The city of Hoboken and New Jersey Transit both presented plans at a council meeting Wednesday night for what they’d like to see built on the 52 acres owned by the transit agency along the city’s border with Jersey City.
A follow-up workshop for the public is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at City Hall, and will include a question and answer period.
The area in question covers the downtown Hoboken train terminal and rail yards and the half-mile stretch encompassing the southern side of Observer Highway (to be Observer Boulevard).
NJ Transit put forth a proposal in 2008 that included a 70-story office tower, but Hoboken activists believed the development was too large.
Over the last four years, the city and the transit agency have sparred over their plans. Last week, both entities presented their visions of what they would like to see on the land.
“For the first time there is a plan that will enhance the character of Hoboken rather than destroy it.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
NJ Transit openly admits that their original 2008 plans are no longer economically feasible.
“We have made a commitment to work with the city to match your vision of what you want your city to be,” said Executive Director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein at Wednesday’s meeting.
While NJ Transit does not have to get the approval of the city’s Planning Board in order to build, Mayor Dawn Zimmer has made it clear that the city will fight any plans seen as promoting overdevelopment.
Of the 52 acres owned by the transit agency, 16 are below water and 36 are on land.
Cooler heads prevail
The 70-story building in NJ Transit’s original proposal would have become the tallest building in town, a distinction currently held by the 26-story W Hotel on the waterfront. The proposal also included a 50-story residential building. The development would have increased the population by 7,300 residents, a 13.99 percent increase.
After Hoboken residents protested the proposal, both the city and the transit agency worked to revise their plans. On Wednesday, both entities presented proposals that were smaller in scale.
However, while NJ Transit’s latest proposal has definitely come closer to the scope of Hoboken’s plan, they still have two different visions. In fact, they are still a million square feet apart.
NJ Transit has lowered their original building heights to 27 and 26 stories for office and residential respectively, with a proposed population increase of 4.2 percent.
Hoboken’s unveiled plan caps the tallest buildings at 19 and 12 stories for office and residential respectively, with a proposed 1.9 percent increase in city population.
According Director of Community Development Brandy Forbes, the city’s plan anticipates 475 residential units, but NJ Transit’s 2012 proposal would include 1,155 units.
The city also hopes to see a performing arts center, “accelerator space” (for business startups), green design to address flooding, and more bike, sidewalk, and open space.
City officials said that this plan is more consistent with Hoboken’s master plan, a city document developed with public input that lays out the overall guidelines and goals for development citywide.
“I am extremely excited because for the first time there is a plan that will enhance the character of Hoboken rather than destroy it,” stated Zimmer at a press conference regarding the plan on Tuesday.
Zimmer noted, “Hoboken is not a town hurting for residents or traffic.”
Whose jurisdiction is it, anyway?
The mayor’s administration does not see a reason that NJ Transit should be treated differently than any other developer.
The question boils down to whether or not being a state entity actually does make them different than any other developer. While NJ Transit may be relatively free from city regulation when it comes to transportation decisions, a development matter may be different.
In 2009 State Sen. Paul Sarlo was set to introduce legislation that would allow NJ Transit to build in cities without constraints. This bill was consequently squashed with the help of Zimmer.
“They [New Jersey Transit] think they can build what they want to build, but that is not the case,” Zimmer said Tuesday.
How does NJ Transit feel?
In his presentation, NJ Transit’s presenter focused on the iconic architecture in the plan, meant to combine the old and the new,” referencing modern architecture in London and other cities.
Chief of Government and External Affairs Paul Wykoff explained after the meeting that “because it is residential and commercial and not just transportation, we wanted to collaborate as closely as possible with the city. We are very pleased the progress.”
When asked about the actual legal rights they have, Wykoff simply said, “I leave that to the lawyers.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.