After listening to testimony and pleas from about 20 concerned residents of both North Bergen and Guttenberg, the North Bergen Planning Board voted Monday to give approval to developer K. Hovnanian to build a proposed 201-unit luxury housing unit on the North Bergen/Guttenberg border along River Road.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of the project, which will be called Hudson Point and will be directly adjacent to the two other K. Hovnanian housing developments, Jacobs Ferry and Bulls Ferry. Those have been built within the last five years.
The project will be built on the site that was initially to be Camelot Cove, which was approved by the North Bergen Planning Board in January of 2000 as two nine-story, 450-unit adult-assisted living and senior citizen apartments.
However, those plans fell by the wayside when the market for nursing home units no longer existed.
According to Planning Board attorney Brian Chewcaskie, the board believed that the current proposal was much better than the original senior citizen complex, especially in its building height and density.
"The board looked at it as a positive housing complex and not a high-rise," Chewcaskie said. "They looked at what it could be and they looked at what has been recently proposed and decided that the new plan is much better. It has lower building heights and has [fewer] units."
According to Chewcaskie - and contrary to previously published reports - the area was zoned to call for buildings as high as 120 feet with a density of 75 feet per units per acre. But this project is far smaller in height and density, so variances had to be secured for the approval, and the new project definitely fits into what density is permitted by law.
Many residents of nearby Bulls Ferry in Guttenberg had concerns that the new proposed project was too large for the small area. They offered concerns about a lack of suitable parking, a lack of free open park space and traffic as to why they opposed the project as it was proposed.
"I know the residents had concerns and I believe the board was sensitive to those concerns," Chewcaskie said. "Their concerns were addressed. From what I could gather, I don't think the residents were opposed to the project, just had some concerns about the project."
Rennae Pelayo, a resident of Bulls Ferry and one of the leading opponents of the development, was given the chance to speak to the Planning Board again to voice her concerns.
"We were not opposing the development, just opposing the size," Pelayo said. "It's a real small piece of land with a really big building on it. I don't fault the Planning Board for what they did. I'm not surprised it received approval, but I am disappointed."
Pelayo felt it was unfair that as a resident of Guttenberg she had to repeatedly offer her pleas to a North Bergen Planning Board.
"Unfortunately, I don't know whether they were listening to the North Bergen residents who were there as well," Pelayo said.
As it stands now, 179 units in the development will be situated within North Bergen's boundaries, while the remaining 22 units will fall under Guttenberg's jurisdiction.
However, local activist Herb Shaw, a North Bergen resident, brought in maps that contradicted what is considered the actual border between the two municipalities and pointed out those findings to the board.
"I think some of the board members seemed like they wanted to try to help our cause," Pelayo said. "We did receive two 'no' votes. I just think we needed to give them something stronger to lean on."
Pelayo knows the fight isn't over yet. That's because for the project to move forward, it needs approval from the Guttenberg Planning/Zoning Board as well.
"Guttenberg may think that it's too close to the existing development and deny the application," Chewcaskie said. "There are a number of things that could happen. If they vote it down or modify the plan, then it would have to go back to North Bergen for approval again."
"The whole project is now contingent on what Guttenberg does," Pelayo said. "I'm a taxpayer in Guttenberg and maybe my voice will be heard there. I always felt that Guttenberg has a lot less risk in this project. North Bergen was a tough fight, but we have a group organized and the fight is still there."
K. Hovnanian officials have always stated that they wanted to build a luxury housing development that fell right in line and with the same character as Jacobs Ferry in West New York and Bulls Ferry in Guttenberg. It appears now that the giant development firm will get its chance to prove it.