For the second time in 16 months, the developer is requesting to build a taller and thinner building than was approved for the site which runs along River Street between Second and Third streets. The developer currently, according to the redevelopment plan (see sidebar), has been approved to build a 16-story, 160-foot tall building. They are now requesting to build a 275-foot tall, 25-story Hotel. A final vote on the issue could take place as early as the April 21 council meeting.
In December of 2002 the city approved increasing the building's height from 125 to 160 feet, in exchange for a taller, less dense building. At that time, raising the height from 12 to 16 stories was controversial. Now they are back requesting a second height amendment.
The developer's planners and Mayor David Roberts believe that a taller, sleeker building will be a much needed anchor for the Hoboken skyline. Instead of a bunch of background buildings that create a canyon on River Street, the city would have an architecturally significant beacon that would break-up the mile-square city's skyline.
But approval is not a slam-dunk. The deviation from height restrictions is always a visceral, hot-button issue. Those who oppose the amendment worry that a 25-story building, which would be the tallest in the city, is entirely too tall and not on the city's human scale. The critics, who came out in numbers at Wednesday night's council meeting, also worry that too many zoning concessions are being made to the developer, without enough benefit being provided to the city.
One point that is central to understanding this issue is that the city is getting the hotel if it accepts or rejects this amendment. The actual waterfront proposal, including a hotel, passed nearly a decade ago. A hotel will eventually be coming to that location. The council, and virtually every member of the public, thinks a hotel is a good use for the site, and would be a welcomed addition to the city's waterfront.
The council is simply deciding if changing the building's design is beneficial or detrimental. If the council were to vote down the proposed amendments, a 275-room hotel would still be built there, it would just be a shorter, wider building.
Right now it appears as if there are enough votes to pass the amendment. Roberts' five council members, Council President Ruben Ramos, Jr., Councilman Richard Del Boccio, Councilman Christopher Campos, Councilman Michael Cricco, and Councilman Nino Giacchi are currently supporting the amendments.
Opposition members Theresa Castellano, Carol Marsh and Tony Soares are solid no votes, and Councilman Michael Russo, whose father was mayor when the Southern Waterfront Redevelopment Plan was first stuck, has said that he is on the fence.
The developer's case
Wednesday night, the developer presented to the public their reasons for requesting to change the redevelopment plan. David Barry, President of Applied Development Company said that the amendment does not increase the number of rooms or density, but does open up view corridors to the river and increase open space, light and air on Third, River and Sinatra streets.
According to Barry, the proposed amendments are requests from their architect Charles Gwathmey of the New York firm Gwathmey Siegel Architects, architects of modernist landmarks ranging from the minimalist addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's spiraling Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami. His firm has also designed Morgan Stanley's worldwide headquarters at Times Square.
Gwathmey was a finalist in the competition to design the buildings at the World Trade Center site. He was part of the so-called "dream team" of New York architects that also included Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman and Steven Holl.
While taste is obviously subjective, Gwathmey is certainly considered by nearly every expert in the field to be in the upper echelon of the world's architects.
A W Hotel likely
Applied has also reached an agreement with Starwood Hotel and Resorts to manage the hotel, and has announced its intentions to bring a W Hotel to the site, although that is not completely finalized. The W Hotel chain is owned by Starwood, which is based in White Plains, N.Y, and operates other hotels including the Sheraton, St. Regis and Westin chains.
The change in design, said Barry, would facilitate the development of a full service luxury hotel, such as a W. The developers believe that this is an opportunity for this building to be iconic building on the city's waterfront.
"From the start, the goal of the development team was to create the finest hotel in New Jersey, an instant landmark, which would complement and create an identity for Hoboken's skyline," said Barry. "To this end, we retained world renowned Gwathmey Siegel Architects to be the project architects and executed a letter agreement with Starwood Hotel and Resorts to manage the asset."
Hoboken Mayor David Roberts has come out with strong support for the project and supports the amendments. "Since I became Mayor, I have worked to bring a luxury hotel to Hoboken. It reflects Hoboken's standing as a premier destination in New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area," said Roberts. "The hotel will be a major economic catalyst and anchor for our waterfront and downtown."
According to data supplied by Starwood, the hotel would create 200 permanent jobs.
The while the amendments would not change the gross square footage it would add about 35,000 square feet to the mechanical or "back of the house" square footage, according to the developers.
