57 Dales Ave. got a community center, computer lab, refurbished basketball court, and Head Start Early Childhood Center.

Holland Gardens affordable housing complex, at 235 16th St., held public workshops to envision its redevelopment as mixed-income high rises.The complex will have at least 500 units of market-rate and low-income units and commercial space. This year, the Jersey City Council subcommittee held public meetings to reform the city’s rent control ordinance.

In a referendum on the November ballot Jersey City residents voted to uphold an ordinance mandating more regulations on short-term rentals like Airbnb.

New legislation to update the decades-old ordinance is expected next year. After numerous protests and millions in campaign funds spent, Jersey City residents voted in November in favor of a referendum to uphold additional regulations on short-term rentals like Airbnb. This marked the first time on the East Coast that Airbnb lost a referendum regarding short-term rentals. The new rules prohibit short-term rentals for more than 60 days in properties where the owner does not live onsite. It prohibits short-term rentals entirely in buildings with more than four units, and renters are not allowed to serve as short-term rental hosts.

Mourners gathered in Jersey City to remember the four victims of the Dec. 10 mass shooting at the JC Kosher Supermarket in Greenville. (photo by Jennifer Brown)

Gun violence and public safety

These were several shootings this year. Following are just two high-profile examples. A gang-related shooting in Newport Mall on Jan. 11 created a panic among shoppers and left two people wounded after a fistfight in the food court broke out. The men involved were arrested. On Dec. 10 two individuals opened fire at the JC Kosher Supermarket in the city’s Greenville neighborhood in what Attorney General Gurbir Grewal termed an act of domestic terrorism. David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, targeted the JC Kosher Supermarket at 223 Martin Luther King Dr. killing three people in what became an hours’ long shootout before police entered the building and found the suspects dead.

On Dec. 10 the JC Kosher Supermarket came under attack by two assailants in an hours long shootout with police.

The city revved up public safety in 2019 installing new CCTV cameras, hiring more police officers, and planning for the construction of a new $120 million Public Safety Headquarters in Jackson Square. It will include 911 dispatch operations, fire department, police department, and parking enforcement divisions.

North Bergen

Mayor of North Bergen Nicholas Sacco.

In North Bergen, suspense was 2019’s theme. Would the expansion of the high school free itself of lawsuits from political gadflies? Would a controversial natural-gas-fired power plant to supply electricity to New York City ever be approved? Would the long political career of Mayor Nicholas Sacco be eclipsed by his perennial opponent Larry Wainstein?

Wainstein kept up a relentless barrage of assaults against the Sacco administration leading up to the May 14 election, questioning the number of electoral petitions that Sacco and his four running mates received before the deadline of March 11, after finding that most of the petitions were never filed with the township clerk. He filed an ethics complaint with the state’s School Ethics Commission against Superintendent of Schools George Solter, alleging that he violated the School Ethics Act by sending a letter blaming the stalled expansion of the high school on lawsuits filed by Wainstein and one of his running mates. He caused an outcry from the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Priests and Latino Ministers over an election flier that included a photo-shopped depiction of Sacco in an ICE uniform that claimed “Sacco and his friends at Hudson County jail take $19 million from ICE to lock up people like North Bergen residents and treat them like dogs.”

Despite all that, Sacco, along with his full slate of incumbent commissioners, won in a landslide on May 14 against a slate headed by Larry Wainstein.

Environmentalists protest the proposed North Bergen Liberty Generating power plant.

In October, environmentalists and climate change activists celebrated after Gov. Phil Murphy announced his opposition to North Bergen Liberty Generating, a power plant slated for construction in a site zoned for industrial use in North Bergen. Mayor Sacco effectively said that the project is off the table, despite the anticipated tax windfall. The NBLG plant would have generated more than three million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, which would have made it the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the state. It would have increased statewide GHG emissions by 20 percent, according to green advocates.

There was another, less earthbound, event. In a township with a rich history of UFO sightings and testimony from residents who claim to have experienced alien abductions, the high school drama club seized the popular imagination with a low-budget but extraordinarily inventive staging of an adaptation of the sci-fi horror film “Alien.” When clips of the play went viral in March with millions of views, the students garnered kudos from celebrities, filmmakers, and journalists. An encore in April was bankrolled by Mayor Sacco’s nonprofit foundation and donations from the director of the original film series, Ridley Scott. On April 26 the students got a surprise visit from the star of the first four “Alien” films, Sigourney Weaver.

Secaucus

Secaucus said goodbye to Al Certo, who died at age 90. Though a New Jersey boxing legend, trainer, and manager, Certo lived a quiet life as a tailor in Secaucus for more than 50 years. He was born in Hoboken, delivered by a midwife named Dolly Sinatra, mother of you know who. One of 13 children, he grew up on Monroe Street, about a block from the Sinatra family.

Former Secaucus High School Principal Robert Berckes addresses students.

Early in the year, the Board of Education settled a lawsuit brought by Robert Berckes, who was removed as the high school principal in April 2018. The board agreed to pay Berckes his annual salary of $124,000 through June 30, 2019. Berckes filed his suit against the district for wrongful firing. After the board removed Berckes, it tried to revoke his tenure but kept secret the details of his removal. Berckes later said the matter involved how he handled an incident in which a Secaucus High School student was caught with a knife and allegedly flushed drugs down a school toilet.

