The project at 800 Jackson St. is only steps away from the Palisade hills and the soon-to-open Ninth Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station in Hoboken. Residents in Jersey City and Union City are concerned because the building would be taller than the hills, possibly blocking their views.
A City Council meeting in Hoboken two weeks ago brought out news cameras from channels 4 and 12 and filled the council chambers with interested parties.
At that meeting, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts, County Executive Tom DeGise, and members of the Hoboken and Jersey City councils expressed reservations about the current design of the 113-unit building.
The Hoboken City Council had approved the developer, Metro Stop, in September to construct the building in part of the formerly blighted "Northwest Redevelopment Area." Metro Stop says that it's a good project that will provide a public park, affordable housing and will be part of the revitalization of a once run-down neighborhood. The Hoboken Planning Board has agreed with the developer and suggested that amendments be passed to aid in its construction. It was these amendments that the City Council was considering two weeks ago.
The protesters say the project is too tall, is too close to the light rail, that it will block views from the Palisades, and that it is not consistent with the city's proposed master plan. A master plan lays out the character of zoning for an entire city.
Protest from Mayor Stack
Last week, Union City Mayor Brian Stack wrote a letter stating, "The building will rise above the Palisades cliffs, obscuring the views for countless Union City residents, especially those of the Doric Apartments located at 100 Manhattan Ave. This building would stick out like a 'sore thumb.'
Stack said he has gotten complaints from Union City residents. He said he normally would not meddle in another town's affairs, but that he will do what he can within his powers as a mayor and state assemblyman "to make sure this project does not happen."
In the past three weeks, area activists have organized two protests, which drew more than 100 protestors each. On April 7, the protesters marched in front of Hoboken City Hall. And last Monday, protesters stretched a 300-foot black cloth "shroud" across the top of the Palisades on Paterson Plank Road near Congress Street in Jersey City. The goal of that protest, said Ron Hine, the executive director of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, was to "give a glimpse" of what the top of the Palisades will look like without a view.
At the protest, attendees chanted slogans such "honk to save our views" and "save the Palisades."
Hine said that this project is "going to loom from three to five stores above the Palisades" and will destroy the view corridors from Jersey City.
Monya McCarty of the Riverview Neighborhood Association, a Jersey City Heights group, said Monday that she strongly opposes the project. "This building would be like the Great Wall of China," said McCarty. "Our view is a resource, a natural resource, and once this building goes up, we're never going to get it back."
Jersey City officials have asked Hoboken to think regionally and consider its neighbors. Jersey City currently has a "steep-slope ordinance" which sets certain restrictions as to how close to the Palisades something can be built in Jersey City. While the ordinance has no legal standing in Hoboken, Jersey City officials are requesting that Hoboken take into account those residents who live just outside the city's borders.
County Executive Tom DeGise, a Heights resident, has said that the project has a right to be built but that it should be scaled down so that there is not a big wall in front of Jersey City.
Developer defends the amendments
Dean Geibel, the developer for 800 Jackson St., has argued that the project was already approved at an open and legal meeting of the Hoboken City Council in September. He added that the amendment doesn't change "anything at all" including the building's height or appearance. Seven council members voted for the project in September and two abstained. Every meeting where action was taken was legally noticed.
The amendment doesn't change anything about the dimensions or appearance of the building. It changes the floor area ratio, which 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.
Geibel said that the larger floor area ratio will produce larger units, making the project more family-friendly. He added that this amendment will "allow us to build five large three-bedroom units of affordable housing and will allow us to utilize the best part of the site for the park." "The city council has said that they want to encourage more people to stay in Hoboken after they start a family," Geibel said, "which means building units that are large enough to accommodate more family members."
A final vote on the amendments was scheduled for the Hoboken City Council meeting, but was tabled on a motion by Fifth Ward Councilman Michael Cricco. The motion passed 5-4. Cricco, who has earlier consulted with Mayor Roberts, said that there were still too many unknowns to vote on the amendments Wednesday.
"I don't like when someone tries to rush us," said Cricco. "I think the community is very much against this project as it's currently designed."
Roberts has withdrawn his support from the project and promised to veto the ordinance, unless two conditions are met. "First, I want certification from our master planner [John Shapiro, a partner from the planning firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates] that this project conforms with the master plan," said Roberts. He added that he also wants certification from the city's professionals that this project will not go above the Palisades.
There has been some talk from some city officials that if the height is brought down, one of the give backs, the affordable housing or the park, might be removed from the project. Cricco said that this is a choice the council should not have to make. "Both of those things, as far as I'm concerned, are non-negotiable," said Cricco.
At the last Hoboken council meeting, more than 80 people signed up to speak on this issue, some for and some against. The vote now will be held at a future council meeting, although the date was not known as of press time.