Weehawken has been told by the state Department of Environmental Protection to open its waterfront pool to everyone. However, the township is not budging, citing ongoing construction and COVID-19 as reasons that even some local residents are restricted.
Totaling $10.5 million, the township opened the pool in August of 2021, including a splash park, an infant pool, a family pool and a lap-swimming pool. The pool is part of the township’s larger recreation complex, which includes concert grounds, ball fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a pier.
The pool complex is now open on weekends only until June 24, when it will expand to weekdays. It’s free to get in, but visitors must show proof of residency and guests who are non-residents are not permitted.
In a letter to Mayor Richard Turner dated June 8, the DEP noted that it expects non-residents to be provided immediate access to the pool and that Green Acres funds for ongoing projects in the community will not be released until the department has confirmation of pool access for non-residents.
The letter states that the DEP has received multiple complaints about non-residents not being able to access the facility despite the pool being constructed by the DEP’s Green Acres funds.
The DEP wrote in the letter that while local COVID-19 conditions “may be a reasonable basis to temporarily reduce overall capacity at the pool, that is not a basis to exclude non-residents.” The letter also stated that while Weehawken “may provide scheduling priority for its residents as well as adopting differential fees, it is not allowed to exclude non-residents.”
If the township does not comply with the Green Acres rules, the DEP warned it could risk funding to four other projects in the township currently utilizing $4 million in grants from the program.
Turner says no out-of-towners – yet
In an interview with the Hudson Reporter, Turner said that Green Acres paid for “about a third of the pool complex so far.”
“Their standard rule is if you have Green Acres funds for anything, you have to leave it to everybody,” Turner said. “But obviously that’s the standard rule, it doesn’t mean every circumstance we can do it. This year is going to be very difficult because, if you go down there, you’ll see it’s a construction site. So even our residents are being restricted in terms of how many residents we let down there.”
Turner said that the restrictions banning non-residents and restricting the number of residents was first due to COVID-19. Then it shifted being because of construction.
“First it was because of COVID, when COVID started to tick up. Now it’s because of construction,” he said. “For instance, the parking lot when you came in the main entrance is gone. The land in front of the park, where we parked, is privately owned. That’s all gone because it’s being constructed.”
According to Turner, there is no parking at the pool because a redeveloper is constructing a residential building where parking used to be. But when it is completed, the township will have 154 parking spaces through an agreement with the redeveloper, he added.
“We made a public-private partnership with the developers,” he said. “They’re going to build a rental building there. Then we’re going to get the southern portion of the property for 154 parking spaces. But in the interim, we won’t have any parking. So we had to create a whole new parking area adjacent to the pool. So when we lost the parking, we had to restrict it to residents for parking only. Now we can open up the parking to anybody that wants to use that 10-acre site.”
Additional construction on the pool means it may not be open a full season. Turner said the pool may be partially opened in August to accommodate the renovations.
“The pool site is still a construction area where we have to, probably in 30 days or so, start doing the retaining walls around the pool,” he said. “That all has to be ripped out and restored. We think we can do limited operations. Like I said, the pool attendance even for residents has been limited to three sessions with a limited number of people in each session per day… When we get into August, if the shoreline with the rip rap is too complicated, we’ll have to close one certain days. The main road is a two way road. It’s being turned into a one-way road. So this is all what we had to do to go to the next stage of development.”
Other residents to be permitted… eventually
Turner said the pool would be open to non-Weehawken residents once everything has been completed.
“At some point, we will deal with the issue of out-of-towners,” Turner said. “But that just doesn’t accommodate itself for this season, which could be a disrupted season as things go forward.”
As for the DEP, he said they owe Weehawken money for the complex.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to explain things to Green Acres,” he said. “They’re very good at giving us a warning that it should be open, they’re not very good at paying us the money they already owe us. So, it’s typical bureaucracy. They owe us almost a million and a half dollars for over a year, but as soon as someone complains I get a letter saying we have to open it up. But it’s a safety issue and it’s a COVID-19 issue.”
Turner said the township is just trying to keep the pool open for its first full season this year, which is already looking unlikely with the construction.
“This is our first full year we’re trying to keep it open,” he said. “So it’s one thing at a time and we’ll just go forward from here. But everybody has to be patient. We’re thrilled that our neighbors love our pool complex… How we’re going to deal with admittance down the road or in a few seasons, we have no idea. We don’t have a fee structure established or anything. But everybody loves looking at the pool. They just have to be patient.”
While Turner is urging patience, many from Hoboken want to enjoy the pool that is just north of the city. More is likely to unfold on this issue as the township stands its ground.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.