Next stop, Millennium Towers?; Planning Board approves height increase, light rail zone for controversial site
In a crowded and stifling council chamber spilling over with hundreds of residents, union representatives, and council members, the Planning Board approved a measure Tuesday allowing a height increase to a site which may become the home to twin 43-story residential/commercial towers. At stake is a plan which proponents claim will revitalize a long-blighted neighborhood, and which opponents claim will mar the city. Tuesday night's meeting was punctuated by shouting matches between residents and the union workers who showed up in support of the plan. Planning Board chairman Gerald Sheehan several times chastised audience members and threatened to end public comment. In the end, the Board approved by a 6-1 vote to change the Jersey Avenue Redevelopment Plan, including a height increase at the site at Jersey Avenue from 110 feet to 440 feet (the original proposal called for 475 feet) and a population density of 140 dwelling units per acre. Scott Seale cast the lone dissenting vote, and Melissa Holloway, citing her dual seat on the City Council, abstained from the vote. The so-called "Light Rail Transit District" is on the spot where United Diversified, LLC, Bayonne, has proposed the construction of Millennium Towers, a twin 440-foot luxury complex along a 3.1-acre strip of land. It would be located between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue and adjacent to 18th Street, near the Hoboken border in a desolate patch of abandoned warehouses and vacant fields. Those in favor said the zoning change approved by the board would help create a skyline that "is going to be a treasure one of these days." Some disagreed. "This project is ugly, it is out of size, and it is wrong for Hudson County," said Helen Manogue, a member of Hoboken's Quality of Life Coalition. The light rail question
Chairman Sheehan stressed throughout the evening that the hearing was not for any specific proposal, but for an amendment to rezone land in the Jersey Avenue area. But many in attendance scoffed at this assertion, remarking that the "spot zoning" favored only one development: Millennium Towers. Crucial to the site is the construction of a light rail stop at the base of the towers. United Diversified claims they have been in negotiations with NJ Transit to construct the light rail stop. The base of the project would include space for parking and a 170,000 square foot shopping area. To date, NJ Transit had made no public comment on a potential rail stop at the proposed location. NJ Transit's silence may have prompted the Planning Board to add language to the zoning that would require a letter of commitment from the public transit system to build the station. Thus, if no station is built, no towers would be constructed. Transportation and traffic were on the mind of many residents opposed to the plan. Residents spoke of nightmarish traffic that gridlocks for over a half-hour in the few blocks on the way to the Holland Tunnel. They worried about adding any cars to the road. But Planning Director Bob Cotter, in a later interview, claimed that "Anybody who travels by car will be going in the opposite direction," and the rest of the residents will likely use public transportation to get into Manhattan. Other residents questioned the judgement of the board in creating residential pods for displaced Manhattanites. "I'm sick and tired of lousy zoning that leads to gated communities," said Mia Scanga, a Downtown resident. Union members united
Union representatives arrived en masse to the meeting donning shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Millennium Towers Means Jobs." Holding union banners, they waved placards and signs throughout the meeting. "We need the jobs," said Local 325 laborer Jose Gonzalez prior to the meeting. "[The Towers] would bring more value to the property." Tempers flared throughout the evening, but not more so than when Margi Daly, a Heights resident, remarked that one board member may have a conflict as a result of union ties. "I will not abstain [from voting]," said Carmelo Sita, "under any circumstances." "How did you know I was talking about you?" said Daly. Replied Sita, "I might be a little near-sighted, but I'm not as imbecilic as some comments reflect. I am not part of a union and I will not recuse myself." Sita would not comment on what his ties may have been. The zoning amendment called for a bonus program for developers that may create green space in the area. In addition, a transition area medium-rise area north of Hamilton Park, starting at Tenth Street and running to the Eleventh Street Viaduct, would be created. Finally, a ban on junk/scrap yards, gas stations, and rock or dance clubs would be included. The recommendation now passes to the City Council for a vote.