With six council elections coming up next spring, seemingly every issue could become a political battle for Mayor Dawn Zimmer, but all sides will probably agree on one thing: The city needs more parks.
On Dec. 6, Zimmer held a community meeting at the Rue School about plans for new parks. The meeting was attended by council members, directors, and approximately 100 members of the public.
Zimmer hopes to propose a bond ordinance to the City Council in early January to finance the purchase of new park space in Hoboken. Zimmer has not said how much the bond would cost, which left some council members simply waiting for more information.
The city has already designated certain areas of town for parks, including two parcels near the northern border with Weehawken known as 1600 Park Ave. and Weehawken Cove.
“This is a good issue for the mayor and council to come together on.” – Councilman Michael Russo
One potential source of funds might be the sale of the Hoboken University Medical Center to a private buyer, according to the mayor. The city guaranteed a $52 million bond to assure the hospital’s survival after reviving the facility in 2008. An advisory committee has been reviewing proposals for the sale, which should result in more bonding opportunities for the city, according to Zimmer. (Zimmer wants the new owners to keep the facility as a hospital.)
When asked for the price of the bond ordinance, Zimmer said she “has a number in mind” but would not disclose the total.
“[The price] will be determined by looking at our master plan, as well as what is fiscally responsible,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said the city currently has $1.7 million set aside for open space, and hopes grants will cover a large portion of the projects. Zimmer also mentioned that the city has a “significant surplus” of $10 million, which will increase the bond rating of the city.
An update around town
Zimmer also provided an update on many of the locations across the city that are currently under construction.
The mayor has proposed rebuilding Sinatra Field on land instead of on pilings over the Hudson River, which could result in a $3 million to $4 million savings. The field has been closed ever since a portion of the land it sits on collapsed into the river in 2009.
However, that plan could take away one lane of traffic from Sinatra Drive, according to Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs. One proposal suggested that Sinatra Drive could become a one way northbound street, similar to the way the road is constructed between First and Fourth streets, with a bike lane.
The collapsed portion of Castle Point Park, on the central waterfront, would also receive some aid. City engineers have proposed a sheet metal bulkhead be installed around a new walkway, as opposed to wood pilings. The pilings are less durable, are susceptible to damage from shipworms, and have contributed to other waterfront collapses.
Zimmer thanked U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, who have worked to secure $1 million in federal funding for the two sites. She also said the city will pursue additional grants for the waterfront projects.
The two uptown parks that are being completed together, 1600 Park and Weehawken Cove, are on track to be finished by fall 2011, according to Mayor Zimmer. She said the uptown project is something that is “desperately needed” by the city.
A major issue in the 4th Ward election last month was the lack of a park space in the southwest part of town. Zimmer, who entered politics with the goal of bringing a park to that region, said the park could be attained through the redevelopment process. Redevelopment is the process in which land is rezoned for new uses. Clarke Caton Hintz, a planning agency, was awarded the contract to conduct a study of the area in late June, and Director of Community Development Brandy Forbes anticipates that this study can be finished in January so a public hearing can be scheduled for the first February 2011 City Council meeting.
Reactions from council members
Councilman Tim Occhipinti was recently elected to represent the 4th Ward in the southwest part of town. He has said one of his major goals is to bring a park to the ward, and said he would work with the mayor to try to get this done.
But Monday’s meeting left him scratching his head.
“I have more questions than answers,” he said, referring mostly to funding questions.
Zimmer, who lost her council majority when Occhipinti took office, is now forced to come to the table and negotiate more often with the governing body.
“This is a good issue for the mayor and council to come together on,” said Councilman Michael Russo.
Zimmer said she hopes the council would vote 9-0 in favor of the bond to purchase parks.
“I’m willing to work with everybody,” Russo said. “But not blindly.”
Councilwoman Beth Mason said she is in support of more open space, and was happy the community was provided with an update on park space around the city, but said bigger issues were at hand.
“Where is the [city] budget?” Mason said. “We should have had public hearings months ago.”
Forbes, who was stationed at a table to answer questions from residents, said the community seems “very excited” about the possibility of becoming stakeholders in the projects.
Many of the residents at the Monday meeting said they wanted to see projects get finished. But with a council majority and mayor who often clash, meeting goals could become an issue all on its own.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.