The meeting, which was held in City Hall, was originally intended to be an informational session at which the Historic Hudson Street Coalition (HHSC) would explain and discuss the details of a zoning ordinance that the citizens' group proposed to the City Council. The council unanimously voted to introduce that ordinance at the last council meeting.
The ordinance would change the zoning guidelines for the area that includes Stevens, in order to prevent development that is too dense.
Although the citizens expected to explain their ordinance to their neighbors Thursday, the meeting became even more informative when representatives from Stevens offered to lay out the school's master plan and explain to the group how the proposed ordnance would hinder some of their future projects.
One such project that has caused controversy is the school's planned 376-car garage and athletic facility at the corner of Eighth and Hudson Streets. The garage would be for the use of Stevens students. But residents of Hudson Street are concerned because they do not want it to adversely affect their neighborhood.
The ordinance that is being considered by the council was authored by the HHSC, who had paid a planner and a lawyer out of their own pockets to craft the law. The ordinance was brought to the attention of the council and sponsored by At-Large Councilman Tony Soares.
While the ordinance passed the first reading, it must still go before the Planning Broad for approval and then will have to be voted on at a second and third reading at a future City Council meeting before it is enacted.
Stevens' master plan
Approximately 30 people attended Thursday's meeting, at which Steven Boswell, the chairman of Stevens' facilities committee and a member of the board of trustees, laid out in detail the projects that Stevens is now undertaking or planning on undertaking in the near future.
"We are here in the sprit of compromise," said Boswell as he addressed the residents. "We want to do what is in the best interest of Hoboken, and that is why I am here tonight to tell you what our plans are."
According to Boswell, Stevens hired a master planner seven years ago to create a plan. But it was only made public at Thursday's meeting.
The planners had certain assumptions and expectations in mind when creating the plan. One was that the student population of the school, 1,600 undergraduate students and 300 on-campus graduate students, would not increase, so any new development would be for the same number of students and not additional students. Also, the institute planned to divide itself into three major schools. Until 1994, Stevens existed only as a single school of engineering. The institute would split into the engineering school, the Arthur Imperatore Sr. School of Science and Arts, and a new school of technology management. (They are presently in the process of undergoing this change.)
With that in mind, the institute hoped to complete four projects.
The first project is a proposed technology management building. This planned 90,000 square foot building would house classrooms, lecture halls, and some residential units. Boswell described the residential units as being hotel-type suites for managerial executives that the school might try to entice to come to Stevens in the future.
This building would stand on the corner of Fifth Street and River Road. The management building would also have a large plaza with Manhattan views that would be open to the public. This project has come before the city's Planning Board and still has hearings scheduled.
Another proposed project is an 870-car garage with four stories of parking, to be placed under the adjacent school of technology management. Originally, the school proposed the garage to hold 1,400 cars, but the city thought the plan would draw more development and more cars, so the school reduced the size of the project.
A third project will be totally contained in the inner part of campus. The school will level one of the existing dorms and erect a new dorm with more amenities in its place. This has yet to be proposed to the city or the Planning Board.
The one they're worried about
The project in the master plan that has caused controversy is another proposed garage. This 376-car garage would be erected on the corner of Eighth and Hudson streets. The faculty would also house 30,000 square feet of available office space. Twenty thousand square feet would be dedicated to offices and 10,000 to a physical plant. A lacrosse field and athletic upgrade would cover the roof of the structure.
Boswell stressed that the physical plant will not be a source of excess noise and will only have the tools of a carpentry shop. It will not be fitted for any sort of heavy manufacturing.
Also, a portion of the garage would be used for the repair and maintenance of the school's approximately 40 vehicles.
As of right now, the garage does not require a zoning variance, or permission to deviate from zoning guidelines. However, were the ordinance to pass before the plan is approved by the Planning Board, Stevens would be required to gain a number of variances from the city - a costly and time-consuming effort because the school would have to present testimony to prove that each variance would be in the best interests of the community.
The ordinance might also result in Stevens' other proposed projects needing variances.
1If the school is allowed to complete that master plan as is, the school will increase its number of parking spaces from its current number of 742 to 1,494, which is a net gain of 750 spaces for students and faculty. The net gain takes into account spaces that would be lost in the construction of new building and garages.
Comes up Tuesday
The plan for this building comes up before the Planning Board Tuesday, but that doesn't mean that a vote on the project will occur that night. There may still be more testimony scheduled for the future. The Planning Board may also vote on the zoning ordinance the same night. If it does, the ordinance can go before the City Council for a final vote Wednesday.
Concerns over waterfront
Not mentioned in the master plan is the school's intention for the waterfront property that it owns off of Sinatra Drive. Currently, the property holds a parking lot. According to the diagrams in the master plan, the area is marked for future construction, but as of right now Stevens does not know what they want to do with that land.
When a citizen asked how Stevens could have a master plan but not know what they are going to do with that waterfront property, Boswell responded that master plans are dynamic and fluid and always evolving. He added that when a specific need is found for that land, it will be incorporated into the plan.
Boswell said that while a substantial amount of construction is proposed, Stevens is committed to carrying it out in the least intrusive way possible.
The construction projects will produce over 130,000 cubic tons of excavated dirt. According to Boswell, that much dirt would take 10,000 trucks if removed by land. But Stevens has already arranged to take the dirt out by barge, and it will be placed at a golf course that is being constructed in Bayonne.
In addition, the parking spaces that will be lost during construction will be temporally placed on the current athletic field, which will be paved over during the construction process. The school would like to work out a deal with the city to use their recreational facilities during that time. Once construction is complete, the pavement would be milled and the land would become an athletic field once again.
Overview of the proposed ordinance
The ordinance that is up for a final vote at the City Council states that all future lighted athletic fields, auditoriums with more than 100 seats, parking facilities, hospitals, health clinics, and physical plant buildings at the Stevens Institute of Technology shall not be within a 100 feet of any residential home.
If the ordinance passes, Stevens will be required to gain a variance to use their land for any of these purposes.
The ordinance also includes new requirements for distances between buildings. In addition, building height regulations were modified so that buildings could not climb higher than 40 feet within 200 feet of a residential zone, and elsewhere, they could not exceed 100 feet.
The ordinance would also change the amount of off-street parking that developers would need when proposing auditoriums and other places of assembly. The spaces would have to be completed before the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.
Furthermore, the ordinance has a subsection on added requirements for facades within 100 feet of a residential zone. Facades must be "sympathetic to and compatible with the adjacent neighborhood."
The final portion of the new ordinance states that the university is prohibited from using loud speakers and field lighting for the hours between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. The field may only use lights for scheduled intercollegiate and intramural games.