A waterfront advocacy group is opposing a proposal introduced last week by Mayor Dawn Zimmer to redesign a large section of Frank Sinatra Drive. The group says the plan does not take advantage of what its representatives have called a golden opportunity to extend Hoboken’s waterfront park to Eleventh Street.
The plan, proposed by the New York City-based design firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, largely addresses some of the existing traffic and safety issues on Sinatra Drive. It would adopt the city’s “complete streets policy” by planting trees, expanding the sidewalk, and creating bike paths from Fourth Street to Eleventh Street.
However, the proposal contains no plans to extend the city’s public southern waterfront park north of Fourth Street onto land owned by Stevens Institute of Technology and the Union Drydock and Repair Company. The group objecting to Kimley-Horn’s plan, Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW), says that it devised an alternative plan years ago that would satisfy all of the involved stakeholders and provide Hoboken residents an additional half-mile of public park space.
“This plan doesn’t address even half of the issues with this section of the waterfront.” – Ron Hine
FBW’s plan, on which Hine said Zimmer, members of her administration and the City Council, have been briefed, goes far beyond Kimley-Horn’s. In addition to advocating a complete streets policy, FBW wants the city to purchase the Union Dry Dock land and agree to a massive construction project by Stevens that would move the school’s waterfront facilities across the street in order to make room for park space.
Zimmer refused to discuss Kimley-Horn’s proposal last week because it has not been approved by the City Council. Hine said that she has refused to meet with members of FBW about their ideas for Sinatra Drive and criticized her administration for their closed-door policy on the Kimley-Horn plan.
“This is the plan they’ve chosen to put up for a vote, they should be able to defend that choice,” he said.
Council not clued in?
The issue first became public at a City Council meeting two weeks ago, when Zimmer asked the council to approve a $106,000 contract for Kimley-Horn to create a concept and vision design plan for the area. The firm was one of 11 that responded to a request for proposal (RFP) from the city in October.
According to Director of Parking and Transportation John Morgan, who testified before the council when the contract came up for a vote, the proposal was chosen by himself, Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Marks, and city spokesman Juan Melli.
Hine and another FBW member, James Vance, spoke in opposition to the plan, calling it insufficient.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we have to make sure it’s not wasted on a plan that doesn’t address the major issues,” said Hine.
After Hine spoke, several council members raised questions about the proposal itself and the process through which it was chosen. Councilman-at-Large David Mello, who heads the council’s Parking and Transportation Committee and Development Committee, said he hadn’t been briefed on the plan at all and was uncomfortable voting on it.
First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason both said the city should include plans to purchase Union Dry Dock in any plan to redesign Sinatra Drive, and 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti said FBW should be a “strategic partner” in the process of choosing which plan would come before the council for approval.
Council President Peter Cunningham, in response to the concerns, tabled the contract and asked that Mello’s committees meet with the administration and discuss the plan and the process by which it was chosen.
In an interview, Hine acknowledged that another proposal the city received was submitted by a firm that employs an FBW member, but said it had nothing to do with his group’s objections to the Kimley-Horn plan.
“The objections we raised before the council were solely based on our issues with the proposal that was chosen,” he said.
Disagreement over WWII Memorial
The city’s World War II Memorial, situated where Fourth Street meets the waterfront, seems to be at the heart of the city’s apparent disagreement with FBW’s plan, which would require the memorial’s relocation to a spot elsewhere on the river. In order to expand the city’s Little League field to regulation size and Stevens Park, FBW wants the city to extend Fourth Street in a straight line to the river, instead of maintaining the existing curve onto Sinatra Drive that could pose significant danger to pedestrians.
The memorial, Hine said, could be moved to an alternative location on the river, perhaps in one of the new park spaces that would be built near Union Dry Dock or on Stevens property. He also said that FBW has met with veterans groups in town to discuss a possible relocation and that they had been responsive.
But on Thursday, Roy Huelbig, a member of the Hoboken chapter of the American Legion, said that the memorial would be moved “over my dead body.”
“I don’t know where you’re going to put it that could be any better than where it is now,” he said. “I knew a lot of the men whose names are on that memorial, and moving it would be the same as digging up their graves and moving them somewhere else.”
Zimmer said she understood Huelbig’s concerns.
“I don’t think moving it is something that we can do,” she said. “It would be a very expensive thing to do and I stand with our veterans who don’t want that to happen.”
As for FBW, Zimmer said that she was open to meeting with the group over their concerns, but would not comment on their issues with the Kimley-Horn plan or why she had chosen that plan in the first place.
“I’m not going to get into it, but they’re a part of the community and we do want them to be a part of the conversation, but that’s all I’m going to say at this point,” she said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org