A group of residents is trying to stop a 113-unit, 14-story building, proposed for 800 Jackson St. in the Northwest Redevelopment Zone. The proposed multi-use building, which is slated to be built only a few paces from the soon-to-open Ninth Street Hudson Bergen Light Rail station, will include a restaurant and retail space. Metro Stop, a Hoboken-based development company, was designated the project's developer in a public session by the City Council in September.
Now, an amendment has been introduced to the City Council would allow for a greater floor area ratio than is currently allowed by the Northwest Redevelopment Plan's zoning.
The amendment doesn't change anything about the dimensions or appearance of the building. The floor area ratio compares, in square feet, the amount of floor space inside a building to the size of the property. According to the amendment, the ratio, which is the gross floor area of a building divided by the total area of the lot, proposed for the new building is 3.88; the maximum currently allowed is 3.0.
Because the project is in a redevelopment zone the governing body does have sweeping powers when it comes to redevelopment issues and does have the authority to amend the area's zoning.
The protest was sponsored by the Hudson County Alliance, Riverview Neighborhood Association, Quality of Life Coalition, People for Open Government and Fund for a Better Waterfront. The protesters said that Roberts has reneged on his promise to curtail overdevelopment, that it will block views from the Palisades, that this project was negotiated behind closed doors, and that it is not consistent with the city's Master Plan Draft, which could be adopted shortly.
After the protest the citizens piled into the City Hall chambers, where many continued to hold their signs.
"I think we have gone from disappointed to angry," said Aaron Lewitt, the president of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, about Roberts' performance. He said the tension has been building from local watchdog groups when it comes to pace of development in the city. Lewitt, who supported Roberts three years ago, said that he has not been effective in curtailing development. "This is really the straw the broke the camel's back."
Hoboken resident John Gregorio said the he project is just too large for that location.
"It's too big," said Gregorio, "and it's too close to the palisades. Don't give it to a developer. This is taking with both hands."
Roberts responded Wednesday night that protesting is an important part of democracy.
"Sometimes we're going to disagree," said Roberts during the City Council meeting the followed the protest. "I appreciate all voices and I can assure you that this mayor is listening to you."
Even though he did not stay for the remainder of the meeting, as has been his policy, he did listen to the recording of the meeting Thursday morning.
Dean Geibel, the developer for 800 Jackson St., says this is a good project that has several valuable give backs such as five affordable three-bedroom units and a 12,040 square-foot publicly accessible park.
He added that the amendment doesn't change "anything at all" in the appearance of the building and that the council has already approved the developer's agreement in a decisive vote. Seven council members voted for the projects and two abstained. Also every meeting where action was taken was legally noticed.
Also at the City Council meeting there were several residents that spoke in favor of the project.
"Right now I look out my window and see a shooting range, and run down warehouses," said Westside resident Michael Hurley.
He added that with a restaurant and bar the project will bring economic rejuvenation to the neighborhood.
Hoboken resident Elise Walker said that Geibel's company has built good, high quality projects in the past. She added that were there a park there, it might not be safe to walk through at night. "The building, with all of its activity, will provide a safe zone for the light rail. If it were a park it wouldn't be a safe place to walk at night."
The protestors have argued just the opposite. That hemming in the light rail station, and eliminating the view corridor from the east, it's much more unsafe.
Master plan issue
Opponents of the project also point the fact that the draft of the new Master Plan for development, which has not yet been approved, shows that the block in question would make a good park. The plan, when approved, will govern how different parts of town can be developed over the next 20 years. The administration of Mayor David Roberts has said the final approval should be given shortly.
One of the most ambitious goals in the plan is for a "green circuit" around the city. This would be a multi-use path around Hoboken's periphery that would eventually connect a series of parks. The Master Plan draft also recommends that the city promote the acquisition of undeveloped parcels on the circuit.
"We have spent $270,000 on a Master Plan, but it's nothing more than a big scam," said Hoboken resident Ira Landgarden. "Especially when they keep pumping more and more projects into the pipeline."
Roberts said Thursday that he is still a very strong supporter of the Master Plan process, and said it will be adopted this month. He added that the city has taken an aggressive approach to increasing that amount of open space.
"The Master Plan's main goal is to triple the amount of open space in the next ten years," said Roberts. "We are going to do that and then some."
Jersey City upset
The height is an issue for several Jersey City residents who worry that the 140-foot high building would block their views. The Palisades in the area between 8th and 9th street runs between 110 and 120 feet high. Many of the protestors that took part Wednesday were from Jersey City.
"Do you realize that we exist?" asked Ogden Avenue resident Vito Brunietti during public portion of the City Council meeting. "The impact of your decision does affect people outside your borders."
He also question why the Hoboken City Council is continually making concessions to developers.
"Why are giving in to this developer?" Brunietti asked.