The garage, which will primarily be used by students, teachers, university staff and visitors to the campus, needs 15 variances to the city's zoning codes to be built.
The garage will be built partially underneath the Babbio Center for Technology Management, which is already under construction 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.
,br> When developers wish to deviate from the zoning code, they must go before Zoning Board of Adjustment to request variances. The power to approve variances and interpret zoning questions gives the Zoning Board quasi-judicial authority to "fine-tune" land use regulations on a case-by-case basis.
The board voted 5-2 that Stevens had met the "enhanced quality of proof" for approval. For the seven major or "D" variances, which have the strictest requirements for approval, five of the seven votes were needed for the project to be approved. According to municipal land use law, no variance can be granted if it harms the public or defies the purpose of the zoning ordinance.
The Zoning Board approved variances for permitted use, lot coverage, building height, distance between buildings, building length, open space ratio, facade specifications, the number of principal buildings per lot, requirements for public parking facilities, minimum setbacks from a residential zoning district, and a location for the garage entrance.
During the course of testimony, Stevens said the garage will directly address the school's parking problems and take cars of teachers, students, employees and visitors off of surrounding streets.
Stevens has also agreed to several conditions that they believe will benefit the project and help to justify the approval of the variance.
Conditions for approval
The concessions agreed upon by the university include free parking for parents and persons using the adjacent Little League Field and Sinatra Park soccer field, more than one acre of publicly accessible open space on the garage's roof, which will be the wintertime home of an ice-skating rink for city residents, and a small university police precinct on Sinatra Drive side of the garage.
"We're pleased that the board appreciated and supported the significant need, the design and location, the accommodations made throughout the hearing process, and the public benefits of Stevens' parking garage proposal," said Stevens Spokesperson Cass Bruton-Ward Wednesday.
The board's comments
Opinions on the board ran the spectrum from full support to lukewarm acceptance to flat out opposition. Board Member Jim Perry, who spoke in glowing terms about the project, said it is "in everyone's interest," both Stevens and the community's. "[The garage] offers long-term, rather than piecemeal, solutions to their parking problems," said Perry. He said despite objections for some members of the public, the garage "will not be a blight on the waterfront."
During the final comment portion of the meeting, Board Member Jose Panjoan said, "the public benefit is there. I see more positive than negative."
On the flipside, Zoning Board Member John Branciforte, who voted against the project, said he disapproved of the project's "vanilla" design and size. He said the school should be allowed to build a garage at the location, but that it should be smaller and more visually appealing.
"[This proposal] is just too big for this lot," said Branciforte. "Also, I'm not convinced that this is the best design they could give us, especially considering they're an engineering school."
Other board members said they might not be completely content with all aspects of the project, but it meets the burden for approval.
"The board sits here in a quasi-judicial capacity and not a personal preference capacity," said Foley. Board Vice Chair Morris Fusco said he understands that not everyone might believe this is a perfect project, but it "is a workable solution."
Ron Hine, the executive director of the non-profit group the Fund for a Better Waterfront, has been the most vocal opponent of the garage project and hired lawyers to represent the Fund in opposition.
Hine and his lawyers have argued that the project is too big, will cause traffic problems, and that a parking garage isn't the best use for property that faces Hoboken's revived waterfront. They will appeal the approval in New Jersey Superior Court.
"This is a project that will greatly detract from our waterfront," said Hine Wednesday.
Hine also argued that granting 15 variances is "zoning by variance, and approving the garage would be a de facto rewriting of the zoning code. In Hoboken, it is the City Council that is supposed to have the legislative authority to write and change zoning."
Lawyers for FBW argued that because the alleged conflict involves a member of the immediate family of a board member, all proceedings to date should be voided.
Joseph Crimmins said at the time that the board's attorney found no conflict, but to avoid the appearance of a conflict, he recused himself. The attorney advised the board to proceed with the hearing.
"We do expect that the court will overturn [the Zoning Board's approvals]," said Hine.