However, a check of 18 months of police records showed that there have been very few problems at the hotel. Still, residents are still concerned by business's presence, and some city officials said they'd like to see senior housing on the property instead.
"It's an area that encourages drug deals and prostitution," claimed resident Karen Brady. "When you have something like this happen so close to home, there's cause for concern."
The hotel's low cost - $57 per night - encourages tourists from Europe to stay there so they can visit Manhattan cheaply, but the low rates also encourage transients.
One of those transients was Draymond Coleman, who stands accused of having allegedly picked up a drunken Bergen County girl in Manhattan last month, bringing her to the hotel, and allegedly murdering her while his female accomplice allegedly looked on.
Speaking out to the council
Twenty or so residents who showed up at the regularly scheduled Township Council meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter of the tragic death of Jennifer Moore.
The administration is concerned as well.
"The Town Council has realized for about three or four years that the building could have a better use, like senior housing," Turner said. "The problem is that it's an odd-shaped building with no parking. It's on a small lot, so developers have been reluctant to put out the money for it. As the neighborhood has become more residential and the Union City side of Park Avenue has become more residential, the hotel doesn't fit the character of the neighborhood."
But a check of the police reports from January, 2005 through July, 2006 shows that there were only seven reported incidents at the Park Avenue Hotel that required police attention - three of which centered over a dispute between two residents who claimed that each other repeatedly stole the other's television set.
Not the hotel's fault
"[The murder] was a random act that just happened to take place there," Turner said. "It didn't happen because of the neighborhood. It was a horrible act, but it was a random act. It is a safe neighborhood. You can never guarantee that something like this can't happen, because it can happen anywhere. But this type of establishment does contribute to the problems."
However, Turner wanted to quell the rumors that there were problems with drugs or prostitution in the area. "Just because the woman involved [Draymond's alleged accomplice, Krystle Riordan] was [allegedly] a prostitute, people are quick to say that there is prostitution going on there," Turner said. "People are talking about drugs and prostitution going on there, and it's not true. The owners are not trying to gear their business to tourists who are looking for cheaper room rates than you find in New York."
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz reiterated the fact that the hotel has not been a problem spot in the past.
"With seven calls in over a year, I would say that it is not a problem," Welz said. "The record does not show that it is a public nuisance or a safety hazard."
Added Welz, "No one wants to see such violence in their neighborhood. But can you say it was preventable? No way. It was a totally random act. What we're going to do is maybe have more officers more visible in the area."
Not a nuisance
In the past, the Township Council has worked to close facilities, like rooming houses, when they become public nuisances.
"Only when it reaches a public nuisance level, then we can do something," Turner said. "I told everyone that we haven't reached that level yet. But I think we're all in agreement that we should change the building from an SRO [Single Room Occupancy] to some sort of senior housing. But blaming the neighborhood or the residents for this incident is wrong."
Mary Ciuffitelli, who is a member of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad, disagreed.
"There was a lot of talk about the perception of the neighborhood as being unsafe," Ciuffitelli said. "Over and over, the mayor and other council members refused to see this as a neighborhood issue. They stubbornly frame it as an isolated incident that had nothing to do with the neighborhood atmosphere. The fact is, it didn't happen anywhere. It happened in Weehawken, not in New York or Union City or anywhere else. They refuse to acknowledge this crime as a neighborhood or Weehawken issue."
While the idea to put senior housing at the location may be a solid one, it is also a costly one. The location has a property value estimated at $1.7 million.
"The price tag may not make sense," Turner said. "But if we're going to get a developer to come in and build it, maybe we would be willing to deal with the price tag. The problem will be getting the money to buy the building."
Keep a hotel, but make it better
Ciuffitelli believes that the building should remain a hotel.
"The neighborhood needs the commerce more than more housing," Ciuffitelli said. "It's much cheaper and more efficient for the town of Weehawken to make that place clean and safe than to change its use. I'd rather see three hotels in our neighborhood. We are thrilled to see foreign tourists and backpackers in our neighborhood. It will bring a positive change in the nature of that hotel. The Swedish tourists are not the problem. I'm happy to see the increase of tourists. It's a perfect location. Plus we've already lost a lot of our little retail stores along Park Avenue."
However, other residents disagreed with Ciuffitelli's stance.
"I honestly feel that using that building for senior housing is a great idea," said resident Carolyn Shea. "The fact is, there aren't enough senior facilities around and the senior population is increasing in direct proportion to us baby boomers getting older. Let's face it, we're going to all need it someday."
Shea also didn't think the incident was reflective of the neighborhood.
"On the subject of safety, maybe it's because we came here from the New York, but I feel safe in Weehawken," said Shea, who lives in town with her husband Craig. "I've walked through the 3rd Ward of Weehawken at the wee hours with my citified antennae at full attention and have never felt threatened."
Brady was happy to hear the Township Council's stance on changing the use of the hotel.
"If it's their intention to close the hotel and put it to more practical and safer use, then I'm all for it," Brady said. "What bothered me is that we had [alleged] criminals living there, in this case [alleged] murderers." Councilman Robert Sosa, who represents the Third Ward, thought the meeting was informative.
"Everyone seems to be in consensus that the hotel doesn't fit the character of the neighborhood," Sosa said. "There were some new faces at the meeting, and that encouraged me. I was pleased after the meeting that we were all in total agreement. Senior citizens are desperately in need of housing in my ward, because we currently don't have any. I keep losing my seniors to the housing in other wards."
Ciuffitelli said that the residents plan on conducting a candlelight vigil for Moore, once they receive approval from the Moore family.
"My heart breaks for Jennifer Moore and her family," Shea said. "I don't think this was a town problem. I do think it was a hotel problem. Have I seen shady characters on occasion, throughout the area? Sure, but shady is different from threatening. Maybe I should have called the cops, but I didn't feel it was truly warranted." Turner said that the residents should call the police if they see something suspicious.
"I always tell people that," Turner said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."
Turner said that the DARE program this school year will focus on making good choices and bad choices, to prevent a similar incident taking place.