After a series of court appearances, lawsuits, and contentious Zoning Board hearings, the city and the school have come to an apparent amicable agreement that, according to Mayor David Roberts, the school will seal the foundation underneath Babbio Center and the city will allow construction to continue at the site.
"After protracted conversations between attorneys for the city and Stevens, we were able to resolve a contentious situation and ensure that the Babbio project conforms to the guidelines of the construction permits previously issued," Roberts said.
Construction on the Babbio Center began in March, but concerned residents and politicians said it looked like the private university was working on a 725-car garage that had not been approved yet.
To construct the building and prepare for a proposed, but not yet approved, parking garage, the school excavated nearly 40 feet deep into the rock that makes up Castle Point. The university has approvals only for construction of a six-story building to accommodate classrooms, lecture halls, administrative and faculty offices, a restaurant, classrooms, and a surface parking lot.
An investigation by the Planning Board's attorney determined that Stevens was building beyond what they had received approval for, and they were asked in November of 2002 by Roberts to stop work on the garage portion of the site, but were allowed to continue work on the Babbio Center's foundation.
After some members of the public weren't sure if Stevens was still working on the garage or just the Babbio Center, and pressure from the Planning Board members and local residents was placed on Roberts and other city officials, the city's zoning officer decided to issue an official stop work order and repealed the project's Certificate of Zoning Compliance on Dec. 31.
Several days later, Stevens won an appeal in Hudson County Superior Court but was warned to proceed at its own risk. Since that decision, tension between the school, the city, and the city's Zoning Officer Joel Mestre has been high.
Under the new agreement, reached Wednesday, after the school seals openings at the base of the foundation, it will take no further action on the garage until applications have been filed with appropriate review boards, according to Mayor David Roberts.
The school has also withdrawn its lawsuit against the city, which was seeking to stop work on the project.
In return, the city agrees to amend its Certificate of Zoning Compliance to allow zoning permit reinstatement to complete vertical construction of the building, meaning that the school will be able to complete the Babbio Center as long as it seals all the "portions of the foundation which are exposed."
Cass Bruton-Ward, director of university relations at Stevens, said Friday the new agreement with the city is welcomed turn of events. "We're very please to be in the position to complete the Babbio center," said Bruton-Ward.