During the City Council’s last meeting on July 11, an ordinance was passed by a 7-2 vote that will erode resident’s quality of life in Hoboken. We voted against this measure. The ordinance pertains to intrusion into rear yards. For background, builders in Hoboken are only allowed to build on 60 percent of a residential lot. The remaining 40 percent of unencumbered backyard area behind the constructed buildings is often referred to as the “donut hole”. In the new ordinance, staircases off the rear of a home are now explicitly excluded, by definition, from the calculation of that 60 percent lot coverage of a proposed project. A rear staircase from a second floor can cover approximately 400-450 square feet of area, which is between 1.8 and 2.25 percent of additional lot coverage, depending on the size of your lot. This means the actual, permitted lot coverage is increased to 62 percent, and the donut hole is by reduced 2 percent.
Contrary to statements made at the council meeting, this change is not necessitated by fire escape egress (that public necessity is already exempt from the lot coverage). And while some may say, “what is the big deal about 2 percent?” the donut hole is already under relentless assault from frequent applications before the planning and zoning boards requesting variances for, among other things, greater lot coverage. The benefits from the light and air that is exist because of the donut hole, and the importance of the strict adherence for its protections, should not be eroded by a slick redefinition of what constitutes lot coverage. A project can easily be built to less than 60 percent lot coverage with the remainder percentage accommodating staircase, if it is desired. A secondary staircase can also be built in the interior of the building, within the living space, which may be disfavored by developers because of the impact on the bottom line. Either way, the donut hole needs to be preserved, not eroded.
Our City’s Planning Board, as required by law, reviews any ordinance affecting the zoning in our city for consistency with the city’s Master Plan. The Planning Board voted 7-1 that this aspect of the ordinance was contrary to the Master Plan, supported by the Planning Board planner’s report. As they found, the city’s Master Plan includes clear statements that the donut hole must be preserved, and our recently adopted Master Plan Re-examination Report, as with prior re-examinations, once again reinforced that important sentiment. And yet the majority of the council ignored this recommendation.
It is for the reasons stated above that we urge our mayor to veto the recently passed ordinance discussed above. If the mayor does veto the ordinance, we hope there will be no vote taken to overturn the veto. If there is, we hope that those who voted for the erosion of the donut hole reconsider their earlier vote. Finally, we urge all residents who are concerned about the erosion of the donut hole to reach out to their council representatives to urge preservation of this aspect of our quality of life.
Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour,
City Council Members-at-Large