Labor union protests new Fraternity Meadows high-rise in Secaucus

The largely symbolic protest failed to sway the zoning board from approving the variance

Purple-shirt-wearing protesters pointed to an influx of “poverty jobs” as a reason to deny the height variance to the developers of the Xchange at Secaucus Junction.

At the Jan. 13 Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, developers from Fraternity Meadows LLC sought a height variance that would allow for their proposed new building at Xchange to be taller than buildings currently permitted in the area. The limit is currently 15 stories for towers at Secaucus Junction, but Fraternity Meadows is asking for an exception to build a 25-story tower.

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Ederle Vaughn is an office cleaner at Xchange as well as a member of the Executive Board of 32BJ SEIU, a labor union made up of more than 12,000 building service workers in New Jersey. Dressed in purple shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stronger Together,” a dozen or so members of the union filed into the packed hearing at Secaucus Town Hall.

Vaughn said she was present on behalf of more than 60 cleaners, door persons, and handy persons who work at Xchange at Secaucus Junction. Vaughn addressed the board regarding 32BJ SEIU’s issues with the additional building.

“These people work hard every day to keep Secaucus residents safe and comfortable in their homes,” Vaughn said. “Xchange workers take care of Secaucus families, but many cannot afford to take care of their own families in Hudson County.”

Vaughn said that the workers of Xchange are employed by a contractor called Planned Companies. She claims the new building in the development will only bring more jobs with “poverty wages” and no affordable health insurance.

“Do not reward this kind of bad behavior by giving the applicant special permission to build a 25-story tower,” Vaughn said. “If things continue as they are, the new project will only bring more poverty jobs to Secaucus.”

Vaughn urged the zoning board to promote genuine economic opportunity in Secaucus as opposed to the minimum wage jobs offered at Xchange by Planned Companies.

But the largely symbolic protest failed to sway the board from approving the variance

Afterward, Michael Gonnelli, mayor of Secaucus, stepped to the podium to clarify the situation. He said that he has no current objections to the plan which was approved before he was elected mayor.

“I feel it’s OK, because nothing is changing in the building,” Gonnelli said. “That’s the only reason I’m OK with it.”

Gonnelli added that he was a commissioner on the New Jersey Sports Exposition Authority (NJSEA) at the time when the application was approved and voted against the plans.

George Cascino, planner for the project, testified on behalf of Fraternity Meadows that the building met all criteria to be granted the variance.

Cascino said that the variance did not impact public welfare because the number of units remains the same. The only thing changing is the shape of the building. By building on airspace rather then ground space, Fraternity Meadows claimed the new design benefited the environment.

Residents concerned about public services

A rendering of the newly approved 25-story building at Xchange at Secaucus Junction provided by developer Fraternity Meadows, LLC

A common topic at the meeting was the use of town resources. Some members of the public worried about the potential drain on resources the new building would bring and suggested the developers build their own school or fire department.

Now that the redevelopment plan is in place, Gonnelli supports its completion, noting the contributions that the developers have made to the town of Secaucus.

“[Fraternity Meadows] are going to contribute an impact fee of $2 million,” Gonnelli said, suggesting the town might build a school or fire department at Xchange with that money.

Gonnelli explained that the developer had contributed to the construction and rehabilitation of a local fire station. The new building will include a police annex and library, according to the mayor.

Secaucus residents had mixed opinions regarding the towers. Citizens urged the board to reject the variance on the grounds that the developer would construct more towers in the future. One citizen even said the new building might attract terrorists.

On the other hand, some residents thought the building was beautiful and elegant, and would attract young professionals to live in Xchange.

The board clarified to the public that the height variance would apply only to this building and that other potential new buildings at Xchange would be subject to the limitations in the redevelopment plan.

More than 16 years in Secaucus

Despite the uproar over the project, the outcome was practically set in stone before the Jan. 13 meeting.

Fraternity Meadows’s initial application was approved in 2004 for a total of two thousand residential units. Regardless of the building height, Fraternity Meadows would have been constructing a new building in the Riverfront Landing Zone.

This development was approved by the NJSEA before the merge with the Meadowlands Commission. Fraternity Meadows began construction at the 60-acre Riverfront Landing site in 2004, when the redevelopment plan for the Transit Village was approved.

At the time, the NJSEA was responsible for approving developments in the Xchange at the Secaucus Transit Village. After the 2015 consolidation, local towns became responsible for the review and approval of site plans. Now the Meadowlands Commission refers dealings regarding the development to the Secaucus Town Planner on behalf of the town.

The application was denied by the city in November of 2019 and referred to the zoning board due to a height variance the applicant requires. This is the first time that Fraternity Meadows had to go before the planning board under the new jurisdiction.

The new building, known as “Building G,” is the seventh building constructed by the developer at Secaucus Junction and will house a total of 403 residential units. An internal four-story parking garage will house 460 parking spots for residents of “Building G.”

This won’t be the last of their residential buildings on the property. According to attorneys, the developers have not yet reached their required quota of affordable housing units.

Out of the 2,035 residential units limited to the development, 230 were mandated to be affordable housing units.

Fraternity Meadows has already constructed 1,538 units. Of the already constructed apartments, 188 are considered affordable housing units. “Building G” would bring the grand total of residential units at Xchange to 1,941.

To meet compliance, the developers will have to construct another building to house these units. More buildings will be coming to Xchange at Secaucus Junction.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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