The separate suits claim Jersey City was wrong to change the zoning that cleared the way for Millennium Towers, a 43-story 500-plus unit luxury high rise. The development would rise over the southern edge of the Hoboken border north of 18th Street in Jersey City. Hoboken filed the suit in late July, and Heights group Riverview Neighborhood Association and Hoboken-based Coalition for a Better Waterfront filed a second suit two weeks ago.Hugh McCluskey, an attorney representing Hoboken, said that state laws and legal precedent require regional consideration of significant projects.
The 3.1-acre sliver of land, now a truck parking lot and abandoned warehouse site, has been a flashpoint for many groups in Jersey City and Hoboken.
"This building will impact Hoboken more than [it will] Jersey City," said Tony Soares, a Hoboken councilman, recently. He argued that, should the project be built, traffic congestion and development in the area would seriously cripple Hoboken residents' ability to get in and out of the city, and that Jersey City did not take into consideration Hoboken's traffic when approving the project.
"It's just pure greed," Soares said. "It's mammoth. Maybe it's something for Manhattan, or the Jersey City waterfront" but not for the Hoboken border.
Look who's talking
However, Hoboken never provided traffic impact studies to Jersey City for any of their development near Jersey City, said Tom Gallagher, Mayor Bret Schundler's chief of staff.
"If Hoboken wants to set the standard," said Gallagher, "they should lead by example, not by lawsuit."
Responded Soares, "We didn't build two 42-story towers right on the Jersey City border. You're blocking sunlight, you're blocking views."
Both suits name the city of Jersey City, the Jersey City Planning Board and the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency. Developers Millennium Towers, LLC and United Diversified are also named.
Questions have bubbled up over the background of the developers. Joseph Lucarelli, a vice president at a Bayonne-based group that wants to develop Millennium Towers, defrauded a savings and loan over a decade ago and later served jail time for a project he undertook at 689 Henderson St. in Jersey City. The building has since changed hands to another developer, but had stood unfinished and vacant since construction halted in the late 80s. Plans are underway to complete the 102-unit building, which is near the Hoboken border, within the next year.
Representatives for United Diversified, LLC, Millennium Towers, LLC, and their counsel, John O'Donnell, could not be reached for comment.
Jersey City residents raised questions over the developer's past at the meeting to approve the rezoning for the project in June, but the developer's background was not a factor in the decision to approve the project. Council members Melissa Holloway, Fernando Colon and L. Harvey Smith said that a person's past, if he paid the penalty, should not be a factor in the city's decision-making process.
A wall of high rises?
Neighborhood groups say they fear the project will open the door for a "wall of high rises" in the generally undeveloped area to the west of Marin Boulevard between the Holland Tunnel and the Hoboken border. Millennium Towers would count Holland Gardens, a public housing project, and the area around St. Lucy's as neighbors. Yet city officials say the current zoning reduces density and restricts height on all other land in the immediate area to 110 feet.
"This will be the first time someone will sue over downzoning," said Gallagher. He said the proposed light rail stop that would run through the project would mitigate the affects of added residents in the area.
Still, neighborhood groups complain that zoning can be changed too easily in Jersey City.
In earlier conversations, Riverview Neighborhood Association head Vito Brunetti had vowed to go forward with legal action if the project won approval.
"This is definitely not over," said Brunetti after the approval for the rezoning.
It's not clear what will happen next in the case, but Jersey City counsel Sean Connelly doesn't believe Hoboken has legal standing.
"We'll look for summary judgement," he said, which would essentially dismiss the case, citing Hoboken's "lack of standing."
But Hoboken attorney McCluskey said the Supreme Court is a possible destination for this case. "We're prepared to have this addressed at the highest level," he said.
The Millennium Towers project won initial approval for a 20-year tax abatement at Wednesday's Jersey City council meeting.