Mayor David Roberts called several people involved in city planning to City Hall Wednesday to debunk allegations from Councilman Tony Soares that the ongoing Master Plan process is unfairly tilted toward developers.
Until that point, Roberts had not addressed allegations made by Soares, his former political ally, but now Roberts says the volume of Soares' allegations has reached such a frenzied pitch that he has no choice but to respond to every charge.
"[Soares'] rhetoric has gotten to the point that it is affecting [my administration's] ability to get things done," said Roberts last week. "I'm not going to allow him to have the hard work of dedicated volunteers overcome by a campaign of misrepresentation."
Earlier this week, Soares released a press statement that said that developers might have undue influence in the creation of the new master plan.
The master plan is a blueprint for how the city should be developed over the next generation. One of Roberts' campaign promises was that he would rewrite the city's master plan. The existing plan has not been revised in 16 years.
In the statement, Soares criticizes Roberts for meeting with the head of a local action group that is made up primarily of developers. He charges that the developers with Roberts' support "can potentially 'stonewall' real reform on the on the sensible development front."
Soares also stated that, "[Roberts] should come clean and tell his volunteers and supporters about his change of heart on responsible development."
Wednesday, the mayor assembled some of his top planning and master plan officials to answer Soares' charges and prove the master plan process is open to everyone in the community.
Roberts said that he did meet with developers, but also produced a list of 48 other community and civic groups that he and the master plan committee had met with. Only nine groups on the list were developers or developer related groups.
"As much as he may want to demonize them, developers are part of our community," said Roberts, "just as the Board of Education, the YMCA, NJ Transit, the Hoboken Police Department, and all of the 49 groups that we have met with are."
He added that it would be impossible to have a truly inclusive master plan process without any input from developers.
Beth Mason, chair of the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Planning Board, said that to have an effective master plan, everyone's participation, including developers' is needed.
"The biggest thing about the master plan is that it's the community's Master Plan," said Mason. "It's created by the community at large, not by a single group of people. Everyone has their say."
Meetings open to everyone
Mason immediately referenced a July 18 public workshop on the Master Plan. Nearly 150 members of the public turned out Thursday night for a hearing on the future of development in Hoboken. The entire purpose of the meeting was to give the public the opportunity to brainstorm and identify the city's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Mason then turned over the floor to Paul Grygiel of the firm Abeles Phillips, Preiss & Shapiro Inc. (APPS). APPS, a Manhattan-based firm, that has signed a $270,000 contract to guide the city through the process. The firm was selected through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. During the selection process the public was allow to watch each finalists present their case before the Planning Board.
According to Grygiel, Roberts, the Planning Board, and the master plan consultants have designed an extensive community participation process, which include eight public workshops to be held from September 2002 until March 2003.
Everyone in the community is invited to attend those meetings and offer their ideas on how to improve the city.
The first four workshops will cover topics of importance to Hoboken, and a second set of workshops will address particular geographic areas of the city.
The first four meetings will be the topical workshops, the first of those to be held on Tuesday Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Hoboken High School. At that meeting, the public and community stakeholders will discuss economic issues, things such as economic development and northwest redevelopment concepts.
The topics for the last three topical workshops, which will be held in October through December, will be: community resources (parks, open space, utility services, etc.), buildings and design (density, historic preservation, zoning, ect.) and circulation (pedestrians, parking traffic, and transit).
Then, according to Grygiel, from January to March APPS and the Planning Board will host four geographic workshops. These meeting which are open to the public will cover issues that are specific to certain areas of town. The areas covered in these workshops will be the west side, southern waterfront, central and northern waterfront, and the central neighborhoods.
After that, Grygiel said, the Master Plan Committee and APPS will meet with several special interest groups. In September they will be meeting with the business community. In early November they are scheduled to meet with area seniors, and in mid November they plan on meeting with area children.
"We would like to get people involved as much as possible when writing the Master Plan," said Grygiel. "Everyone is invited to attend and participate in any and all Master Plan workshop meetings."
Soares, who is currently in California for work, responded to the mayor's press conference via phone Thursday.
"I'm glad the mayor is responding," said Soares. "Sometimes you need a little civil disobedience to get things done."
He added that he stands by his press release. He said it has achieved his objective of "having the mayor clarify his position on development."
Soares also said that he supports the Master Plan, the Planning Board and the volunteers that have dedicated their time to the process.
But he said that he will remain skeptical about what role developers might play in the process. "The fact remains that they are the best funded, and as we all know, the squeaky wheel gets the oil," he said.