As the City Council awaits a major vote next week on whether to authorize the use of eminent domain to acquire park land in the 4th Ward, property owners in Hoboken’s most business-centric area can breathe a sigh of relief now that the council has decided to limit their power to acquire property to renew the southwest corner of the city.
During last month’s meeting, the council voted to move forward with a “rehabilitation” plan rather than the previously decided upon “redevelopment” plan. The move will essentially bar the tools that redevelopment typically allows, chiefly eminent domain – condemning property and paying the owner fair market value – unless the acquisition of property is for public use.
“When it goes back to the City Council we will use whatever time we’re allocated to oppose the initiative.” – James McCann, attorney
The city will now move forward with the rehabilitation plan. But that will not require the Planning Board to gather testimony from the public. This controversial move comes after the board conducted several mandatory public hearings, which will most likely now be discontinued. During the council meeting, a city official estimated the hearings to be only 15 percent complete.
The decision to switch to a rehabilitation approach now awaits approval from the Planning Board, which will consider the resolution on June 5. The council will then have the ultimate authority on whether or not to undertake the rehabilitation initiative.
This backtracking has frustrated some property owners, tenants, and residents, who have complained about the fees paid to attorneys to represent both the property owners and the city during the meetings. Others have expressed their approval with the fact that the city has limited their negotiating power.
Dennis Shah, the owner of Chambord Prints, Inc., 38 Jackson St., said during last month’s council meeting that he supports the rejection of the redevelopment designation.
“[We support] the removal of eminent domain power,” said Shah, who added that the change has come after money has been spent. “It is a bit late that this change is being done. A lot of property owners have spent a lot of money. The city has spent a lot of money.”
Not all property owners are necessarily against the area’s renovation. Joe Mignoli, the owner of the Hoboken Beer & Soda Outlet at 565-569 Newark St., wrote in an email to The Reporter that he believes the southwest area needs updating.
“I do believe that the southwest district is in need of rejuvenating,” said Mignoli, adding that he feels other property owners would work with the city to renovate and update their own properties, if necessary.
Jake Stuiver, a Housing Authority board member and tenant of the included Hoboken Business Center at 50 Harrison St. said he hopes the city can balance the renovation of the area with the needs of the business community.
“If you take a walk through this section of town you can see that it’s not thriving the way other parts of town are,” said Stuiver. “It could definitely use more sprucing up.”
“I think that affordable, flexible office space on the west side of town is definitely something that’s been helpful,” continued Stuiver. “Having something like that continue to exist in some form is really important. At the same time, those interests need to be balanced with the interest of updating the city’s infrastructure.”
Mignoli also expressed his frustration with the hearings that were conducted on the redevelopment study.
“We were forced to retain counsel to represent us at their meetings,” said Mignoli, “and I truly believe that we were represented so well that the City of Hoboken had no chance of winning the debate.”
Mignoli said he hopes he will be able to pass his family-owned business on to the third generation of his family.
James McCann, an attorney representing involved property owners, echoed Mignoli’s sentiments about the hearings.
“I think they abandoned the [hearings] process probably because they recognized that the initiative was going to fail,” said McCann, adding that he feels the public has been eliminated from the process due to the switch to a rehabilitation initiative. “It cost my client a lot of money in legal fees, planning fees, and engineering fees to prepare to oppose the initiative.”
McCann said if the Planning Board authorizes the rehabilitation study, he will continue to oppose the initiative once it is brought back before the City Council.
“I don’t believe there’s a public hearing where property owners can stand up and comment on the [initiative],” said McCann. “When it goes back to the City Council we will use whatever time we’re allocated to oppose the initiative.”
The Planning Board had previously authorized Clarke Caton Hintz, a planning firm, to study the southwest corner of town to determine whether it met the criteria for redevelopment. The board released the firm’s 128-page study in January. The study found that the entire 17-acre area meets the criteria for rehabilitation, a designation given to an area found to contain a dated sewer and water infrastructure or deteriorated structures. Roughly 75 percent of the area, in contrast, met the stricter criteria for redevelopment.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer told The Reporter last month that the council made the right move in switching to a rehabilitation initiative.
“It [was] proving to be a very complex process,” said Zimmer last month, adding that she is uncomfortable with using eminent domain to essentially transfer property from one owner to another.
Community Develop Director Brandy Forbes said during last month’s meeting that the rehabilitation distinction is more “lenient” and therefore would be more acceptable to property owners.
“It’s very distinctly different criteria,” said Forbes during the meeting. “It’s a little more lenient.”
City officials also informed the council that the public would have the right to present their opinions before the city council.
For more on the council’s view of the city’s southwest initiative, see our story in the May 20 Hoboken Reporter or online at www.hudsonreporter.com.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.