A laundry list of desires for the future of Hoboken’s Western Edge redevelopment zone was on display at the first public meeting introducing a new round of city-led planning this past week. The meeting was held on Wednesday Aug. 20 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Multi-Service Center on Grand Street.
The Western Edge is a strip of land just to the east of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail tracks in northwestern Hoboken, stretching vertically from Ninth Street to the Fourteenth Street Viaduct. Since the area was designated by the City Council in 2007, the city has been moving slowly towards a redevelopment plan that could dramatically alter its current industrial zoning and foster a revitalized neighborhood.
Previous plans had been nixed due to the competing desires of Palisade perchers, current neighborhood residents, business owners, advocates for open space and affordable housing, city officials, and local developers. But the consensus Wednesday was clear—the fallow, flood-prone, dilapidated status quo must go.
Mixed-use a must
In the place of the zone’s current underutilized industrial buildings, many attendees at Wednesday’s meeting said they wanted to see developments that combine commercial opportunity and residential expansion.
Seventy-six percent of responses in an online survey said it was either very important or extremely important that the Western Edge be a mixed-use neighborhood.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to make this a more complete neighborhood,” said Dave Roberts, a senior associate at Maser Consulting, the firm hired by Hoboken to develop the new Western Edge plan.
“The devil is always in the details.”—Mary Ellen Fargnoli
Another key concern in the Western Edge redesign is taking steps to mitigate the flooding that beguiles the area every time there is a heavy rain, much less a hurricane. The city just secured a loan to build a new wet weather pump serving the neighborhood, and Hoboken’s winning proposal in the Rebuild by Design competition calls for a water-retaining greenbelt along the Hudson Bergen Light Rail tracks.
Mary Ellen Fargnoli, who lives on Monroe Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, said her street was under five feet of water during Hurricane Sandy. She said addressing flooding should come before building large new developments.
However, any new buildings in the Western Edge will also most likely have flood prevention baked into their design. An 11-story residential tower recently approved in the southern end of the zone should boast a special water-absorptive roof.
Park design key
Jim Vance, the President of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, said any parks created in the Western Edge should occupy full blocks rather than filling in space next to private buildings. People who live adjacent to pocket parks see them as quasi-private, said Vance, leading to conflicts.
Several attendees mentioned the small, mostly unused parklet built by Inserra Supermarkets at the corner of Eleventh and Madison Streets as an example of the kind of open space they feared developers would try to bring.
“The devil is always in the details,” said Fargnoli.
Concerns over building height
The height of new developments in the city’s northwest is a major point of contention. Over 58 percent of respondents to an online survey posted on the city website said they didn’t want to see buildings above seven stories in the Western Edge. By contrast, all of the recent proposals from developers in the zone have called for buildings of at least 11 stories.
Sue-Ellen Wright lives in the Doric, a residential complex built into the Palisades in Union City just behind the Western Edge. She said she is worried that new developments will ignore the concerns of Union City residents and block off her panorama view of the Hudson River and New York City.
“Union City used to be called West Hoboken,” said Wright, but now “we don’t think regionally, we think like little towns.”
Individual plans moving ahead
According to Roberts, one of the three main landowners in the Western Edge, David Mandelbaum, will bring his proposal for a new 11-story mixed-use development before the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment on Sept. 3. Whether that project can receive approval is anyone’s guess.
In 2012, Bijou Properties was granted several variances by the zoning board to build an 11-story residential tower with two floors of commercial space at 900 Monroe St. in the extreme southern tip of the Western Edge. Construction on the building is expected to be complete by the fall of 2015.
However, a mixed-use development in the northern end of the redevelopment area featuring two 13-story residential towers, a bowling alley, and a rock climbing gym was rejected by the zoning board in June.
At the time, some board members expressed apprehension about approving such a significant deviation from the area’s current zoning. They said the redevelopment process overseen by the Hoboken Planning Board, which had only just restarted in June, was the more appropriate method for rezoning neighborhoods and green-lighting major projects.
The Western Edge is not to be confused with the North End Rehabilitation Area, which abuts it on Fourteenth Street. The North End is home to a Rockefeller Group-owned property that was the center of a controversy involving Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year. In July, the city sought bids for a planner for that area.
The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting and the online survey was to garner public opinion, but there was some question raised as to whether that had been done accurately. According to Hany Ahmed, one of the developers behind the rejected bowling alley/apartment complex, the survey had no restriction limiting how many times an IP address could register responses for its first 24 hours online.
According to Ahmed, the survey received 500 responses during this period, compared to an average of 8 to 10 a day after a domain limitation was installed. He said he did not know if anyone had registered multiple responses, but that he had filed an OPRA request seeking more information.
In total, according to Maser Consulting, the survey had 1088 responses, over 87 percent of which came from Hoboken. The survey ran for a month and closed on Aug. 18.
Ahmed also said the survey, and the Western Edge redevelopment process in general, were flawed because they made little to no reference to areas of Hoboken immediately adjacent to the Western Edge, some of which are included in separate redevelopment zones, and what they will look like in the future.
For example, while the survey asked what kind of open space respondents wanted to see in the Western Edge area, it did not mention that the city is hoping to turn a large BASF-owned parcel just east of the Western Edge at Madison and Eleventh Streets into a park four times the size of Church Square Park.