The city plans to sell the site to a developer who will build housing there.
What is this about? Most believe the garage site is underutilized as a facility for storing and repairing city cars. Because of its prime location in a largely residential neighborhood and the city's need to fill a budget gap, the property has become a prime candidate for residential redevelopment.
But last year controversy arose when the city wanted to reap revenue from selling the garage property while the residents in the surrounding neighborhood advocated for a smaller project with minimal negative impact.
Last year, the garage was sold to the Hudson County Improvement Authority for about $7.9 million, which was used to fill the budgetary shortfall. However, the HCIA is currently leasing the garage back to the city.
Once the HCIA sells the garage property for more money, the city will receive the amount paid above the $7.9 million. The city is currently anticipating $5 million in this year's budget, but hopes to receive much more once the property is sold. They have to act fast, as the budget year ends June 30.
In a proactive effort to have the residents and city work together, last year Roberts formed the Observer Highway Advisory Committee, a group of 16 Hoboken residents and two City Council members, to discuss and come up with recommendations for possible zoning in the area.
The committee met every other Monday over the past six months and worked with the urban planning firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Inc. and an architect to create a redevelopment plan.
The result of the committee was a compromise plan that would allow nine- and seven-story buildings and 240 units of residential housing on the property. The committee said their plan would allow the city to reap at least $25 million from the sale of the property, and would produce a project that would not be out of scale or negatively impact the area's quality of life. Their plan was released to the public two weeks ago and can be viewed at www.hobokennj.org.
Last ditch attempt But then a funny thing happened on the plan's road to being approved.
On Monday night a large contingent of developers, real estate agents, and persons who own undeveloped property on the Observer Highway corridor, showed up at the Planning Board meeting to express their opinions about the project.
They argued that the plan would produce a short, stubby building. They said that the city wasn't maximizing its profit and could sell the property for much more if it allowed for a 12- or even a 15-story building to rise.
Based on these comments, the Planning Board recommended that the City Council "revisit" the height issue before introducing the redevelopment plan for the municipal garage.
Battling it out Wednesday Wednesday night's City Council meeting was a standing room only affair with well over 100 people in attendance.
The room was divided into two vocal factions: the developers who wanted a taller and more dense building verses the Observer Highway Advisory Committee, a group of residents who already had a compromise plan on the table.
The development interest speak Alfred Arezzo was one on the more animated advocates for taller, denser development on the site. Arezzo, who is the Hoboken building officer, said that he spoke Wednesday only as only as a resident, a taxpayer, and the owner of piece of property in the area that he would like to develop in the future.
Arezzo argued that the city's master plan calls for taller buildings along the Observer High corridor. He added that only going up nine stories could set a precedent for the rest of the Observer Highway corridor.
Gordon Litman, the council's lawyer for redevelopment issues, responded that the Municipal Garage property would not set a precedent for the rest of the area, and any future plan would happen independently of the garage site.
Arezzo also questioned the project design. He said that its envelope would only allow for small studio and one-bedroom apartments.
"There would not be families living in this building," Arezzo told the council.
Arezzo said that building higher and allowing more dense development would free up the square footage needed to build the two- and three- bedroom apartments that would keep families in Hoboken.
John Phillips, whose firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Inc. wrote the redevelopment plan, said that plan will allow for two- and three-bedroom units and a 6 Floor/Area Ratio (FAR).
A floor area ratio control is a planning tool used to regulate a building's mass in relation to the size of its lot. In this case, construction must adhere to a 6 FAR, which means the total area of all floors in the building can be up to six times the parcel itself, which is a relatively dense development.
Most of the city's brownstones have an FAR of just over two.
Phillips said that allowing a FAR as high as six will easily fit a reasonable mixture of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.
Another argument for a taller building came from local realtor John LaBarbera, who complained the project is a compromise to mediocrity and would create a short, square building.
"How is this going to be aesthetically pleasing?" LaBarbera asked.
The committee speaks Tom Newman, a committee member and a respected former City Council member who has a work studio across the street from the garage property, supported the shorter plan at the meeting.
"The committee has worked hard and earnestly," Newman told the council.
He said the committee was given a mandate by the city for what an acceptable project would be. He said they delivered a compromise project with 96 percent of the number of the units the mayor wanted, at a height acceptable to the neighbors.
"I think we did a pretty good job," Newman said. Several other members of public said that the new developers were a last ditch effort by builders to pressure the council into approving a larger project.
"Don't let developers highjack the process at the last minute," said Kim Cardinal, the wife of Lane Bajardi, chairman of the Observer Highway Advisory Committee.
Artist Tim Daly, who also sits on the Advisory Committee, said that the developers should not be allowed to "undo all of the good work of the Advisory Committee."
The council commits All seven members of the City Council at the meeting said the Advisory Community was diligent in helping to craft a plan, that it was a fair and through process, and that they would support their recommendation for a nine-story building, not one of 12 stories.
The strongest support came from Councilman Richard Del Boccio, who sits on the Advisory Committee.
"This was about community, bringing neighbors together, and an open process," Del Boccio said. "The committee was given a goal, and we have achieved goal."
Councilman Michael Cricco said that he was swayed by the work of the residents of the committee.
"The public is telling us what they want, and that's what we are going to do," Cricco said.
Councilman Ruben Ramos added that the goals of this process was to generate at least $25 million in revenue to fill the budget gap and to help pay for buying property north of the 14th Street Viaduct for park space and to build a new garage. He said this plan does just that, so it has his support.
Councilman Michael Russo also praised the efforts of the Advisory Committee and remarked that this should be the sterling example of how the city and residents can work together in redeveloping the city.
A final vote and public hearing on the redevelopment plan is scheduled for the next City Council meeting, but all seven members present, and Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, who was not present Wednesday but did sit on the Advisory Committee, said that they will vote only for the nine-story plan.