The plan will govern how different parts of town can be developed over the next 20 years.
Around 75 people turned out to give their feedback on the 138-page document that was first submitted for public review two months ago. The city had hired the planning firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Inc. (PPSA), to guide the board through the process of creating the master plan. The process included more than a half dozen public workshops over a one-year period.
"This has been a 14-month process where hundreds of Hoboken residents have given their input on numerous issues," said Mayor David Roberts at the meeting.
For those who have not read the master plan, copies along with demographic data and summaries are available on the city's web site, www.hobokennj.org. Copies are also available at the public library and in the city clerk's office at City Hall.
The public meeting consisted of a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation of the basics of the plan, and questions and comments among from and local business leaders.
According to project manager Paul Grygiel of PPSA, a master plan takes a snapshot of what the city looks like today and sets goals for what it would like to look like in the future. Its recommendations range from small interventions to large-scale actions to create lasting improvements and improve the quality of life. The last full revision of the master plan occurred in 1979.
"This plan isn't just about how much development that takes places in the future," said John Shapiro, a partner at PPSA. "The master plan is more about making sure you are optimizing the value gained from future development."
Grygiel summarized the master plan by addressing several main topics. In total, there are more 230 recommendations.
Transportation: The transportation goals include increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety, improved signage, and the establishment of a new in-city transit route. "Right now it's easy to get to New York City, but tough to get around town," said Grygiel.
The professionals also addressed parking ideas. The plan calls for the parking inventory to be increased through shared parking, new garages and better utilization of existing facilities. Also they advocate flexible pricing in the garages, improved signage directing drivers to garages, and improved parking technology.
Parks and community facilities: One of the most ambitious goals is planning for a pedestrian, biking, walking and rollerblading "circuit" around the entire city. Other plans include tripling the amount of open space in the next decade and completing the state-mandated Waterfront Walkway, which is surrounded with parks that include passive and active open space. The walkway will ultimately extend from Bayonne to the George Washington Bridge.
Community facilities recommendations include consolidating police and fire departments, and the reuse of closed historic school buildings and fire stations as charter schools, cultural incubators and community centers.
Housing: Housing goals include reforming the city's laws to protect the existing affordable housing stock.
The master plan draft promotes zoning rules that encourage home ownership and larger multiple bedroom units. The city's economic development includes establishing a Special Improvement District (SID) on Washington Street, encouraging retail and commercial business around the train terminal, and establishing a economic development district in the city's northwest quadrant.
Historic preservation and design: Recommendations include promoting "green" or environmentally friendly architecture, requiring design review for new construction, increasing the size of the historic district and eventually burying overhead wires.
Land use: Goals include completing the waterfront with one continuous park and plenty of upland connections. The southern entrance to the city, i.e. Observer Highway, should be aesthetically improved for people's first impression of the city. "It's important that that Hoboken have a more attractive gateway," said Shapiro.
It is also intended that the heart of the city with its historic brownstones be named a historic district and the northwestern redevelopment should be new residential neighborhoods, not isolated residential buildings. Instead of solely rental homes and condos, there should be shopping at the transit stops and mixed-use development.
How do we get there?
Now that the draft is open for public review, according to the planners, there are several steps to follow before the ideas of the plan can be implemented in meaningful legislation.
"The next step," said Grygiel, "is to continue to listen to the community."
He added that the planners will take the public's comments and modify the draft to reflect the community's comments.
Once that is done, the final draft will go before the Planning Board for adoption and then be sent to the City Council.
"The City Council will be most responsible for implementing the concepts of the master plan through changes to the city's zoning and approval of capital improvements," said Grygiel. PPSA will draw up specific amendments to the city's zoning code and it would be up to the City Council to approve them.
Questions from the audience were varied and included issues such as affordable housing and parking.
"Hoboken has a need for more affordable housing, especially housing for families," said one woman. "Right now there aren't nearly enough two-, three- and four-bedroom units in the city."
The planners answered that the master plan advocates are creating a "quality housing" point system for new or rehabilitated housing. In this system, they said, the program would involve assigning points to developers toward tax benefits and zoning allowances for building additional affordable units, three-bedroom or larger, low-rise attached one-, two- or three-bedroom family units, and public open space.
Parking was also a topic of discussion. The planners said that the issue is a particularly difficult one to address because there is such disparity in opinions about how to deal with the problem. There were those in attendance who said there is not enough parking and that more garages should be built. But there were also those who said that the garages already built are half empty, so the city should further restrict on-street parking, which they believe would force people into the garages.
The planners said that the discussion of parking should not be about "how many spaces" but should rather be about optimizing the value of every space the city does have.
"This plan seeks to create a reasonable amount of new parking spaces, particularly for residents," reads the plan. "But it also looks to better utilize existing parking resources by encouraging greater use of existing garages and harnessing the private sector to provide more parking spaces for use by the general public."
Other members of the public commented about historical preservation, economic development, and suggestions about proposed zoning guidelines such as building height and density.