Citing a lack of public parking that is proposed in either the original plan presented by Roseland Properties, Inc. and an amended plan that was introduced four months ago, as well as its concerns with having free public access to the waterfront, the FWW filed its lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court last week to try to block construction of the first phase of the project, namely 42 brownstone homes.
The first phase of the project has already received approval from the Weehawken Planning Board, and a lawsuit trying to block that phase was thrown out of court last July by Hudson County Superior Court Judge John McLaughlin.
However, as a courtesy to concerned residents, including members of the FWW, developer Carl Goldberg amended his original plan to include a one-lane roadway along the waterfront, as well as adding several other amenities that acted as a compromise.
But the changes apparently were not good enough for the members of the FWW.
"We still have a lot of concern," said Doug Harmon, the president of the FWW, "both with the original plan and the amended plan. The mayor [Richard Turner] and the developer are working very hard to deny public access, and the mayor sold us out. He has the right to plan and plot those streets and that right has not been exercised."
Added Harmon, "They boldly proclaim the development to be the most exclusive private enclave and the way to realize that is to limit the amount of public parking spaces. And without the parking spaces, then there will be no access to the waterfront. We're giving the developer a free hand to build a private enclave." The news of the lawsuit floored Roseland Properties developer Carl Goldberg.
"Part of the compromise we've made came on the suggestions of the Planning Board, the Weehawken Environmental Committee and the Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront," Goldberg said. "This is the height of hypocrisy. Why would you appeal the amendment that you had a hand in creating? It makes no sense to me.
Added Goldberg, "I think they were acting in poor faith. Everyone came together and came up with the compromises that led to the amended plan."
Turner was also disappointed with the FWW's decision to file a lawsuit.
"I personally think that they're using this as an excuse to block the development altogether," Turner said. "I find it to be extremely disappointing. I have to believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that they're not producing anything that will help the development."
Turner said that he has personally had at least 30 private negotiation meetings with the members of the FWW to come to some sort of a settlement on the development.
"Their public stance is totally different from their private stance and they are misleading the public," Turner said. "Our own parking experts recommended that parking does not belong on that waterfront roadway and that there would be adequate parking in various areas. Their own attorney [James Segreto] said in one of those meetings that parking would never be a problem or a hindrance in reaching a settlement. Many of their own points were incorporated into the amended plan."
The original plan did not call for any waterfront roadway, but the FWW pushed to have a roadway included, as did WEC member Ruth Elsasser.
"They insisted on having the one-lane road, so Roseland agreed to that," Turner said. "Many of us shared the same concerns, not having sufficient public areas. It was never intended to be a private area. In good faith, I negotiated with NJ Transit to receive an extra 22 feet of land, in order to build the roadway. The extra land pushes the brownstones further back from the waterfront and the front doors now face the east. There's room for a one-lane road with a four-foot sidewalk. We asked the developer to amend his original plan, knowing fully well that his plan was accepted and valid, approved by us locally, by the state DEP and sustained in Superior Court with Judge McLaughlin's decision."
Added Turner, "The developer acted in good faith to amend the plan and it's still not good enough. Do they want that one additional acre of open space or now, along the river's edge? That's the only question before us. The brownstones are going to be built, one way or the other. They have all the necessary approvals. The only question is, do they want the extra acre or do they not." Harmon said that he doesn't see it as being either Plan A (the original plan) or Plan B (the amended plan) and nothing else. He wants to see a better solution and still thinks one is possible.
"Either one of these plans means no public parking on the roadway," Harmon said. "And that's simply not acceptable. You can't close off the walkway and can't close off the roadway, because then it's not a public street. Our architect [Craig Whitaker] tells us that eventually it could be closed down and then there would be no public access to the waterfront, which is required by law. If you can't park there, then you're going to only be able to drive by and look. We're looking to do better than that."
Added Harmon, "We've been told that it's Plan A or Plan B, take it or leave it. Well, we're not going to take it. Either plan means privatization of the waterfront. We think Goldberg is simply pretending to work with the community, but he's going to do whatever he wants. The words on his own sign say 'exclusive,' and 'enclave.' That's doing whatever he can to maintain a private access and exclude Weehawken and the rest of the world." Goldberg feels like he will be left with no other decision but to move forward with the original plan.
"If they want what's best for the community, then they should accept the amended plan," Goldberg said. "If they appeal, then they're going to force me to build with the original plan. And that's what I'll do. It will make this lawsuit irrelevant and make it a complete waste of time. I'll build the original plan, but everyone's a loser that way. I think I have the true interest of what's best for the entire community in mind, not a self-centered share of the community."
Goldberg said that work has already begun on the site, including utility relocation. It will continue, one way or another, regardless of the latest lawsuit.
"I think this ultimately says a lot about their motivation," Goldberg said. "If they appeal, I withdraw my application to the amended plan and we go back to the original. It's as simple as that. Does that have everyone's interest in mind? I think their agenda is political and they have no interest in crafting a development that is the best thing for the community. They do not have the best interest of the residents of Weehawken in their heart."
Harmon knows that he may be fighting a losing battle.
"Our vision is to see a world-class waterfront in Weehawken," Harmon said. "We know that he [Goldberg] has the option right now to build whatever he wants. He can put the shovel in the ground tomorrow. There's nothing we can do except what we've been doing."
Added Harmon, "I don't think it's a fruitless pursuit. I still think there's a strong possibility something positive can come out of this."
That's why Harmon and the rest of the members of the FWW continue to put up what seems to be a losing battle.
"Thank God for our many members and supporters who put their time and money into the cause," Harmon said. "That's what keeps us going. We're not going to give in."