On Dec. 2 the Hoboken City Council will hear an ordinance amendment on final reading which could allow for more corner stores in two of the city’s residential zones, the R-2 and R-3 zones.
According to the ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Michael DeFusco, the measure seeks to “streamline the approval process” and “encourage the growth of neighborhood retail businesses and services, especially at street corners.”
The ordinance pertains to two of the city’s residential zones: the R-2 zone broadly makes up the center of Hoboken spanning roughly from Willow Avenue west to Clinton Street; in the north near 13th Street to as far as Madison Street; and in the south near Second Street.
The R-3 zone is primarily in the city’s southwest spanning from roughly the light rail tracks along the city’s western border east to Madison Street; from roughly Seventh Street to Second Street where it juts out to as far as Willow Avenue and ends south near Observer Highway.
The measure will increase the lot coverage maximums for corner lots that contain ground-floor retail businesses, allowing the ground floor to cover 100 percent of the lot up to 2,000 square feet. All floors above the ground floor will be allowed to have a maximum lot coverage of 60 percent.
The measure states that a height bonus can be applied to these corner lots when ground-floor commercial space is included. In that case, four residential stories will be allowed over the ground floor commercial space, but the buildings cannot exceed 52 feet above grade level.
Brief back and forth
At the Nov. 18 meeting, Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher questioned if the ordinance amendment would have the unintended effect of tearing down existing buildings and possible future resident displacement.
DeFusco said the ordinance would not only impact a limited number of lots but “businesses are dying … it is long overdue for this city council to take action on outdated zoning,” adding that the ordinance simply attempts to follow the 2017 master plan by incentivizing ground-floor retail on corner lots.
“We can fear monger. We can pull the boogeyman out of the closet and tell people that they are going to get kicked out of their homes, but in reality, this is trying to continue Hoboken’s history as a destination where people can walk out of their homes, buy toilet paper, buy soap, and walk home. That’s it,” said DeFusco.
Fisher said she didn’t disagree that that was the ordinance’s intent but said that by allowing for additional building heights, developers may be incentivized to tear older buildings down.
“Anyone if given that opportunity to increase their economics on an older building would be incentivized to tear it down,” Fisher said. “So the question is, have we looked at whose living in these corner properties because I think displacement is an issue for Hoboken.”
She noted that the R2 and R3 zones are where many rent-controlled and older units are found.
“I just think displacement of people in Hoboken is worth looking at,” she said. “I mean let’s look at the corners. How many of these buildings are filled with moderate to low-income people living in rent-controlled units? Are we concerned that those are going to be torn down and rebuilt as a brand new building?”
DeFusco said that was simply “fear-mongering,” telling Fisher that if she doesn’t agree with the policy to just vote no.
“Let’s not pretend that we are trying to potentially displace people here because that’s what’s wrong with politics and that’s what’s wrong with this city: that we are unwilling to take positive planning steps to help small businesses,” said DeFusco.
Fisher countered, “What’s wrong with this city is that we make very quick decisions without looking to its impact on the population and doing enough due diligence to research it.”
DeFusco noted that the amendments were reviewed by the planning board twice and have been reviewed in subcommittee.