The Hoboken City Council held their regularly scheduled meeting via a Zoom video conference call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only members of the clerks office were in council chambers while council members conferenced in remotely.
To maintain social distancing, members of the public were unable to attend the meeting. However, they could submit testimony via email, and watch the meeting live on the city’s Facebook page.
The council passed resolutions to help the city combat the Coronavirus and support the local economy, approved temporary appropriations of $18.9 million, adopted new hospital zoning, and agreed to settle litigation with Stevens Institute of Technology.
COVID-19 related resolutions
The council adopted four resolutions pertaining to the coronavirus on March 18.
One measure permits the city to use the storm recovery trust fund for Coronavirus response. The second measure suspends interest charges for delinquent taxpayers and a third accepts a donation of 200 surgical masks.
During new business, the council introduced a fourth resolution recommending that the administration reconsider its enforcement of metered parking spots, since many residents are working from home during the pandemic.
According to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, the Office of Emergency Management has recommended meters remain in effect because it provides for the turnover of parking spots that are available for critical needs, including residents that need to travel by car to doctor offices, supermarkets, and healthcare facilities.
“To suspend meters would turn Hoboken streets in commercial districts into a parking lot, especially with street sweeping suspended, with no parking for those who need spots available for critical needs,” said Bhalla. “Additionally, suspending meters for a long period of time with limited parking spots would likely result in cars beginning to park illegally at corners and other locations, which would hinder emergency vehicles from making wide turns and delay emergency responses.”
The council unanimously adopted an ordinance to rezone Hoboken University Medical Center’s property on Willow Avenue. The ordinance aims to protect the hospital so that it can only be used for medical purposes.
It was proposed after CarePoint Health, the network which includes HUMC, dissolved and began liquidating its assets. The company has sued Alaris Health, which bought some of its assets, claiming Alaris was interfering in negotiations with RWJBarnabas Health, which intends to operate HUMC.
Negotiations and litigation are still ongoing.
The C-4 Hospital District uses would include hospital and hospital-related facilities, including in-patient and out-patient services, medical and dental offices, as well as laboratories and diagnostic imaging.
Conditional uses, meaning uses that would have to be approved by variance, include rehabilitation facilities and accessory uses, include child-care facilities serving hospital personnel and patients, and retail services such as a gift shop, florist, pharmacy, or laundry.
The council unanimously approved a resolution permitting temporary appropriations totaling almost $18.9 million.
Of those dollars, approximately $1.2 million will go to the Parking Utility, and $650,000 will go the Water Utility, and $11.4 million will go to the state as the annual pension payment. The rest of the funds go to payroll.
Settling Stevens litigation
The council also adopted a resolution permitting the city to settle ongoing litigation with Stevens Institute of Technology. The dispute is over Temporary No Parking Sign legislation.
Last August, Stevens Institute of Technology Trustees filed a lawsuit against the city alleging new rules regarding the signs were changed in order to extract more funds, a total of $4 million, from the university, which needs the signs for ongoing construction.
In March 2019, the City Council updated the city’s TNP ordinance, which changed the city’s policies pertaining to the sale of the signs, which are used to temporarily block on-street public parking spaces. One of those changes exempted registered nonprofit organizations from paying for temporary no-parking signs. Stevens is a nonprofit corporation, according to the New Jersey Division of Taxation and the Internal Revenue Service.
In July the city further amended the ordinance limiting the fee exemption for nonprofits to only 10 calendar days per year.
Under the settlement, Stevens shall pay the city $800,000 by March 31. In exchange, the city shall exempt Stevens Institute of Technology from all TNP fees on Sinatra Drive for 12 years.
Before the vote, Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher urged her colleagues to vote against the resolution. She urged the mayor to renegotiate a new settlement agreement, stating that the current settlement was a bad deal for the city compared to a previously negotiated deal with Stevens before the suit was filed.
In that agreement, called the Griffith Parking Lot License Agreement, Stevens would have made 62 parking spaces available 24 hours a day seven days a week in the Griffith Parking Lot for residents to use during the construction currently underway on the Stevens campus.
It would also have permitted the city to charge meter rates at these spots.
Additionally, Stevens would pay $40,000 to cover promotional and administrative costs.
It would also keep 50 of those parking spots open for public use during extended hours after construction was finished, in a 20-year agreement.
Fisher compared the settlement agreement to the city’s former Suez Water contract in which the city sold the right to make money off of the water system for too little money upfront in order to close a budget gap in 1994.
Hoboken currently faces a budget gap of up to $13 million.
Ultimately, the council adopted the resolution with 6-1-2 vote. Council members Michael DeFusco and Fisher voted against it while Councilwoman Vanessa Falco, who works for the university, abstained.