In case you missed some of it, here are the dozen biggest stories in Hudson County and its towns this year.
Countywide high school gets new technology
The construction of the new campus for the Hudson County Schools of Technology in Secaucus began in 2016, continued in 2017, and is set to open in September of next year. It creates a number of new opportunities for students throughout the county. The facility will replace a former factory site used as a school in North Bergen and will provide the most advanced education technology available. The high school is competitive and accepts application packets from students around Hudson County.
Also, a satellite campus of Hudson County Community College will be built there. HCCC also opened its new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics building near Journal Square in Jersey City, providing the county college with desperately needed work places for students who were previously forced to use facilities at St. Peter’s University. The new high school and expanded college facilities mark a major shift for county education to embrace the need for more technology-based learning.
This comes at time when Liberty Science Center announced its plans to develop a technology village near its current facility in Jersey City. This village would include a new public high school, residences, and work spaces that would provide for new technology start ups, and would make Hudson County a potential destination for future technology companies.
Bike share comes to several towns
In August, North Bergen awarded a contract for a bike share program to P3 Global Management, the contractor for Hudson Bike Share, which already has bikes for rent at various locations in Hoboken.
In October, Hudson Bike Share announced that the program would expand to other North Hudson cities, including Weehawken, Guttenberg, and West New York.
North Bergen should get its first bikes by spring of 2018, according to township officials. However, it has yet to determine kiosk locations. Stations have been installed in Bayonne and several of the towns are waiting.
Jersey City has already had its CitiBike share service for several years, which connects to New York City.
Union City, Jersey City, and Hoboken respond to federal immigration laws
In January, Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” or communities that informally refuse to comply with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) officials in catching undocumented immigrants, except when they’re suspected of serious crimes. State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop both declared their towns “sanctuary cities.” Mayor Elect Ravi Bhalla in Hoboken said his city would not be a “sanctuary city” but a welcoming city that allowed residents to participate in city programs regardless of immigration status.
Union City was stronger in its advocacy for the residents. The city launched an ID program including undocumented immigrants. Over 500 residents showed up the first day the city began taking applications for the program. Users of the city ID can’t vote, but can participate in city programs. At an immigrant rights seminar in March, Stack referred to Trump as a “monster” who he said the city would “overcome.” In November, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against Trump's executive order.
Meanwhile, Hudson County has come under fire for allowing its county jail to serve as one of four detention centers for undocumented immigrants. Most recently, a report issued by Homeland Security showed problems in these facilities – in particular regarding health issues.
Hudson County offsets the cost of running the county jail by housing these inmates. But pressure is mounting that could force the county do away with the practice.
Jersey City development continues all around the city
As rents climb in Jersey City, development on the waterfront and near the relatively new light rail stations continues to bloom. Journal Square, near the PATH/bus station, is also growing, with several new projects are slated to break ground shortly. Part of the Journal Square revitalization will be a proposed Hudson County Courthouse complex, including an up-to-date court building, auxiliary constructions, new parking, and the realignment of streets in the area. A new arts district has been designated for the area around the Historic Loews Theater.
The expansion of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail from its current terminus on West Side Avenue to Route 440 promises to increase new development along the Hackensack River. Nearby, New Jersey City University also broke ground on the next phase of its western campus, promising to bring new life and new residents to that part of the city.
Many are concerned about the impact of the revaluation of properties in the city, but city officials believe future development will continue as Jersey City receives residents priced out of the five boroughs of New York City. Development zones like those near Morris Canal promise to push new development west into Ward F.
This influx has prompted the city to adopt new and stricter guidelines for the construction of affordable housing in order to protect people already residing in these areas. The city has instituted a requirement that 20 percent of residential rental units in abated projects be priced as affordable.
Jersey City Mayor Fulop wins re-election, retains council control
Mayor Fulop won reelection and retained control of the City Council in Jersey City. Earlier in the year, he had chosen to run for reelection after dropping his bid to run for governor. Many close to Fulop more recently assumed he would seek to replace U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez if the senator was convicted of corruption. A mistrial allowed Menendez to retain his seat, and foiled possible plans for Fulop to seek higher office.
Fulop won his victory against former counsel Bill Matsikoudis even though several people connected to his administration were caught on tape discussing an alleged attempt to influence the awarding of a bid. Fulop’s political machine delivered in key wards allowing him to retain council control. However, the upset win by James Solomon over Fulop running mate Rebecca Symes suggests that there is dissatisfaction among voters in Ward E, where Fulop served as councilman for eight years.
Victories by his running mates in Ward A, F, and at large guaranteed Fulop a working majority. An upset win in Ward B allows Fulop to go into the new year with a super majority, meaning that he can usher through nearly any legislation he wants over the foreseeable future.
The huge issue overshadowing the victory, however, has been the continual gun violence plaguing parts of the city. Murders and shootings have increased despite the city’s massive increase in police hiring. The new year will also reveal to taxpayers the impact of a re-evaluation, the first one to be done in Jersey City in nearly 30 years.
North Bergen gets new development downtown
In 2017, development burgeoned on the Paterson Plank Road corridor. The 270-unit Hudson Mews development, located on Paterson Plank behind Food Bazaar, is planned to open in 2018. In October, the Board of Commissioners amended the $92 million 2017 budget to construct a municipal park next to Hudson Mews. The town hopes to begin building that park next year and finish it in 2019, according to officials. They say it is the start of a transformation for the town’s downtown district.
