The application is for the second phase of the proposed $50 million Roseland Project. The first phase, which calls for 44 brownstone homes, had previously received approval from the DEP. The second phase, which is more extensive and calls for 1,314 residential units, a hotel and conference facility, an assisted living facility and extensive retail and office space, received approval from the town's Planning Board last year.
The hearing was held strictly to discuss any environmental concerns that residents might have regarding the proposed second phase of the project.
Michael Hochman, a project manager for the state DEP's Bureau of Coastal Review, was designated by the DEP to be the hearing manager and will collect all the pertinent information regarding the project. The DEP will then make a decision whether to give approval to Roseland Properties, headed by developer Carl Goldberg, to continue with the phase.
Many of the issues addressed during the two-hour session had been discussed during the approximately 40 Weehawken Planning Board hearings that were held regarding the phase.
The concerns include the height and bulk of the overall project, whether it will prohibit the panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River waterfront and the air quality that additional vehicular traffic would cause.
Goldberg first addressed 21 different compromises that his group had made in making alterations and changes to the original site plan. The overall size of the project has been downsized considerably, from the original 2,220 residential units to the current number of 1,314. The heights of the proposed buildings have been reduced from 12 stories to eight. Goldberg has also assured that each building will feature rooftop landscaping, accepting the idea from resident Judith Wadia.
"We have made some serious compromises from our original plan," Goldberg said to the approximately 60 concerned residents in attendance, as well as Hochman. "We have made alterations to the plan upon the recommendations of the township's consultants. The process has involved a great amount of dialogue for over two years. It has involved the public to create the evolution of a plan that is very different from the original design. I believe that we have a plan presented in front of the DEP that has recognized the input of the community and the Planning Board."
Several township residents then addressed Hochman and told the DEP representative how much they supported Goldberg and the development project.
"It's going to bring jobs for people who live here," said long-time resident George Pizzuta. "It's going to give the town stability and increased productivity."
"It looks like everyone has taken the time to make sure that this is a good thing for Weehawken," resident Brendan Murray said. "I'm excited about the things that are going to happen."
Planning Board member Carol Kravitz addressed the meeting.
"Most of us weren't born when the waterfront was at its busiest," Kravitz said. "What's left there is dangerous and disgusting. We're very fortunate to have a developer who is willing to make changes."
Proponents and opponents
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was the next to address Hochman and the audience.
"What makes Weehawken an exceptional community is the input that we get from the residents," Turner said. "We've heard a lot of concerns for two years regarding this project. We've had at least 30 meetings on this very application. I believe the plan before you deals the best with the issues and concerns that the residents have. It will take a vacant waterfront and bring it back to life. I encourage the DEP to endorse it." At least 15 other people spoke on the record to Hochman, backing the development.
"So far, all I've heard are positive comments," Hochman said with a smile.
But the opponents spoke as well.
One speaker was Ben Goldman, a member of the Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront, a local group that has opposed the project, has formulated its own development community plan and has engaged in legal battles with the developer. Goldman was angered that there was not much publicity about Thursday's hearing.
"On behalf of hundreds of members of the FWW, none of us were notified in advance of this hearing," Goldman said. "And that's disgraceful. The reason why the comments have all been one-sided is that no one knew about this hearing. We were unable to notify our membership. Why wasn't notification of this hearing posted in the Weehawken Reporter? It's the newspaper that we rely upon more and it is distributed throughout the town."
Hochman said that notification of the hearing was published in the Jersey Journal, which fulfilled the legal requirement for posting a hearing notice. Only newspapers with a paid circulation meet the legal requirement; therefore, agencies do not have to post notices in the Weehawken Reporter. The DEP may have done so as a courtesy, as the town does periodically with its municipal meetings. But the DEP chose not to post a notice.
"Rules and regulations state that we have to notify the public 10 days prior," Hochman said. "We did that." State laws also required that residents who live within 200 feet of the proposed project be notified through certified mail. Hochman assured Goldman that those residents received notice.
Others didn't know about it
Bruce Sherman, the past president of the Weehawken Environmental Committee, also said he did not receive prior notification of the hearing.
"We've had many dealings with the DEP for years," Sherman said. "We've taken tours with members of the DEP. I really find it hard to believe that there was no coordination to insure that we were notified."
Other residents voiced their positions against the second phase. Wadia, who introduced the designs for rooftop landscaping that were approved, offered her concerns over possible parking deficiencies at the site. "We have not been told where the thousands of cars will go," Wadia said.
Ruth Elsasser, a long-time township resident, stressed that waterfront access is essential.
Unlike other members of the FWW who encourage development but not the proposed plan, including the organization's president, Doug Harmon, who was at the hearing, activist Jim Dette is against all development on the site.
"I'm one of the few that favors no development," Dette said. "There should be open space there and the state should provide that open space."
Hochman said that residents still have 15 days to express their concerns in writing to the state DEP to receive consideration in the application process. The state DEP will collect all of the information gathered at Thursday's hearing, as well as any additional information received from residents, and make a decision concerning approval of the application within the next 30 days.
"I think it was a very productive hearing," Hochman said after the proceedings. "There were some very valuable comments from the public, and we will incorporate those with the information that is applicable to the application. I was very impressed with the community concern. Many of the concerns were repetitious, but the ones concerning the environment, like air quality and scenic views, will be addressed. I think this only helps the situation."
Goldberg was also pleased with the hearing.
"I was quite encouraged, hearing the comments of the residents," Goldberg said. "It is very encouraging to hear so many people who favor the project now and might have opposed it before. It's been a process of significant give and take and the members of the community have become involved over time. And that's how it should happen."
Goldberg was asked how he felt that so many residents were not properly notified before the hearing. "I felt badly, but I had no obligation to notify," Goldberg said. "We're only allowed to notify through the DEP."
Goldberg said that Thursday's hearing had no effect on his company's plans to build the first phase of the project as quickly as possible.
"We can and will start the brownstones as soon as the weather permits," he said. "Probably March 1. We're committed to move forward. Any lawsuit pending has no relevance on the project moving forward. We hope to move even further this spring."