About the project
The proposed garage, if approved, would be built partially underneath the Babbio Center for Technology Management, which is presently under construction.
According to the application before the Zoning Board, the garage will be built on Sinatra Drive between Fifth and Sixth streets. The garage portion of the building will be four stories. Because a portion is slated to be built under the six-story Babbio Center, the entire combined structure will be 10 stories from its base.
Representatives from the private university say this is the most suitable location on its campus for a garage, and that it takes the cars of students and faculty off Hoboken's already crowded streets.
Critics of the project say that it is too big, will cause traffic problems (especially since both proposed exits face public parks), and that a parking garage isn't the best use for property that faces Hoboken's revived waterfront.
Stevens will need at least 14 different variances from the Zoning Board to build the project as designed.
Stevens is asking for variances from the following zoning codes: permitted use, lot coverage, building height, front yard, distance between buildings, building length, open space ratio, facade specifications, the number of principal buildings per lot, conditional requirements for public parking facilities, minimum setbacks from a residential zoning district and a location for the garage entrance.
In order to approve the project, the university must prove that the benefits of the deviation from the zoning code would substantially outweigh any detriment. So in order to make the project more palatable, the school has proposed some late changes.
The biggest proposed change is that the school has offered to place its campus police in a new headquarters at the base of the garage facing Sinatra Drive. Although the university has not formally changed the plans, Stevens' attorney Charles Libeling said that placing the station at the front of the building would only cost around 12 spaces in garage.
This new proposal is beneficial to the school and the public, said Libeling. He said that it will provide enhanced security for the southern end of campus as well as Sinatra Park and Stevens Park. The Stevens Police Department currently consists of 22-member force of which around 12 are certified police officers and the rest are security officers, said Henry Dobbelaar, Jr., the school's vice-president of facilities and support services. He added that the certified officers have jurisdiction not only on campus, but can also make arrests and write tickets and summons off campus.
Change the facade
Also, many members of the public have complained that a parking garage, is not the most attractive building to be facing the waterfront. Some have commented that it would be more attractive to put retail or commercial space or classrooms the first floor.
In fact, the zoning for the property requires a non-parking use for the first floor. This is just one of the variances that Stevens is requesting. University officials have previously stated that they are not in the business of running retail businesses, and have resisted putting retail uses along Sinatra Drive front. Tuesday they said that the police station would be a good compromise that would cover part of the building's front with a non-parking use, but would not require Stevens to operate retail businesses that it doesn't want to manage.
Moving the station to the garage will also benefit the university, said officials, because the officers will be able to move from the cramped guard house on 6th Street and into a new and modern facility. Also they would be able to park their police cars in the new garage.
According to Libeling, the school will shortly present new plans with the police station and will make the project's engineer available for the board and the public to question.
Opponents of the project, led by the efforts of the local non-profit group Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) say it's too large, poorly designed, and requires far too many variances. The group has hired lawyers and a planner to represent it in opposing the project.
Ron Hine, the executive director of the FBW, said this new proposal doesn't solve many of the projects' major problems.
"[The police station] doesn't fix the major design problems of the project," said Hine. "The facts are that this is still a huge block-long structure that is facing the waterfront. The police station doesn't solve that problem."
Hine added if built as proposed, the garage will measure 386 feet long and 296 feet wide.
Other proposed changes
Steven's officials also said that they would be willing, should the board request, to withdraw two variances, one requesting that that Stevens' be allowed to hire private firm or outside party to manage the garage, and one that would allow Stevens to have hourly parking.
Stevens has requested that it be able to hire outside management company to run the garage because the university does not want to be in the parking business.
Also the school has requested that hourly parking be allowed so the public could use the spaces when he school was not using them. The example the Stevens attorney gave is the summer months when the campus essentially empty.
Critics have also said that if the garage offers hourly parking, there will be a great deal of turnover each day. This considerable traffic, they said, will spill out directly across the street from the Little League field on Fifth Street and the soccer field on Sinatra Drive.
Stevens said it will defer to the board on both of these issues. If the board deems that it only wants permit parking, and want Stevens to manage the garage itself, then the university will withdraw its requests for these two variances.
"It's really up to the board," said Libeling.
Libeling added that either way, free parking for the parents of little league players will still be offered.
Public questions planner
The rest of Tuesday's hearing was comprised of the public's questioning of planner Elizabeth McKenzie, who has been hired by Stevens. At the last meeting, McKenzie testified and gave detailed and often technical reasons why, in her professional opinion, the projects meets the strenuous threshold for granting the requested variances.
Most of the public's questions centered on whether this was the best location for this project, and what impact it will have on traffic.
One argument that the school has made during testimony is that this is a good location because it is being built away from residential homes on the city's perimeter.
"Most people don't consider [this location] as the perimeter of Hoboken," said community activist Annette Illing, who opposes the project. "You have to drive through the rest of town to get to [the garage]."
Several members the public also questioned the traffic impact. The school planners have testified that the garage will take a significant number of Stevens' faculty and students' cars off the city's streets and will put them in the garage.
Hoboken resident Bob DuVal worried that the garage might increase the number of cars that come into Hoboken, which would also create more traffic.
"There's going to a whole new group of people that before took public transportation but now might [because of the garage] be enticed to drive instead," said DuVal.
At the next meeting
At the next meeting of the Zoning Board it is expected that after testimony from a Stevens engineer about the police station, the FBW will present its planner. According to Hine, the planner will present testimony that will attempt to persuade the board that the project does not meet the high standard that warrants the granting of so many variances.
It is also possible that at the net meeting the public comment portion of the hearing will begin.
The next meeting is scheduled for April 27 and will be held in the conference room of City Hall.