Meanwhile, members of late Hoboken-born crooner Frank Sinatra's family, who have acquaintances working in the building, have placed an ad on page 3 of the Reporter beseeching the city not to put the building in danger. The controversy began recently when Roberts had trouble pushing through an initiative to plug $7.9 million in revenue into the city's $72 million budget, which is already ten months late. Some City Council members have protested Roberts' original plan to sell the city's municipal garage and net $7.9 million (see story at left), so the city needs alternative ways to plug the gap.
One alternative way is to up-zone the garage neighborhood to make it residential, and to sell the garage for much more money. But the new zoning would also include the nearby Neumann Leather building, a former leather factory that is now used by artists, musicians, and small businesses. That means the landlord could sell it for much more money.
For several weeks now, the tenants of the 150-year old building have been worried that their art lofts and offices were in jeopardy of becoming collateral damage.
If approved, the proposed up-zoning would allow new buildings in the zone to rise 14 stories tall, which would double or triple the property value. However, according to the proposed ordinance, "10 percent of the total dwelling units in any high-rise development" must be affordable.
A hearing for this new zoning is set for Wed. April 6 at 7 p.m. at the Wallace School, and could draw from many segments of the community. Besides the Sinatra family, noted painter (and Hoboken resident) Tim Daly wrote a letter to the Reporter about saving the building last week.
The owner of the building has reportedly received offers in the past, but to this point, turned them all down. The best protection from the developers has been the archaic industrial zoning that has kept the property's value down.
Roberts proposes redevelopment
Roberts, who has a strong record of supporting local artists, pledged Tuesday that artists can be protected through the creation of redevelopment plan for the area.
Redevelopment, by state law, is a zoning term that means there is an area within the municipality that is not being used to its full potential.
Designating a redevelopment site can allow special zoning. It can also mean letting the designated developer(s) get tax abatements or make special in-lieu-of-tax payments to the city.
Redevelopment puts a large amount of power in the purview of the city's governing body, which in Hoboken's case is the City Council. This means the City Council pools a large area of property together, even if the land is owned by multiple private owners, and then zone the property as they wish.
The city can also place conditions on new developers, like asking for parks or affordable housing - or in this case, requiring that the developer preserve the historic buildings.
A resolution to place the Neumann Leather building into a redevelopment study area is currently on the agenda for a special City Council meeting, which is scheduled for Monday night at 8 p.m. at City Hall.
"I am fully committed to the preservation of the Neumann Leather building and support the continued use by the many tenants who occupy the historic structure," Roberts said Tuesday. "Over the past few weeks, I have met with representatives of the building's owner and tenants leaders in an effort to work out a mutually acceptable accord."
Roberts says that putting the Neumann Leather building into a redevelopment study area would preclude a developer from coming in a razing the building.
Roberts added that through redevelopment planning, it is possible to retain the building for "its economic benefits and its unique architecture and historical value."
He added that this would be even better protection than just leaving the archaic industrial zoning.
"This is something that needed to be dealt with at some point anyway," Roberts said. "So through redevelopment we can be proactive and protect these artists now."
Roberts added that it is possible to balance development interests and the interests of the artists in a redevelopment plan. He said that to allow the current property owner, RW Reality, to make a profit, any redevelopment plan will likely allow for the construction of a residential building on the sprawling parking lot of the structure, but will protect the existing building.
The mayor said he would also support granting a tax abatement for the site.
Newman on Neumann
Tom Newman, a former Hoboken city councilman who operates a woodworking and cabinet making studio in the building, last year founded a lobbying group called the Hoboken Arts and Industry Preservation Project (HAIPP) with the goal of protecting and sustaining Hoboken's diminishing "arts and industry" community.
Newman said he is cautiously optimistic about the mayor's pledge.
"It certainly seems to be a solution to our immediate problem, which is the spot zoning problem," Newman said. Newman said that he is well aware that it's unrealistic to believe that new development could never take place on the property, particularly with a parking lot that could be used.
"We are realistic and understand that something should happen at this property," Newman said. "The owners have a right to realize value from the property."
What the master plan says
Newman also said that redevelopment is also a way to fall in line with the city's new master plan, a 20-year zoning blueprint for the town that was passed after numerous public hearings last year.
The plan supports the protection of the city's more historic buildings. The plan suggests that the Neumann building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Sites.
The master plan also recommends that the city should "discourage the unnecessary demolition or other destruction of historic resources, including buildings as well as features such as signs, smokestacks, and other relics of Hoboken's industrial past."
Why the rush?
But critics of the administration worry that major planning decisions, such as upzoning the property or creating a redevelopment area, should not be driven solely by the administration's need to fill a budget gap.
"This is absolutely the wrong way to go about planning our city," said Councilman Tony Soares Wednesday. "A cash grab isn't a valid reason to start upzoning and redeveloping."
Soares added that he isn't convinced that redevelopment will immediately save the artist or the building. "Redevelopment is a long process, that takes months, even years to undertake," he said. "You can't just say I want a redevelopment plan, and then poof, there's a redevelopment plan. The property must be blighted, there must be public hearings. It's an involved process that takes time. The mayor isn't telling the artists that."
Also some homeowners in the area surrounding the Neumann Leather and municipal garage have questioned how the city is going about this rezoning.
"Planning a major neighborhood redevelopment shouldn't be driven by the mayor's need to fill a $8 million dollar budget shortfall before May 10," said Lane Bajardi, the condo association president of 70 Park Ave. Wednesday. "This is something that they should take their time with and should be done with care and reason."
See for yourself
The tenants of the Neumann Leather building, in order to show the community everything that goes on inside the labyrinth-like building, will be hosting an open house this Sunday.
Today, Sunday April 3, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the business owners and artists of Neumann Leather will offer tours that leave every 1/2 hour from the parking lot at 333 Newark St.
From 5 to 6 p.m., there will be a reception at Think Tank Studio, 321 Newark St., on the ground floor. Skanatra and special guests will perform.
The event is being sponsored by the Hoboken Arts & Industry Preservation Project (www.haipp.com).