The town council introduced an ordinance at its June 26 meeting that would prohibit short-term rentals for 30 days or less. Secaucus already had several measures in place to control short-term rentals, including a rule that any change of occupant rental or ownership required that a new CO be obtained, regardless of how long the residency. This allows the town to know when people move in and out. The town’s Bureau of Fire Prevention required smoke and carbon monoxide detector inspections when people move out and before a new resident moves in, thus alerting the town to unusual activity.

In mid-summer the long awaited American Dream Mall made its long-delayed debut, amid fears that traffic would turn into a nightmare. The mall is expected to receive 30-40 million visitors in its first year and is slated to have 30,000 parking spaces.

Union City

Saints Joseph and Michael Church held a re-dedication ceremony, celebrating its first mass after being rebuilt. The church was one of many structures claimed by a fatal fire that devastated Union City on March 4, 2017. Dozens of homes near the intersection of Central and Summit avenues were also destroyed. The fire was reported to have started after two men, now serving sentences for reckless manslaughter, were flicking lit matches at someone sleeping on a couch. A two-year-old who perished was the son of one of the men charged with reckless manslaughter.

This year, Union City filmmakers were in post-production for “The Forgotten Olympian,” a documentary detailing the life of Otis Davis, an African-American athlete who won two gold medals in the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics. Davis, a resident for almost 30 years, was also working on an autobiography. In the Rome Olympics, Davis set a world record in the 400-meter dash.

Union City’s mayor and Hudson County Senator Brian Stack, a Hudson County power broker, objected in April when actor Lillo Brancato, known for his roles in A Bronx Tale and The Sopranos, gave an unpaid speech to an assembly of Union City high school students to promote an anti-drug message, based on his own recovery from cocaine and heroin addiction and the real-life crime that landed him in prison. Part of his story involved his participation in a second-degree burglary that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The mayor, who is also Union City’s police director, condemned Brancato’s presence due to his criminal convictions.

The mystery surrounding an accident that caused a colossal traffic snarl on Route 495 on July 3 was solved when Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez announced the findings of the investigation. The accident, which involved a Department of Public Works truck that collided with several vehicles before overturning at a barrier and falling from an overpass, was caused by “driver error.”

Weehawken

After nine contentious hearings that began in May, the Weehawken Planning Board in November unanimously denied Hartz Mountain’s application to construct two 18-story residential towers, totaling 335 rental units, on Harbor Blvd. in the Lincoln Harbor neighborhood. Objectors felt that the development was too large for the area. Officials had demands related to parking and access to the waterfront, which Hartz Mountain wasn’t willing to meet.

A digital rendering of the proposed Hartz Mountain Development in Lincoln Harbor, Weehawken.

In July, the Township Council had approved a 25-year tax abatement for a property being developed by Roseland Residential, a subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corp., on highly-coveted waterfront land at Port Imperial Boulevard. Roseland, which has developed many waterfront properties in the area, is developing a 302-unit property with indoor and outdoor amenities adjacent to the township Waterfront Park and Recreation Center. The project is expected to cost $132 million. Expansion of the waterfront park was approved in March and broke ground in late summer.

In July, the ever-popular Taste of Weehawken, an annual food festival for local restaurants to offer samples of their culinary offerings, was cancelled for lack of a suitable venue.

Eric Crespo was hired as the school district’s new superintendent, and the high school marching band took home a state championship title at the USBands Division IIA competition.

West New York

The biggest story in West New York in 2019 was Mayor Felix Roque’s ouster. Commissioners Gabriel Rodriguez, Cosmo Cirillo, and Margarita A. Guzman, along with Victor M. Barrera and Yoleisy Yanez, kown as the “New Beginnings West New York” slate, got an avalanche of high-profile political endorsements. Clearly, Roque’s brusque, no-nonsense approach had alienated people inside and outside the city.

The next few months were marked by political warfare with accusations the mayor had sidestepped the bidding process on certain expenditures. The mayor, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit claiming the “Rodriguez Commissioners” used unlawful methods to strip him of power.

Roque introduced some add-on resolutions at the Board of Commissioners meeting on March 27 calling for a new policy in response to years of widespread Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detentions and deportations of undocumented residents across Hudson County. His opponents said that they didn’t have a chance to look at the resolutions prior to Roque’s motion to vote on them, tabling both resolutions for further review.

In the month before the vote, David Wildstein, of Bridgegate fame, alleged Roque’s campaign was being run by a former Bergen County Democratic Organization chair infamous for a number of federal bribery convictions.

Wildstein also accused Roque of having a controversial alliance with Manny Diaz, who was convicted of cocaine trafficking and sentenced to prison in 1999.

The “New Beginnings West New York” slate won the municipal election by a clear margin. Rodriguez was elected by his fellow commissioners as the city’s next mayor.

Based on reporting by Marilyn Baer, Michael Montemarano, Rory Pasquariello, and Al Sullivan