The Hudson County Planning Board’s hearing on the proposed Appleview condominiums in North Bergen, near the Guttenberg border, will resume Sept. 21. Their second meeting Wednesday continued with questioning of the project’s engineer by an attorney for opponents of the project.
The proposed building is near the Galaxy Towers in Guttenberg and 20 feet from a high-pressure natural gas pipeline. Galaxy residents fear that the Appleview construction could disturb the 36-inch pipe and cause a potentially fatal explosion, and say the developers will remove too much of the Palisade cliffs.
The Williams Transco Gas Pipeline originates in Texas and transports around 40 percent of New York City’s natural gas. The controversy over the development has lasted through a year of hearings at the municipal and county level. No Transco representative has attended any of the hearings on the project.
‘If you feel something was done illegally, go to the proper authorities.’ – Jude Fitzgibbons
The developer also must meet requirements for federal pipeline regulations, and those of the North Bergen Building Department and the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue.
The county Planning Board must also approve the project in order to ensure that it is in accordance with county regulations.
But there were signs Wednesday that the board’s impatience with the length and complexity of the hearings has not abated since their first meeting July 21.
‘Can we sum this up?’
When attorney John Lamb of the Galaxy Board of Trustees, who had previously run out of time questioning Calisto Bertin, an engineer and principal of Bertin Engineering, resumed his examination on Wednesday, board members again complained about the length and technicality of the proceeding.
“Can we sum this up?” asked Chairwoman Renee Bettinger, who had stepped in for an absent Daniel Choffo. “Can you condense basically what you want to say and what you’re objecting to the board so that we can move forward? You’re losing us.”
“I’m happy to tell you what we’re driving at,” answered Lamb, who continued to maintain that Appleview is actually digging deeper into the Palisades Cliffs than they had originally claimed to be.
“They’re now taking away not only the surface,” said Lamb, “they’re digging in and excavating it, and I’m trying to ascertain how deep.”
Despite Lamb’s attempts at consolidating his questioning, the board remained restless.
“Can we move forward please?” asked Bettinger.
“Yes, I’m skipping things,” said Lamb.
A member of the audience who felt Lamb was being rushed remarked, “This is terrible.”
The residents get their chance
The board members grew even more impatient when residents, who had to sit through the questioning of Bertin, finally received their turn to speak.
Galaxy towers resident Jeremy Raben asked Bertin whether the Transco pipeline was comparable to one that exploded in Edison, N.J. in 1994.
“We’re digressing here,” said board member Jude Fitzgibbons.
Raben continued to reference the potential dangers of the pipeline, which only further frustrated the board. He attempted to claim that Bertin’s company had been fined years ago for improper digging, but the board quickly interrupted.
“This isn’t a court of law,” said Fitzgibbons. “If you feel something was done illegally, go to the proper authorities.”
“We will not pass a verdict on people [based on] what they did in the past,” Fitzgibbons added. “All we’re concerned about is what does this [development] mean for the county.”
Tensions intensified as Raben, who tried to speak on behalf of Galaxy residents, was repeatedly interrupted.
“This is totally improper and should be stricken from the record,” said Carmine Alampi, the developer’s attorney.
North Bergen resident Peggy Wong also questioned Bertin, but was interrupted by board members who claimed her questions were redundant from past testimony.
‘I don’t want this hanging around till Christmas’
After Bertin was dismissed and a five-minute recess was held, expert Susan Gruel, a planning consultant representing the developers, testified under questioning by Alampi. She said the proposed development was smaller in density and height than the maximum allowed by the local ordinance.
“It is important to recognize,” said Gruel, “that the development is significantly less intense than what would have been permitted under their [the North Bergen Planning Board] regulations.”
Gruel added, “[This plan] specifically speaks to balancing preservation with economic development.”
“I think there is substantial planning basis,” continued Gruel, “for this county Planning Board to grant a waiver for this application based upon the facts of the application and the professional’s [Bertin’s] testimony.”
After Alampi finished questioning his expert, Lamb’s turn at cross-examination was once again cut short because the board members wanted to conclude the meeting at 10:30 p.m.
“It’s very difficult,” said Bettinger. “It’s exhausting, and we want to be able to make the right decision.”
Fitzgibbons said, “I don’t want this hanging around till Christmas.”
The residents were promised an opportunity to question Gruel, as well as a time set aside to comment at the next Hudson County Planning Board meeting on Wednesday Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.