I was surprised to read in the March 3 Reporter that Better Waterfront boss Ron Hine claims Pier A park to be his organization's "greatest achievement." I remember when Hine opposed the park's creation.
That's right. The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW's) own plan, published in 1993, recommended that Piers A and C be torn down. It suggested replacing them with new (certainly far smaller) piers for fishing and "public recreation." Citizens who served with Ron on the Mayoral-appointed Waterfront Coalition have told me they had to fight him tooth and nail to save Pier A and get a park there. His argument was that as long as the pier exists it might some day be built on.
I was even more surprised to see Hine called FBW's founder. Here's the story, from December, 1989, the City Council passed Mayor Pasculli's first agreement with the Port Authority (PA) for a massive development project on the city-owned southern waterfront. Immediately Dan Tumpson, who had been battling for years for public input on the issue, proposed a voter referendum. Then Dan organized and led the successful effort to get the agreement voted down. Ron first got involved when Dan invited him to join the committee of five lead petitioners needed to get the question on the ballot. At a meeting during the campaign the core group of a dozen or so chose the name, Coalition for a Better Waterfront. (Ron was present but opposed the name.) After the election that informal group organized as a steering committee and named Steve Busch coordinator. Around that time I proposed and arranged for what became the Fund for a Better Waterfront, a separate arm of CBW that would be eligible to receive tax-deductible grants and donations. Several of us, Ron included, volunteered for FBW's board; Lance Morrow was President.
It might be hard to believe, but Ron was never elected or appointed chief of anything. He just took over once we won the referendum, acting on his own in the group's name and presenting himself as the negotiator for the No vote. As he was willing to say yes to the PA and the project, it was convenient for Mayor Pasculli to accept this self-appointment.
It was also news to me that the Better Waterfront group was formed in reaction to a proposed tower on Pier A. It was the entire development agreement -- including the PA's role, financial terms, the wall of buildings on our pubic land -- that we campaigned against and the citizens voted down. That's what was on the ballot, twice. (Twice because in 1992 the city government put a second version of the agreement up for a second referendum. Again, the no vote won.)
Hine speaks often of having "defeated" a previous Port Authority plan. But it can just as well be said that he helped make it happen-- or at least helped make it politically feasible for the Mayor. Hine was among those who endorsed a third version of the agreement, which Mayor Russo and his Council approved in 1995. In all three deals the PA retained control of the project, the finances, and the land. (In fact this time the PA got title to the land.) And all three deals called for the wall of massive buildings (up to 2.3 million square feet of floor area in the third version) that we now see rising between First and Fourth streets. Only the building on Pier A was gone in version three, which is probably why Hine claims that's what the referendum was about. The city was willing to reduce the project size and give up building on Pier C well before Hine began negotiating. In two separate encounters within days of the 1990 referendum, then-state representative Bernard Kenny told me, "If you'll accept the Port Authority, we'll scale down the project and give you Pier C;" and then-city councilman Dave Roberts walked into a meeting at my house with the words "Congratulations. You've got Pier C." In 1992 just after the second referendum both piers were removed from the property to be sold to the PA for the project. I would not deny that Hine's adamant opposition to the building on Pier A affected that decision. But did the voters then okay the project? They never had a say.The 1995 agreement stuck, not because the voters were appeased but because the city, state and PA officials, without a peep from Hine, had surreptitiously changed state law to disallow another referendum.
FBW's own plan was deja vu all over again. The extended street gird with its blocks of new buildings east of River Street was in both the FBW plan and in all the PA planning documents back to the mid eighties. So were the waterfront road and the public walkway (the PA's "esplanade"; FBW's "linear park") that Hine would have you thank him for creating.
Hine began rewriting this bit of history in late 1990, when he brought New York's Westway architect Craig Whitaker to Hoboken to pitch another pro-development roadway along our waterfront. The through road was needed, Whitaker insisted, to separate a public "linear park" along the river from new blocks of private development upland. But why concede new blocks of private development on public property, especially when we had just rejected one such project at the polls? As for the strip park, some of us in the audience pointed out that a public riverfront walkway was already mandated by the state. From the Bayonne to the George Washington Bridge, every new development is required to provide its segment. But Whitaker just waved off that information, and he and Hine went on pretending that the public strip was all their idea and their road the only way to keep it public.
Now Hine is pushing a proposal by developers Gans and Vallone to build 982 residential units on the Maxwell House site, in building up to 12 stories tall. Why? He has got the developers to put in their portion of the through road, to extend the street grid through the property (in the process knocking down historic buildings they had planned to save), and to make a four-acre waterfront park which, the March 3 article states, will be donated to "a land trust open space conservancy." What the article doesn't say is that the park will be donated to Hine's group (which might as well be to Hine himself), with an easement to the National Trust for Public Land to ensure that it remain a park. Members of the planning board and the public have aksed the developers, "Why donate to FBW? Why not give it to the city, with the same easement to the Trust for Public Land?" One answer I heard is that the city can't be trusted with the property.
At least the Mayor and council members can be voted out of office.