The Hoboken Planning Board began public hearings on Thursday about how to redevelop the city’s southwestern area, after an approximate six-year process. Thursday night’s hearing was the first opportunity for the public to see details of the much-anticipated Southwest Redevelopment Study, a 128-page document prepared by Clarke Caton Hintz that makes recommendations about whether the city’s southern entrance meets the criteria for redevelopment.
An initial hearing was cancelled earlier this month after property owners and other interested parties pushed the maximum occupancy of the City Hall conference room over the allowed limit.
Thursday’s three-hour meeting was held at the multiservice center at 124 Grand St. and gathered business owners, attorneys, and residents. Most of the meeting was dedicated to an explanation of the redevelopment study by consulting firms.
An area of a town can be designated for redevelopment if it meets several criteria, included containing unsafe or dilapidated properties. Once the city can prove that the property meets the criteria, the city can take several actions, including drawing up a redevelopment plan and seeking competitive proposals from developers who want to build. The city can also force property owners to sell their land to the city by use of eminent domain.
What’s there now
According to the study, 74 percent of the properties in the 17-acre area meet the criteria for redevelopment, defined as areas with unsafe, unsanitary, or dilapidated buildings; land that is owned by the city, and properties that have been destroyed by fire or natural causes.
Many of the properties are parking lots and small industrial or commercial businesses.
Due to the length of the explanation of the study, as well as questions from members of the board, the public was not given a chance to comment. That opportunity will come during the next meeting on Feb. 29.
“We want to see that part of the city developed in a positive way.” – Richard Snyder
The study characterizes the area as a “popular gateway to Hoboken from Jersey City,” as well as a Holland Tunnel access point. It also details the aesthetic value of the area.
“Although there has been relatively recent redevelopment in the form of high-rise residential condominiums (i.e. Hoboken Grand, The Skyline),” the study says, “some downtrodden remnants of the city’s industrial past persist here.”
Michael Sullivan, a principal with Clarke Caton Hintz, explained that although certain properties did not meet the criteria for redevelopment, they were included as “necessary” for the redevelopment of the surrounding area and to improve the flow of traffic in the area.
Demolish a business and old firehouse?
Although he didn’t elaborate, the necessary inclusion of some properties seemed to some audience members to mean those properties could be demolished.
One such property that did not meet the criteria for redevelopment but was included in the study was the Hoboken Beer and Soda Outlet at 565-569 Newark St.
“It’s a very active place,” said Sullivan, “[and] it’s a well-kept building.”
Sullivan said the lot was included because it would cut down on traffic along Newark Street, a road with heavy congestion. By including the lot in the redevelopment plans, Sullivan explained, it could create another access point to Jersey City by way of Grove Street.
“It would give some flexibility in creating that communal access,” said Sullivan. “If this property is included, there’s now access to Grove Street, which makes a lot of sense.”
Another controversial redevelopment area was the location of the old firehouse at 55 Madison St. When Sullivan announced that the area was being considered for redevelopment, the audience grumbled in response.
“That’s historical,” one audience member shouted.
Sullivan said the area is necessary for inclusion because it could free up the flow of traffic due to its proximity to a major intersection.
“We don’t want [the redevelopment] to be piecemeal,” Sullivan said later in the meeting. “We want it to be one well-thought-out plan.”
Residents have varied interests
Members of the public spoke with the Reporter after the meeting about their interest in the redevelopment.
Resident Richard Snyder said that he was interested in seeing the land finally redeveloped and wanted to be “part of the process.”
“Right now there’s partially collapsed buildings and stuff like that,” said Snyder. “It’s deleterious. It’s unsightly.”
“We want to see that part of the city developed in a positive way to support more residential areas,” Snyder added.
Jim Vance, a longtime resident and member of an activist group called the Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition, said his main interest is open space.
“My position for the overall area is not so much concerning development, redevelopment, or rehabilitation,” said Vance. “We need open space for a park and recreation area. That’s what the city needs to get going on.”
Vance added, “I want to get on with the park issue and it seems to be taking second place here, and I’m not happy about that. We’re still at square one.”
Following the hearings, the next step is for the Planning Board to forward the results to the City Council, which may then vote on a resolution designating the area in need of development. The council can prepare a redevelopment plan and submit it to the Planning Board for review, or the council can direct the board to prepare a redevelopment plan by resolution.
The council can then adopt the plan by ordinance, which would effectively change the zoning of that area.
Brandy Forbes, Hoboken’s community development director, said last month that the time frame for preparing the plan can vary depending on the process and amount of public input.
Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who represents the area in the study, has expressed hopes to acquire park land through the process. Mayor Dawn Zimmer also has been working to put a park in her home ward since she entered politics in 2007.
Started over after 2006
The City Council initially authorized the Planning Board to determine if the area was in need of redevelopment on Jan. 19, 2006. Following an investigation and public hearing on June 6, 2006, the area was deemed in need of redevelopment. But five 4th Ward residents successfully sued in Superior Court to stop the process, citing technicalities and concerns about potential overdevelopment.
Mayoral elections and other matters stalled progress until October of 2009, when the city authorized the Planning Board to undertake a new investigation.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org