North Bergen's planning board already signed off on the 182-unit housing development, tentatively slated to be called Hudson Pointe, last August. The only obstacle delaying the project is approval from the Guttenberg board. But final approval from North Bergen is contingent upon approval from Guttenberg as well.
Approximately 170 of the 182 units will fall within North Bergen's boundaries, with only 12 remaining inside the town of Guttenberg. The land falls right between the Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and the Bulls Ferry project in Guttenberg.
The Guttenberg Planning Board held off voting on the project until the general public gets a chance to voice its concerns at the next meeting, scheduled for March 8. Many of the concerned residents were prepared to speak at the meeting last Tuesday, but were unable because K. Hovnanian brought forth several other experts to give testimony on behalf of the project.
"The Guttenberg Planning Board was given the opportunity to hear more information from our experts," said Doug Senichel, the spokesman for K. Hovnanian. "They were able to hear more about the environmental questions the board had."
The controversy about the proposed project lies within the residents of Guttenberg, in particular, the adjacent Bulls Ferry complex, ironically built by K. Hovnanian as well, wanting a public passive park being built directly next to the Bulls Ferry complex.
Opponents to the plan as it stands, a group called the Waterfront Park Initiative, headed by Bulls Ferry resident Rennae Pelayo, have stated that the land was originally zoned for parks and recreation and should remain that way, regardless of the development being planned.
Any development that includes using the zoned parks area would need an ordinance that would give approval to developing on the site. Pelayo and several other residents have been fighting to see the park plan go through, raising money to hire a lawyer and an architectural consultant to advise them of their rights.
While Pelayo and her group are pushing to have the park placed right adjacent to Bulls Ferry, Senichel said that K. Hovnanian's plan is to put an even bigger park closer to the center of the development.
"We're talking about one-third of an acre more than what was proposed that we're willing to pay for just a couple steps away from where they want to have their park," Senichel said. "We're going to be able to create usable passive green space in between the beautiful homes. The whole project is going to better the area. This development represents smart growth and will be a benefit to North Bergen, Guttenberg and Hudson County."
Senichel reiterated that the development will include a park, one way or another.
"There definitely will be a park there," Senichel said. "We're planning to put a half acre park at the end of the U [the configuration of the property] and extending it to the linear [waterfront] walkway, with a linear park near the walkway. We believe it's the best way to use the land and will still provide easy access for the people of North Bergen and Guttenberg. We're making better use of the land than what the residents of Bulls Ferry want."
But Pelayo isn't buying that idea.
"That park will be in North Bergen, not Guttenberg," Pelayo said. "We don't have any space in Guttenberg to build a park. This is the only available land left. The only reason why they're leaving that space open is because they can't build on it. If they're so intent on patting themselves on their backs for building a park, then why not build it where it has been zoned already for a park? Put it where it was designated to be."
Senichel also said that they are willing to build the centrally located park at no cost to either municipality.
"If the town wants, we can do it for them," Senichel said. "We're rehabbing the land and putting beautiful homes there. There will be a park."
Senichel said that the developer has already made concessions to the residents, by lowering the heights of the homes and decreasing the density.
"We're staying way below the density laws and the people are still getting a bigger park than originally planned," Senichel said. "It's a great plan for everyone."
Pelayo's group has retained the services of an attorney, Michael Kates of Hackensack, as well as a planner, Jason Kasler, also of Hackensack, to aid in the fight.
Pelayo and the Waterfront Park Initiative group met with representatives from K. Hovnanian twice to discuss the plans for Hudson Pointe.
"But each time we met, it seemed as if they were more concerned with the view we had from our homes, whether our view of the waterfront was being blocked," Pelayo said. "Although it's nice that they decided to make the buildings smaller, it's still not a park. The bigger issue now is that Guttenberg doesn't have a park. They're going to take away the only land we have, and that's just not acceptable. We're purposefully moving forward with the park in mind."
Pelayo said that the block of land in question is about 80 feet wide and 200 feet long, from River Road to the waterfront. It's not enough to build anything substantial in terms of recreation area, like a playing field.
"But if we get 80 feet of open space, we'll take it," Pelayo said. "We're getting a lot of support from all over the town. We went door-to-door to drum up community support. A lot of other people would be there if they were informed. This is not just people from Bulls Ferry. It's become a real community issue, including people from the Galaxy. I received 10 calls within the past week from people in the town. I think we now have more people involved outside Bulls Ferry than in."
Some of those people were ready to speak last week. Now, they have to wait until March 8.
"I really think it was a stall tactic," Pelayo said. "I think they would like to stretch it out for as long as possible. The longer these proceedings go on, the more people become disinterested. We had people wait for four hours last week and they were sent home frustrated because they couldn't speak. Now, they might not come back. That's a tactic. We had standing room only for two meetings now and no chance to speak. It's time for the public to have their say."
Pelayo said she doesn't know what will happen if the residents don't get a chance to speak at the next meeting.
"Our people have been patient and want the process to go through," Pelayo said. "To keep dragging it out would not be good. We want some decision to be made on this issue. But you can be sure that we're not going away, no matter how long it takes."