At the September 12 Planning Board meeting, Board members and the public reacted negatively, and at times angrily, to Stevens Institute's proposal for a mega-garage on the waterfront. This 725-car garage, located across from Sinatra Park, would be one of Hoboken's largest parking structures. The plan makes a mockery of Hoboken's zoning regulations. Sixth Street east of River and the northern leg of Fifth Street will be usurped and privatized as part of this project. What drew the most ire, however, was the arrogance of Stevens in starting construction without Planning Board approval.
The presentation of Stevens' "concept" for this garage, of course, was just a charade. Stevens submitted plans for the garage, never approved or even seen by the Planning Board, to Hoboken's Building Inspector on September 21, 2001. For the past six weeks, contractors have been pouring concrete for the footings, supporting columns, elevator shafts, walls and ramps for this four-story structure. Apparently, Stevens Institute, with the active support of our Mayor and his administration, has determined that it is exempt from Planning Board authority.
With this proposal, Stevens violates most provisions of the zoning ordinance pertaining to the R-1(E) subdistrict. It does not provide the minimum required open space. The buildings nearly cover the entire block, far exceeding the 50 percent limit. This 400-foot long garage is double the length permitted. Stevens has proposed three principle structures on this lot where only one is allowed. The list goes on. Our new Mayor came into office with the promise of strict enforcement of the zoning laws. His active support of this project indicates that this policy does not apply to Stevens. Similarly, Stevens has come out with proposals for Maxwell House, Union Dry Dock and the Center for Maritime Systems where local zoning limits as well as state and federal requirements are freely ignored.
Stevens' failure to seek Planning Board approval before excavation began last March has led to other problems. There was never a chance to scrutinize Stevens' decision to blast and cart away some 40,000 cubic yards of serpentine rock, thus obliterating a portion of the geologically and historically significant Castle Point. There was never an opportunity to learn ahead of time that this rock contained asbestos, a known carcinogen. Stevens knew about the asbestos but kept this information under wraps as they began this operation taking few precautions to protect our community. If the City and the public had known beforehand, this health hazard could have been prevented.
At the meeting, Stevens' attorney announced that they are seeking to amend the zoning code to accommodate this project. These amendments would essentially excuse Stevens from important provisions for lot coverage, building dimensions, open space, etc. As a result, Stevens threatens to undermine the costly and exhaustive master plan process that the City has undertaken. Will the Mayor allow Stevens to drive the master plan revisions that impact the school? Or will he simply permit them to make changes in the ordinance without any serious attempt to create a plan that benefits our entire community? This is further complicated by the fact that most of the Mayor's appointees to the Planning Board have conflicts of interest pertaining to Stevens Institute.
Is there any hope of a fair and objective process? Plans for Stevens directly impact on the future of our community and our waterfront. It is time for the City to reassess its relationship with this institution to ensure the concerns of the public are heeded and the rule of law is upheld.