But it is important to note that the proposed amendment would also not change the building's footprint. The bottom 40-feet of the project would be the same as the plan that is already approved, and would cover most of the lot. It would only become thinner at the 40-foot mark.
Opposition on council
Councilman Soares said that this taller project is not right for Hoboken.
"It's in the wrong place," said Soares. "What draws people to Hoboken is its human scale, but this is completely out of the city's character."
He added that the city really isn't getting enough in return for the concessions that are being given.
"We're going higher but we aren't getting anything more in return," said Soares. He added that developers are too often given huge zoning concession without giving anything the city in compensation.
Castellano has even stronger words of disdain.
"This makes me so angry," said Castellano.
Castellano accused the administration of bending to every whim of developers and questioned when this building going to stop growing. She said she supports a hotel, but just a smaller one.
"It is entirely too big," Castellano said.
She also questioned who this change really benefits, Hoboken residents or New Yorkers who will be looking at New Jersey.
"I think we're making these changes solely for New York's benefit," said Castellano.
Plenty of opposition
Before it was even announced that this amendment was even going to be on the agenda, several local community groups, had planned to protest and picket another development project slated for 800 Jackson St (see pg. 5). More than 100 people protested in front of the steps of City Hall.
When word broke that the hotel was going to be on the agenda, the protest quickly evolved into one that also opposed this project. Many in attendance said that it is troubling that just over a year ago the developer requested to go higher. At the time that was controversial and sparked heated debate. Now they are back for more.
"This kind of development is out-of-character for Hoboken," said Ron Hine, the director for the non-profit Fund for a Better Waterfront. "It just grows taller and taller. A 275-foot tower on Hoboken waterfront is completely inappropriate."
Hine and many of those in attendance said that Roberts has too often given in to the demands of developers at the expense of the city as a whole.
Master planner approves
Bolstering the city's case was a presentation by John Shapiro, a partner from the planning firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Inc. The city has hired the firm to guide the board through the process of creating a new Master Plan for development. The process included more than a half dozen public workshops over a one-year period.
This idea was a particularly shrewd move by the city because Shapiro, during the public master planning process, has gained a great deal of credibility from many of the people who currently oppose increasing the height on the southern waterfront. In fact, many of those who oppose these changes, are strongly lobbing the city to adopt and implement the master plan that Shapiro helped craft.
Even by his own admission, Shapiro said, his professional opinion about this project would not please many of the friends that he made during the master plan writing process.
"In my professional opinion the trade-offs warrants a higher building," said Shapiro.
Shapiro added that the proposed amendments are consistent with the current draft of the master plan. He said that the project promotes economic development, being a non-housing use that is semi-public, and that the Master Plan even states that the location selected is an excellent spot to put a hotel, because of its proximity to the city's transportation hub. He said that one of the mistakes of the city's waterfront design is that it is currently made up of, what architects would call, background buildings. He said that a taller building would be a break in the line a similarly sized buildings.
"It will be a vertical statement on a horizontal plane," said Shapiro. He added that it would also become a landmark building for Hoboken's waterfront.
"Gwathmey's reputation will be on the line for this project because it will be one of the most visible buildings on the [New Jersey] waterfront," said Shapiro.
But while Shapiro said conceptually he liked the proposed building better, there are several aspects, he said, that the city should investigate first. He said the city should get more detail on how the pedestrian areas would be designed.
He said that it is imperative so that the property is inviting to those who walk. Second, more detail should be given about the River Street facade, to insure the building's appearance is acceptable there, and not just the waterfront side.
He also said the city should see a study that will show exactly what the impact the building's shadow will have on the surrounding neighborhood.
The Southern Waterfront Redevelopment
The Southern Waterfront Redevelopment, which runs from First to Fourth streets along the waterfront, is a mixed-use project. The project has its roots in the 1980s, when the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey entered into discussions on how to jointly develop an underutilized portion of the waterfront north of the Erie Lackawanna Terminal.
The project was divided into three portions, blocks A, B and C. Block A, the southern-most of the blocks, contains the Waterfront Corporate Center, developed by SJP Properties which is made up of two 13-story office buildings occupied by Marsh and McLennan and John Wiley and Sons.
Block C, the northernmost block, has a 526-unit residential building developed by The Applied Companies. That leaves Block B as the only one left to be developed. The southern half is slated to contain another office building developed by SJP. The northern half of the block is being developed by Applied and will be location of the hotel. - Tom Jennemann