The Hudson County Planning Board has approved the controversial Appleview, LLC condominium development proposed for North Bergen after four rounds of hearings that lasted roughly three months.
The development had already been approved by North Bergen’s own Planning Board, but it met with controversy from residents of both North Bergen and Guttenberg who didn’t want it built into the Palisade hills or so close to a gas pipeline.
During a jam-packed, four-hour hearing on Wednesday night, the board voted 6 to 1 to approve the five story, 59-unit residential tower at 7009 and 7101 River Road. The proposed building is adjacent to the Galaxy Towers in Guttenberg and 20 feet from the high-pressure natural gas line.
One of the speakers at the meeting said later that he and other residents are planning to file an appeal of the county’s decision.
The board gave one condition for the approval: that there be further study of the stability of the “steep slope,” or the way in which the Palisade hill behind the project will be affected.
“There’s an extreme passion here that they will fight this development until it is defeated.” – Ken Morrison
The county Planning Board’s main purpose in reviewing the application was to determine whether the development would cause excessive traffic on Ferry and River roads, which are county thoroughfares. Another important focus was water drainage along the property.
Galaxy residents have long expressed the fear that the construction could disturb the 36-inch pipe and cause a potentially fatal explosion. An additional concern is that the development would remove too much rock from the Palisade Cliffs behind the proposed building.
The Williams Transco gas pipeline, which originates in Texas, transports roughly 40 percent of Manhattan’s natural gas. In over a year of hearings, no Transco representatives have attended the hearings or testified about the project’s potential impact on the pipeline, although the developer’s engineer claimed on Wednesday that the gas company approves of the condo project.
Can of worms
Wednesday night, Galaxy Board of Trustees attorney John Lamb once again called Peter Steck, an expert planner, to provide testimony. Residents at the hearing were given the chance to question Steck on matters involving his expertise. The board, however, grew weary when questions veered toward pipeline concerns.
“I want to stay focused on traffic and drainage,” said Chairman Daniel Choffo. “The Transco Pipeline – I don’t want to open that can of worms again, because that’s out of our jurisdiction.”
“Public safety is your jurisdiction!” a member of the audience shouted.
Galaxy Towers resident Jeremy Raben’s questions for Steck centered on a potential conflict with what is known as the steep slope ordinance. Steck had previously testified that the applicant, Appleview, is seeking to remove a greater portion of the steep slope from the hill than is permitted.
“We know that drainage and traffic have been discussed extensively here,” said Raben, “[but] because the applicant is violating [the steep slope ordinance], it seems to me that the board is allowed to take a broader view of that.”
“Because steep slopes are being disturbed,” said Steck, “it is my opinion that the board can take things into consideration like the potential impact on a high pressure gas line,” to which the audience applauded.
Jeanette Kronick, a North Bergen resident, asked Steck about the liability assumed if an explosion were to occur.
“Who’s responsible for disaster?” asked Kronick. “If so many people are gone, who do you sue?”
“It seems to me that this county board bears responsibility because it is aware of the pipeline,” answered Steck.
The parties become frustrated
Appleview attorney Carmine Alampi called engineer Calisto Bertin to testify in front of the board. In his testimony, he claimed that Transco had no objections to the project.
“There’s not going to be vibration created from hammering rock,” said Bertin, “[and] there’s definitely no blasts. We’ve had several years’ correspondence with Transco. Their last letter is that they have no objection to this project.”
“The board has the power to subpoena a representative of Transco,” said Lamb. “We can’t have the developer’s engineer say, ‘Oh, Transco said it was O.K.’”
Bertin responded that documents and letters involving the correspondence had been submitted to the board.
“You don’t have to rely on my hearsay,” said Bertin.
Following Bertin’s testimony, Lamb attempted to recall his planner, Steck, in order to ask a few final questions. Alampi objected to the recalling of the planner, maintaining that the testimony and questioning had already been conducted.
“We’ve argued more than the duration of the questions,” said Lamb after a small debate and back-and-forth between the attorneys and the board. “I would have finished them three minutes ago.”
“This board has set the record in overruling me on issues in the past four months,” Lamb added later.
Local residents lined up behind the podium during the public portion of the meeting.
“We’re going to try to do this as amicably as possible,” said Choffo before the first speaker began.
“Why do you have to put our lives at risk?” asked Bijan Marjan, a North Bergen resident. “What happens if the developer during construction accidentally mishandles a large cement block, and it falls on the pipeline?”
Other participants chose to speak for a larger group of people.
“I’m here on behalf of myself and other residents,” said Ken Morrison of North Bergen. “If we were holding this event in the school, I can guarantee you that it would be jam-packed right now. There’s an extreme passion here that they will fight this development until it is defeated.”
Attorney Maria Gesualdi read a speech prepared by Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff.
“I am not opposed to development in my area,” the speech began. “We encourage development in Guttenberg.” But Drasheff’s speech urged the board to ensure that the developer follows all safety protocol in regards to the pipeline.
Following a lengthy public comment portion, the board chose to vote on the application. A large group of residents held up protest signs as the board weighed their decision.
“The responsibility of the gas line is up to Transco,” said Commissioner Demetrio Arencibia of the board. “The risk is there regardless of this project.”
The board eventually voted to pass the application. Board member Kennedy Ng voted against the approval.
As the vote passed, residents yelled, “Shame on you!”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.