A Hoboken activist was surprised to find out last month that a block of land at the Hoboken/Weehawken border that is scheduled to be turned into a park actually has a private four-story house rising on it.
A Hoboken developer is building a home on the corner of the land, officials confirmed recently.
After public pressure for more parkland, the city of Hoboken bought several acres of land at 1600 Park Ave. in 2006. The land is in between the Park Avenue and Willow Avenue bridges at the city’s northern border. In the process, the city made use of grants that require the land be used for a public use open space. Part of the land they bought – two lots on the northern end – is actually in Weehawken, not Hoboken, said Hoboken Director of Community Development Fred Bado. A third lot on the northern end was not purchased, leading some to speculate that Hoboken accidentally missed it. Bado could not confirm whether that was intentional.
Soon after the acquisition of most of the land by Hoboken, one of the principal owners of a Hoboken-based development group, URSA, Mark Septembre, purchased the only remaining lot on the land. He received zoning approvals from both Weehawken and Hudson County to build a four-story house overlooking the potential park, a Weehawken zoning official confirmed.
Noticed building on a run
Jim Doyle, a Hoboken resident and attorney, was one of the activists from HobokenParks.org who lobbied for almost eight years for Hoboken to buy 1600 Park. Last weekend during a leisurely run, he noticed a building permit and some construction equipment on the block.
During the week, he called Hoboken to see whether the city approved any construction there. He was told that no construction was authorized by the city, and he was directed to call Weehawken to find out if they had approved the construction.
Doyle said a Weehawken official told him that the city had issued a construction permit, prompting Doyle to ask whether surrounding properties were given notice of zoning hearings or permit issuance. When developers need to stray from designated zoning, they must appear before a Zoning Board to ask for a variance – which Septembre apparently did. Surrounding properties are notified of which variances the developer is seeking, and they are allowed to object at the hearing. Weehawken Zoning Officer Jill Hartman, who also serves as the city’s planner, said last week that notices were sent out.
Bado said he wasn’t aware of any notification, although other sources gave assurance that the notices were sent. Bado said the Hoboken City Clerk would receive the notice, although they could not immediately confirm this last week. Jack Curley, Septembre’s lawyer, also said that Hoboken was notified.
Not zoned for housing
Hartman said the land is zoned by Weehawken as a special kind of waterfront property that is intended to be used for recreational, commercial, or light industrial uses. She said some variances were granted to Septembre, including a variance for residential use, but and that the city of Weehawken views the new use as an asset. She said that the city likes to have housing near parks so that more people are in the area passively keeping watch.
The 7,500 sq. ft. building is slated to be a four-story factory-style home with an internal garage, officials said, and the top floor will peek over the Park Avenue bridge to provide a Manhattan view.
In center field?
Doyle spent many hours working with city officials to help facilitate the 1600 Park plan. He was perturbed that the city may have overlooked acquiring this last lot, claiming the house could be “literally in the middle of our baseball field.”
Bado said no baseball field was planned to be there yet, and that the rest of the land is yet to be cleaned up by the city. He expects that a bond ordinance will be issued by the City Council this summer to cover these and other park expenses. He said roughly $5 million in grant money was used to acquire the site, as was other money from the city coffers.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.