“The administration is focused on redeveloping that Paterson Plank corridor,” said Township Administrator Chris Pianese. “And I think in , you’re starting to see the beginning of that rebirth of that road, between Hudson Mews and across the street, you see the excavation that has been done for a new Wyndham brand hotel.”
In July, the town also adopted a $4.5 million bond ordinance to purchase the former Kennedy Furniture store on 13th Street and JFK Blvd. If the acquisition is successful, they hope to move the Downtown Library into that location by early 2020. It would provide a much larger space for activities and recreation than the current location.
First Sikh Indian mayor elected in Hoboken
Voters made Hoboken history in November when they elected the state’s first ever Sikh Indian mayor: incumbent councilman and private attorney Ravi Bhalla. Bhalla was the target of anonymous flyers the week before the election, trying to link him to terrorism because he wears a turban. When he won, voters across the country Tweeted congratulations, seeing his victory as a rejection of discrimination and hate enabled after the 2016 presidential election. Police are still investigating to find out who was behind the flyers, and one of Bhalla’s mayoral opponents, Councilman Michael DeFusco, has paid for a private investigator to look into the matter as well.
Six candidates competed in the race. As a result, Bhalla was elected with about 32 percent of the vote, and fewer than half the registered voters in town showed up to the polls. At the end of the year, the majority of the City Council tried to mandate a referendum to bring back runoff elections, but outgoing Mayor Dawn Zimmer vetoed it. The measure will likely resurface in the new year.
Bhalla was endorsed by Zimmer, who is rumored to be up for a statewide post.
New schools in West New York – and robotics
This year, the West New York School District saw major reopenings and upgrades for students. In September, the Harry L. Bain Elementary School reopened after two years of work. Construction included new windows, ceilings, and lighting. The school got interactive whiteboards and Chromebooks. The West New York Freshman Academy also opened for ninth graders. The academy will relieve overcrowding at Memorial High School. It will also work to transition students into high school culture, officials say. At Memorial High School, the district opened a new, full-career STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) academy at the campus. Overall, the district added robotics in each elementary school, DIY Maker Spaces, and a Crime Science Investigation program.
Secaucus: Influential ex-mayor dies at 103
He was the man who transformed Secaucus from a pig farm haven to a residential community and North Jersey shopping mecca. For many, former Mayor Paul Amico’s legacy is eternal. He passed away in February at a ripe 103 years old. As the town’s mayor from 1963 until political retirement in 1990, Amico won an unrivaled 14 elections.
Amico first came to the town as a six-year-old in 1919. By age 13, he was working for the town institution Marra Drug Store. Eventually, he even opened his own diner on Route 3. But Amico turned his attention to politics after returning home from the Army in World War II. He hated the corruption he saw in local politicians and saw a need for change. Amico spent years observing those holding office, eventually running himself in the 1950s.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli and members of the Town Council were pallbearers at Amico’s funeral. Councilman Robert Costantino discussed meeting Amico at a council meeting later that same day.
Secaucus had more political news later in the year when Mayor Gonnelli and three of the six council people ran unopposed. Another ran opposed, but all of the incumbents won and little on the council changed. Toward the end of the year, Councilwoman Susan Pirro announced her retirement due to health issues.
Hoboken’s main drag under construction
The $17.5 million Washington Street Redesign project was in full swing in Hoboken after being approved by the City Council in an 8-1 vote in 2016. With construction finally taking place on the lower part of the main drag, various store owners and residents were concerned and said business was down at least 25 percent in certain locations. They also became concerned when a traffic light fell near a nanny with a stroller, although the pair were unharmed.
The project includes 15 new traffic signals with pedestrian countdown timers, installation of controversial sidewalk bumpouts that curve into the street and make it easier to cross intersections, and the replacement of the town’s century-old water mains and service lines which often break and cause flooding. The project will also include resurfacing of the street from Observer Highway to 15th Street, high visibility crosswalks, and dedicated commercial loading zones. There will also be 15 new rain gardens to capture storm water to help reduce the impact of flooding.
The date of completion was rescheduled for July 20, 2018 after the council granted a 60 day extension. All work from Observer Highway to Eighth Street is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 20, 2018. So far the city has only completed paving from Observer Highway to First Street. If they do not meet the final deadline the contractor must pay the city $5,000 a day and $150 an hour for engineering and inspection costs.
Weehawken property reevaluation complete
Weehawken concluded its first revaluation of property in more than 30 years in December, in response to an order from the Tax Court of New Jersey. Each town in the state must re-assess its properties every few years so that land owners are paying property taxes in line with market values. However, towns often hesitate to reassess because it means owners of older properties, who are paying based on an assessment from another era, now have to pay much more.
According to Mayor Richard Turner, although some of the properties, in particular multi-family units, still need to be configured, the numbers for individual property owners in Weehawken show that 74 percent will see either a tax reduction or their payments will remain about the same. Another 4 percent of property owners will face a 1 to 2 percent increase. About 19 percent of property owners will see an annual tax increase of $500 or more.
The impact of the reevaluation will also be minimized by the fact that five or six new large development projects are opening up in the next year, which will give residents more tax relief.
Because Weehawken operates on a fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) and not a calendar year, the new valuations will go into effect starting July 1, 2018. Turner said property owners will pay the old rate for the first two quarters of calendar year 2018.