After controversy, city approves Sinatra Drive design firm
Also amends building code ordinances, could hamper development project near piers
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Dec 29, 2013 | 4903 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHAT HAPPENS NOW? – The controversial Monarch Project, two 11-story buildings on the Fifteenth Street pier, could be dead in the water after the city passed an ordinance banning development on piers. But the project is still wrapped up in litigation, preventing city officials and the property owners from discussing the ordinance’s effect.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW? – The controversial Monarch Project, two 11-story buildings on the Fifteenth Street pier, could be dead in the water after the city passed an ordinance banning development on piers. But the project is still wrapped up in litigation, preventing city officials and the property owners from discussing the ordinance’s effect.
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The City Council approved the hiring of a New York-based engineering and design firm a week ago Wednesday to head a massive renovation of Frank Sinatra Drive. Some council members said they were more comfortable with the company after meeting with them privately and hearing their ideas for the project.

Community activists from the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) continued to express dissatisfaction with the firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates. Other council members blasted what they claimed was a hiring process shrouded in secrecy by the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

Zimmer originally submitted the resolution to hire Kimley-Horn for an initial fee of $107,000 at an earlier meeting this month. But Council President Peter Cunningham delayed any vote on the issue after several members expressed concerns over the process by which Kimley-Horn had been selected.

On Wednesday, however, Councilman-at-Large David Mello and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, key members of the governing body’s redevelopment committee, said that they had met with Kimley-Horn representatives and felt more comfortable approving the contract. With Russo siding with Mello and the rest of Zimmer’s allies on the council, the contract was approved by a vote of 5-3-1. Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti abstained on the grounds that he did not agree with the original request for proposals the city had issued in October.

A proposal, not a plan

Representatives from Kimley-Horn attended the meeting last Wednesday to explain to the council their 179-page proposal for Sinatra Drive. While opponents of the plan have said that it advocates improvements to the streetscape while ignoring possible open space initiatives, a representative said the proposal is “just the beginning” of a long process that will include significant public input.

“This isn’t a plan,” said Adam Gibson, the representative. “It’s a proposal. And part of the proposal is listening to the ideas of residents and stakeholders. Not everyone is going to have the same idea but we want to come up with a project that everyone can agree on.”

But that process, which 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason described as “a bad way to start,” seems to already be shutting out key stakeholders, namely FBW. FBW has long pushed to maintain open space on the waterfront.

At an earlier meeting, members of the council suggested that FBW become a strategic partner in the planning process. But last Wednesday, members of the group said they were shut out of Mello’s meeting with Kimley-Horn when they previously were under the impression that they were going to be included.
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“Not everyone is going to have the same idea, but we want to come up with a project that everyone can agree on.” – Adam Gibson
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Mello said that he felt it would be improper to include FBW because one of its members, Craig Whitaker, is a planner with a firm that also applied for the Sinatra Drive contract.

“I almost fear that we could be accused of steering a contract,” he said. “It’s not appropriate to have people who basically lost out on a contract included in the process where we award that contract.”

After Kimley-Horn was awarded the contract, FBW president Ron Hine said that harping on the selection process was no longer useful.

“There’s no question that there are some good people [at Kimley-Horn], but these projects can be very complex and these public meetings may not be enough to resolve these issues,” he said. “Their scope of this project is limited.”

Kimley-Horn is expected to announce the dates of three brainstorming meetings early in 2014. On Thursday, Zimmer reiterated an earlier statement that she is willing to work with the entire community on the project.

Flood protection ordinances pass

Amendments to two of the city’s building and zoning codes passed unanimously last Wednesday. They institute strict standards on new development and substantial construction on existing structures and prohibit any residential development on the city’s piers.

In addition to serving the Zimmer administration’s agenda of limiting building projects to “smart development” that contributes to the city’s resilience in the face of Hurricane Sandy-type weather events, the measures will also gain the city points in its effort to lower residents’ flood insurance rates.

Both ordinances are prerequisites for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to lower the citywide rates. If the city can achieve a high enough score on a test evaluating what is called the Community Rating System, then citywide rates will automatically be reduced.

With the measures now passed into law, Zimmer said on Thursday that she hopes to bring representatives from the NFIP to Hoboken in the coming weeks in an effort to lower the city’s rates, which are currently some of the highest in the nation.

It’s unclear what effect the pier ordinance will have on a controversial private residential development uptown known as the Monarch project, which has been stalled by litigation for some time. A ban on residential development would seemingly sideline the project’s current composition of two 11-story luxury apartment buildings on a pier at Fifteenth Street.

Zimmer, in a statement, alluded to that possibility, but did not say conclusively whether the project could continue.

“Based on an analysis by FEMA, our city's piers and platforms could be underwater by 6 feet in a 100-year storm. Given this possibility, the legislation prohibits residential and commercial development on our piers and platforms for the protection of future Hoboken residents and our first responders,” she said. “On a separate front, the city remains committed to legally challenge the Monarch development on all fronts.”

Representatives from the firm building the project, Ironstate Development, declined to comment on the ordinance, as did a city spokesman, due to ongoing litigation.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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