At our July City Council meeting, I referenced “two different schools of thought” for how to respond to the ever-present development pressures in Hoboken. Let me elaborate on that statement. The first school of thought is that larger scale development should almost never occur, that we should rarely issue zoning variances, and that we should be reluctant to “up zone” various areas of Hoboken via zoning code revisions or redevelopment plans. The second school of thought is that larger-scale development than our current zoning laws permit is inevitable, and that we should both minimize and shape that development when empowered to, rather than attempt to eradicate it. Personally, I support to the latter philosophy: minimize and shape development to meet Hoboken’s needs, don’t make unproductive, wasteful and futile attempts to outright block it.
Undoubtedly, Hoboken’s current zoning code demands prompt revision. This fact is highlighted by potentially absurd results that can arise from adherence to our current laws. For instance, in many areas of Hoboken, Apple Inc. could more easily get approvals for the building and opening of an assembly plant than for an Apple retail store. Bowling balls could be manufactured in the shadow of the Fourteenth Street Viaduct more certainly and with less obstruction than a bowling alley could be pragmatically built there. These are just two examples of the many land uses currently permitted or barred that would astonish most residents.
It is my belief that our community needs a zoning ordinance, redevelopment plans, and occasional variances that encourage the land uses we currently have a deficiency of. Examples of Hoboken’s present shortages and needs are: larger residential condominiums, sold at a market rate, so as to retain more of our growing young families; senior-only housing, also offered at market rate; cutting-edge green construction; both active and passive open spaces; large public and private uses where groups of people can congregate and be active (i.e. public swimming pools, a private batting cage, a public ice skating rink, a private rock-climbing wall, public tennis courts, a private golf driving range, etc.);enough classrooms and desks for all of Hoboken’s school-age children; positive tax dollar contributing commercial uses; and a community trust that sensibly offers affordable housing for purchase. Market forces, left unconstrained, will rarely incentivize the development of these uses in today’s Hoboken.
Simply blocking large developments, or leaving unchanged a sometimes-archaic zoning code, won’t satisfy these community needs either. However, working with developers (who prove to be willing and fair partners) to construct what Hoboken desires, is a school of thought many Hoboken residents subscribe to. Hoboken’s current stewards should actively shape and minimize development, but be hesitant to outright block it. The rationale here is that a development plan prevented today will more often than not merely go into hibernation, reappearing in future years with its proponents revitalized and regrouped, but their plans unperfected and our community’s needs still unmet.
City Councilman at-Large