While Pelayo loves where she lives, she has been concerned recently about the proposed new 201-unit development called Hudson Point that Hovnanian plans to build directly next door to Bulls Ferry on the site of what used to be Camelot Cove on the North Bergen/Guttenberg border.
"They're asking for a variance that will permit them to have 50 percent more than what is permitted by the zoning laws," Pelayo said. "They're trying to squeeze every inch they can get, going over the building coverage on the available plan. It's just too big. There was also supposed to be land set aside for a park, but I don't see that now."
Pelayo is not alone in her concerns. Fellow Bulls Ferry residents, including Guttenberg Councilman Tom Barnes, also feel the proposed development is too big for the land that is available.
"I've looked at the plans and the variances that have been submitted," Barnes said. "It is my feeling that any further development on River Road has to be done responsibly. It appears to me that they want to get as many units as possible in that space without thinking of the long-term problems, like traffic and parking. They're not addressing the needs of the current residents."
Ninety percent of the site is located in North Bergen and the other 10 percent falls within Guttenberg's boundaries. That means the project has to endure two sets of Planning Board and Zoning Board hearings and meetings before it will receive final approval.
But representatives from K. Hovnanian and the township of North Bergen believe there isn't a problem with the plan and that the only dissenters to the project are the residents of Guttenberg, not North Bergen.
"As far as we can determine, the initial plans fit every variance and zoning law," said Doug Senichel, a spokesman for K. Hovnanian. "In fact, the plans have been scaled down considerably from the first set of plans that were submitted. We're following every step allowed by law. If there are concerns by residents, we will always be available to listen. But it's still very early in the process."
North Bergen Township Administrator Chris Pianese said he spoke with the township's Planning Board attorney, Brian Chewcaskie, and found that the submitted plans fit the existing variances and codes.
"Honestly, for the project they've proposed, they don't need a variance," Pianese said. "It's a pretty solid development. I can see no reason why the Planning Board wouldn't approve a variance if they needed one, but right now, they don't need it. It does look that the plan has exceeded the maximum for land coverage, but from the overall perspective, we look at it as a solid development."
Two short buildings
The plans call for two buildings, each only four stories tall. By the existing variance, the buildings could be built up to 120 feet high, but the plans call for the buildings to stand only 53 feet high.
"The key zoning element by height has not been violated," Pianese said.
However, it's not the height of the buildings that has the residents concerned but the overall size.
"The zoning has been put there for a reason," said Tom Hennigan, a resident of Bulls Ferry. "And a percentage of that development is supposed to be for an open park. There have been no plans submitted that fit the existing zoning laws. It already exceeds what the laws allow."
He added, "It's about the integrity of the overall plan. When we purchased our homes here, they sold us the vision that nothing large would be put in the land next door in order to get us here. Now, they want to change the game plan after we're here. It's not about our views or the property value. It's about the existing zoning laws."
Resident Bali Ekin is concerned about traffic as well.
"It's getting too congested," Ekin said. "Coming into the complex, it is almost impossible to make a left hand turn to enter. Plus, there's no place for the kids to play. Some people may think that having that big park in North Bergen [North Hudson Braddock Park] is enough, but something is needed down here."
Hennigan said that he is also concerned about various wildlife that resides in the area, like birds and rabbits. "Building a development in two towns creates a huge problem," Barnes said. "There will be two different sets of property taxes. Obviously, we want the new tax ratables. Do the towns work together? Probably not. Do they need to? I don't know."
Pianese said he didn't think there would be a problem in dealing with the two towns.
"I can't see it being a problem," Pianese said. "I'm sure West New York and Weehawken have had to deal with a similar situation before. Once both towns give approval to the project, there will be a discussion on how to work out the taxes."
Pelayo said that she has been getting together recently with other stay-at-home mothers like herself, women she met while attending classes at the Palisades Fitness Center.
"It's fine to get around on the weekdays, but if the group wants to get together someplace during the weekend, we have to go to a park in Edgewater, because there's simply not enough parking now," Pelayo said. "River Road already has traffic problems. This will only make it worse. We should fight to have green spaces and parks, not buildings all over."
Pelayo has taken up the cause and has appeared at the last two North Bergen Planning Board meetings to voice her concerns. She will be there at the next meeting to discuss Hudson Point Aug. 12.
Never an activist before
"I've never done anything like this before," Pelayo said. "I used to be an actuary and worked long hours, but now that I'm a mom [with another on the way in December], I felt that this was something I could take the time to get involved in."
Most of the residents agreed that they know the land will be developed, and said they were not against having the land developed in some capacity.
"It actually looks like a nice development," Hennigan said. "I'm supportive of the general concept. It will be nice to have something as opposed to what's there now. But the bottom line is that it's just too big for the space. Maybe K-Hov can come back with a plan that maintains the integrity of the existing zoning laws."
Barnes said that he will try to use as leverage any influence he has as an elected official.
"I have confidence that the Planning and Zoning Boards of both towns will follow every single letter of the law," he said.