Parks and politics
City Council advances park proposal, 9/11 memorial ordinance dies between factions
by Amanda Palasciano
Reporter staff writer
Mar 24, 2013 | 4737 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PARK TALK – Mayor Dawn Zimmer addressed the City Council about a park land proposal. Councilman Michael Russo called it a campaign speech.
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The need for park space in southwest Hoboken, specifically in the 3rd and 4th wards, dominated most of the City Council meeting Wednesday. Though the entire City Council agrees that the southwest side of the city needs more park space, they are divided on where and how to acquire it.

At the start of the meeting, Mayor Dawn Zimmer spoke to the council about a park proposal from developer Larry Bijou (see cover story) and other park land possibilities in the southwest of Hoboken, including “Block 12,” a one-acre parcel at Jackson Street and Paterson Avenue which the city intends to acquire through eminent domain.

Councilman Michael Russo called Zimmer’s remarks a “campaign speech.” The mayor is running for reelection in November.

Fourth Ward Councilman Timothy Occhipinti recently issued a press release criticizing Zimmer’s promises for parks in the southwest. Occhipinti said he received over 350 signatures on a petition urging the city to appraise a nearby park prospect, known as the Zaklama properties.

The Zaklama properties are at First and Jackson streets in an area zoned residential. That zoning could mean the property could be appraised at as much as $17 million an acre. The city has two funding mechanisms for parks and open space that total $23 million, but this amount is for acquiring park land throughout the city.
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“I know the game. It’s stall tactics.” – Councilman Ravi Bhalla
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Despite this, Occhipinti said he would still like to see the Zaklama property appraised. Several 4th Ward residents who signed the petition came to the microphone at the meeting to express their desire for the park.

Councilman David Mello said that it was misleading not to tell those who signed the petition that the Block 12 park proposal, only blocks away, was on the table.

The council unanimously approved an interim cost agreement that will begin to consider the feasibility of Bijou’s proposal concerning two parcels, at 605 Jackson St. and 700 Monroe St.

Bijou has the right to buy the two adjacent properties, which are in foreclosure. Bijou is willing to give the 1-acre property at 605 Jackson St., known as the Pino Site, to the city for park land if the city agrees to let him increase his right to build 142 units at 700 Monroe to 156 units, requiring that the redevelopment agreement for 700 Monroe be amended. (For more on this story, see “Tow yard may become 1-acre park” on cover).

Multi-service, out of service

Dozens of senior citizens piled into the meeting to find out when the Multi-Service Community Center, at 124 Grand St., will reopen following hurricane damage. Seniors have been re-directed to the Elks Club at 1005 Washington St. to play bingo and otherwise congregate in the meantime, which many cannot get to as easily.

Director of Health and Human Services Leo Pellegrini said he had previously been unaware that the Elks Club was a problem for the seniors.

“The bingo at the Elks Club is only one hour,” said Pellegrini. But he noted, “Instead of getting 50 people, we’re getting 20.”

Councilman Ravi Bhalla requested a “good faith estimate” of time that it would take for the center to be done.

Business Administrator Quentin Wiest said that a meeting is scheduled this week with architects to begin the process, but that it could take “a few months” before the center is complete.

Alternate sites are going to be looked at for the seniors in the meantime. Pellegrini said that 220 Adams St. and Columbian Towers, at 76 Bloomfield St., are two options on the table.

Glass houses

A bond ordinance was introduced authorizing the construction of the city’s permanent 9/11 memorial, appropriating the sum of $500,000 and authorizing the city to sell $475,000 in bonds.

The anti-Zimmer faction on the council was displeased with the ordinance for a variety of reasons, and ultimately defeated the measure, with Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, Russo, Occhipinti and Councilwoman Beth Mason voting no.

Occhipinti asked for a history of the project. Director of Development Brandy Forbes said the original design concept, which was done before her time, was later changed. During the administration of Mayor David Roberts, the project was originally proposed to cost more than $4 million. It was later scaled down when the economy worsened.

Forbes said that in or around 2006, without benefit of an engineer’s advice, $115,000 in glass panels were purchased for the memorial, and another $250,000 was spent on the design, which depleted the grants given and the money raised for the project to a balance of $180,000. Once an engineer was brought on, the glass panels were found to be structurally unsuitable for the project because they could not withstand certain weather conditions.

The city is now returning to the original design, but intends to replace the glass panels with sturdier DuPont glass or a substance of comparable quality. Forbes said that an example of the glass is what is used at the “Top of the Rock” on Rockefeller Center in New York.

“Basically we took close to $400,000, and we burned it,” said Russo. “Now we’re coming back and asking for another half million dollars. This is 12 years later and close to a million dollars. This is a slap in the face to those who lost loved ones and to the city of Hoboken that we can’t get our act together.”

Castellano said that a local 9/11 citizens’ committee had not been included in the design process since 2010. Forbes said that she has been in communication with the committee and that they are on board.

Occhipinti said that he wanted to have the glass panels weather-tested at Stevens Institute.

“I know the game,” said Bhalla. “It’s stall tactics. ‘Let’s get an engineering report, let’s get Stevens testing.’ ” Bhalla accused the critical council members of politicizing the issue.

“I’m not going down this road until a final plan is in front of me with no more hiccups,” said Russo.

The Zimmer-allied members on the council said defeat of the ordinance further delayed an already delayed process.

Mayor Zimmer said Thursday, “I’m surprised and disappointed that they’d vote this down. There were briefings during the budget workshop and the 9/11 memorial came up. They were able to ask questions. Director Forbes has worked extremely hard and we could lose the grant money if this keeps getting delayed. They are trying to hurt me but they are really hurting the residents of Hoboken.”

Old Hoboken vs. New Hoboken?

Members of the public spoke on various issues Wednesday night, including a recent lawsuit filed by Hoboken Police Chief Anthony Falco against Mayor Zimmer, and a court decision that overturned election results on a referendum on rent control.

Resident and activist Patricia Waiters said she was upset by the lawsuit filed by Falco (see cover story) alleging, among other things, that political games are being played by “Old Hoboken” – meaning the police chief – versus “New Hoboken” – meaning the mayor.

Waiters said political infighting was going to “cause a civil war in this small little mile square city.”

Waiters also commented on the change of municipal elections from May to November. “We voted up until May 4th and now an administration is being forced on us, like something shoved down our throats,” she said.

Last year, the majority of Hoboken voters said they preferred local elections to be switched from May to November. This means Mayor Zimmer and her team get an extra six months in office.

Rent control

Last November, Hoboken voters also turned out to narrowly vote down changes that weakened the city’s current rent control laws.

Hoboken Fair Housing Authority members, who advocated for tenants’ rights during the referendum campaign, criticized the court decision voiding the election results.

Though the measure passed last November to keep rent control, the 16,444 votes will now be thrown away, according to resident Mary Ondrejka.

Mile Square Taxpayers Association, a landlord and property owner advocate group, successfully sought to overturn the election results based on 114 votes cast outside of Hoboken that did not contain the public questions. Voters were able to vote outside of town due to the hurricane.

Resident and tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick pointed out to the council that some of the addresses of those voters seem skeptical, like 300 Washington St., which is an empty lot. Resident Dan Tumpson said that the court decision threatens the democratic process and that it is setting a precedence that those with money can overturn election results.

Unless something changes, residents will have to vote again on the measure.

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at amandap@hudsonreporter.com.

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