But Mayor David Roberts, bowing to the concerns of activists, said he believes there should be a park there instead, even though the developer already has gotten city approvals and can legally still construct his project there. In September, the Hoboken City Council entered into a developer's agreement with Dean Geibel's company, Metro Stop, to construct the building. It is expected to include a restaurant, retail space and residential units on top of a formerly blighted area.
The project came to public attention when the developer wanted to change the shape and size of the units in the building, and needed a variance. Activists realized the building would be taller than the neighboring Palisade hills, and took the opportunity to protest it. Roberts decided to withhold his support for the project until several conditions are met, including compliance with the city's recently approved master plan. He also wants a guarantee that the building doesn't exceed the height of the Palisades and assurances from NJ Transit that the nearby light rail station will be safe and secure. Ideally, he said last week, he would rather have a park there.
Developer Dean Geibel said Wednesday it is a good project that will provide a 12,000 square-foot public park, five affordable housing three-bedroom units and will be part of the revitalization of a once run-down neighborhood. He added that he is willing to work with the city and has made changes to the design that he believes "make 95 percent of the opposition go away." Geibel has also given his personal assurances that the light rail station will be safe, secure and accessible. The height of Palisades at that location runs between 105 and 115 feet, according the developer. While local politicians laud the commitment, a new memo from the executive director of New Jersey Transit questions whether a high rise project is appropriate for that location.
'A park would be best'
In a bold statement, Roberts said, based on a letter from NJ Transit, that he would like to see a park on that property and would consider looking for funds via grants or bonds to make it happen. "The best use for that site would be open space," said Roberts. But, he said, he is realist and understands that the site is zoned for a high-rise and that the developer has been designated by the city.
Unless the developer and property owner, who have legal rights to build on the property, are willing to negotiate, it might be exceedingly difficult to change the zoning to only a park. But Roberts says he will continue "aggressive" negotiations with the developer and regional public officials. "Only through an open dialogue and cooperation can a positive result occur," he added. "We have already made progress, but there is still much more to be done."
NJ Transit voices concerns
In a May 4 letter obtained by the Reporter, New Jersey Transit Executive Director George Warrington said a large-scale project so close to the light rail station is problematic. According to Warrington, NJ Transit has made a "considerable investment" in the Ninth Street rail station, which includes construction of a 110-foot tall stair and an elevator tower that allows station access from the top of the Palisades.
"In order to encourage utilization of the facility and thereby continued economic expansion," said Warrington, "it is critical that the station be perceived as safe and secure. Unfortunately, the proposal at 800 Jackson St. threatens to visually and physically isolate the new station." He added that NJ Transit Law Enforcement and planning staff have visited the site and expressed concerns related to the proposed height and close proximity to the station platform to the property line, which is only 10 feet from the station platform.
Warrington also said that the size and scale of the project also surprised NJ Transit. "In July 2002, we worked with the City of Hoboken as part of our Transit-Friendly Communities for New Jersey Project," said Warrington. "Nothing of the scale and proximity was contemplated at that time." It's important to note that NJ transit officials saw the plans for the 140-foot tall building not the 100-foot building. But Roberts said that even the 100-foot tall building will present many of the same problems.
State Sen. Bernard Kenny said he read the Warrington memo and that he takes the safety of the station very seriously. Critics of the project have held several well-attended protests and believe the building will be too tall, too close to the light rail, that it will block views from the Palisades, and that it is not consistent with the city's master plan, which was recently adopted. They would like to see the property used as a park. Ron Hine, the executive director of the non-profit Fund for A Better Waterfront, added he does not believe the shorter building solves some of the project's fundamental problems, especially the safety issues as it relates to the light rail station.
In addition to the pols, area community groups, including the Riverview Neighborhood Association, Quality of Life Coalition, People for Open Government and Residents for Responsible Development have voice their opposition to the project. These groups were scheduled to host a fund raiser Friday night to raised money to fight this project.
Developer responds Geibel said he believes the plans for his building are safer than if a park were placed on that property. He said by opening a restaurant and retail space, there will be "more eyes on the street" which will make the station much safer than if there were a "dimly lit" park. He added that the newest plans directly address the safety concerns and would make the transit station "more user-friendly."
First he said that Metro Stop would be willing to increase the distance from the western property line. He said the exact increase in the setback distance "has not yet been determined." He added the increased setback will allow the city to run its "greenway" between the station and the project, which would make the station more accessible and increase pedestrian traffic, improving the station's security.
One of the most ambitious goals in the master 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 third change, he said, would be to build a glass "see through" lobby so that the station could be seen through the building from Jackson Street, which would address the visibility issues.
According to Allyse Walker, a resident who supports the project, a residential building with a restaurant is a safer option than a park. She added that if it were a park, she would be nervous about walking through the area at night, but with a convenience market and restaurant, there would be more people watching the station.
Already have approvals The developer's agreement complies with the current zoning of the Northwest Redevelopment Area. According to current zoning there, the developer has the legal right to submit an application for a high-rise mixed use building at this site. Also, city attorney Joseph Sherman has said notice of a public hearing in September was in local papers, a hearing was held, and a vote was taken to designate Geibel the developer of the site. At that time, he said, the public had an opportunity to object to designating Metro Homes as the project's developer.
So if the city were to attempt to buy the property or if it were to re-zone the property for a park, it is possible that this matter would end up in court. "It's a very complicated situation," said Roberts. "This administration has been proactive in slowing this down, but this is going require a lot of hard work and cooperation to take the next step."
Regional interest over height
The proposed building is only steps away from the Palisade hills. In recent weeks that has become a galvanizing issue, where Hoboken Mayor David Roberts, County Executive Tom DeGise, Union City Mayor Brian Stack, state Sen. Bernard Kenny, Jersey City Councilman William Gaughan and other regional officials have voiced their concerns about one or more aspects of the project. Stack said he has gotten complaints from Union City residents that the building would block views from the Palisades .
At a press conference Wednesday, Gaughan said that Roberts, Kenny, DeGise and Stack should commended for their commitment to keep the project below the Palisades. But about 75 people who supported the project were there as well.