HOBOKEN – Councilman Michael Russo has responded to Mayor Dawn Zimmer's comments – made during Wednesday's City Council meeting – in support of using eminent domain to acquire park land in the southwest ward if negotiations with the property owner fail.
Russo said he was uncomfortable with supporting eminent domain, especially within the timeframe allotted by a $3 million grant available to the city for the acquisition.
"Eminent domain in its totality is always a very last resort for me as a councilperson," said Russo. "There's a whole timeline issue involved with the grant."
An ordinance introduced on a 7-1 vote by the council last Wednesday could, if adopted, authorize the city to utilize eminent domain to acquire a one-acre stretch of park land in the southwest ward. Russo was the only councilperson to vote no against the introduction. Russo also said that the administration should have looked to secure land earlier.
"This [park land matter] should have been [handled] months if not years [ago]," said Russo. "I'm not going to further the problem by going out there and threatening to take property [to ensure it] falls within the $3 million dollar grant [timeline]."
Eminent domain allows the city to condemn property and pay the owner fair market value for the land.
The mayor is determined
Mayor Dawn Zimmer expressed her intention to move forward with the park land during the meeting.
"My commitment to a southwest park ultimately led me to run for 4th Ward Council," said Zimmer. "Since that time, the City Council has repeatedly expressed its unanimous support for the creation of a Southwest Park. Now it is time for all of us to put our money where our mouth is."
The ordinance is expected to undergo a public hearing and a vote for adoption during the next meeting on June 6. It will require five votes for adoption, and Zimmer currently has five allies on the council.
The land is across from the site of the Downtown Pub at Observer Highway and Jackson Street.
Zimmer said in an exclusive interview with The Reporter that negotiations between the property owner and city have failed thus far.
"We're very far apart [from reaching an agreement]" said Zimmer. "We're going to continue trying to negotiate in good faith with the property owner."
Zimmer also said she is "excited" but "nervous" about the ordinance's potential adoption.
If the ordinance fails, the city could stand to lose $3 million in grant money, according to Zimmer, who wrote in a memo to the council that last year's acquisition of a $3 million county Open Space grant for park land would be lost if the city did not identify a purpose and use it within a year.
"[It is] absolutely essential that the City have available all appropriate legal tools to ensure both that the citizens of Hoboken receive the park land that we have promised," said Zimmer in the memo, "and that we do not forfeit the $3 million grant that the County has provided us."
Zimmer, who said she only supports eminent domain for land that would become public use, stressed the importance of the next council meeting.
"[This is] one of the biggest votes that we're going to have," said Zimmer. "This will be a very, very, important council meeting." --Stephen LaMarca