The Hoboken City Council debated at length on Wednesday Night whether they should remove resident and business parking on five uptown blocks near the new movie theater on 14th Street between Adams and Grand streets and install parking meters there.
The five-screen theater was approved years ago without any parking on the basis that residents would walk to the theater or take public transportation.
The council is rethinking that decision. Ian Sacs, the city’s new director of the Transportation and Parking Utility, said the need exists now and will only increase as the area is built up commercially over the next few years.
He also said that the residential parking that is being removed was barely used, based on an informal survey.
But not everyone agreed.
“We’ve had the same stinking people there for years, and I’m tired of looking at their mugs.” – Mary Ondrejka
At the council meeting, councilman Nino Giacchi recommended that the council exempt residents from having to feed the meters, but Sacs said it would set a bad precedent.
This was one of several measures tabled Wednesday night.
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano and others wondered why these items had not been sent to a committee before coming before the council.
City Council President Dawn Zimmer, who is also serving as acting mayor, has been on the receiving end of criticism and potshots by those who oppose her candidacy this Nov. 3. However, she also has five out of nine allies on the council, so she usually has the votes to move her agenda forward.
Responding to Castellano, Zimmer said the parking measure in particular was urgent due to concern for residents, presumably meaning residents patronizing the theater, not uptown residents who would lose parking spots.
During the public discussion at the end of the meeting, uptown resident Tanya Santucci spoke to the council.
“The responsibility shouldn’t be with the residents [to supply the parking]. It should be with the business,” she said.
Castellano said she will never vote to install the meters, adding, “[We] should never penalize the residents for the failure of the administration.”
The city announced on Thursday that will hold a community meeting to discuss the issue on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the 1200 Grand Community Center. Sacs will be on hand to discuss the administration’s proposal and solicit feedback from the surrounding community on the plan.
The council’s Zoning Board appointments also led to much discussion, since the board affords zoning exemptions in town. Developers wishing to erect a building that deviates from zoning guidelines must appear before the board to get a variance.
During the administration of Mayor Anthony Russo, Russo had taken away the appointment powers from the council and given it to the mayor. But earlier this summer, after Mayor Peter Cammarano was sworn in, the City Council started the process of wresting back control over Zoning Board appointments. The council did so because residents were concerned about overdevelopment and overuse of zoning variances, and preferred that the power to select zoning decision-makers reside with the nine-member council.
Cammarano vowed to veto the measure, but was arrested and forced to resign before he got the chance.
On Wednesday, the council used their restored power to appoint Tony Soares and James Aibel to the Zoning Board after considering 19 applications from residents.
Soares, a former City Council president, had been appointed to the Zoning Board by ex-Mayor David Roberts last year as an alternate. Now Soares is a full voting member of the board, which decides when to allow developers to vary from local zoning laws.
To fill Soares’ alternate seat, the council selected James Aibel, a lawyer with 22 years experience practicing private, corporate, and real estate law.
‘Same stinking people
Resident Mary Ondrejka, who is critical of the Zoning Board, said during the public comment portion she wants some new blood on the board.
“We’ve had the same stinking people there for years, and I’m tired of looking at their mugs,” she said.
Councilman Peter Cunningham said Aibel has long been a supporter of “reform” candidates in Hoboken, a remark that drew criticism from resident Lane Bajardi, who said the council was playing favorites with past supporters.
Bajardi, an ardent supporter of Councilwoman Beth Mason – who is also running for mayor on Nov. 3 – also accused the council majority, as he has in the past, of colluding in their selection process.
At the meeting, the council also filled a seat on the Municipal Hospital Board, which oversees the operations of Hoboken University Medical Center.
Tejal Desai, a Hoboken resident with a background in both public and private finance, was appointed to a five-year term. The appointment was a mayoral appointment that required council approval.
Budget in limbo
Councilman Michael Russo grilled Zimmer because the council has not yet seen the 2009-2010 budget, or even a draft of a budget. The city budget year began on July 1 and runs through June 30, but local cities are often late with their budgets as they wait for state aid numbers and try to find gimmicks to reduce taxes.
Zimmer responded to Russo, “We’re basically in the same place.” She had said before that the city is in the middle of contract negations with unions and unable to produce a document.
But Councilwoman Theresa Castellano said the council has been given budgets in the past while union contracts were still hanging in the balance.
At a meeting two weeks ago, Russo asked for financial documents, including departmental breakdowns, but said he has yet to receive them.
Finance director Nick Trasente was not at the meeting this week, and state-appointed Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi has made a habit of not making herself available at the meetings.
Some critics claim that Zimmer is holding onto the budget for political reasons with the Nov. 3 election approaching, although she denies the charge.
In response to council concerns, Cunningham scheduled a council finance committee meeting for this week so that members could make further inquiries about the creation of the budget.
Later, Bajardi again called out Zimmer and the three council members elected from her ticket in June. He said they made a campaign promise to produce a budget within months of taking office.
Zimmer offered no retort, to which Bajardi responded, “Congratulations, you’re a sham.”
Flooding solutions sought
Regarding flooding, the council passed a resolution urging the North Hudson Sewerage Authority (NHSA) to implement flood sensors to create a data base on flood-prone areas.
Zimmer said it could help the city avoid spending millions of dollars on a “mid-term solution” to the flooding problem and possibly assist in creating a long-term solution.
The immediate solution includes plans to build four pump stations at different ends of Hoboken, one of which will be paid for by NHSA. The other three, she said, could cost the city up to $30 million. Zimmer also said that these pumps would dump sewage in the Hudson River along with flood water, which would most likely become problematic at some point in the future.
Zimmer admitted that the city allowed a FEMA grant application deadline to pass that might have awarded the city $4 million to help the flooding situation, assuming the city would contribute a $2 million to match.
Council members were not impressed the city’s decision.
“It’s a crime to let $5 million slip through your fingers,” Castellano said.
Zimmer said in a press release on Thursday that the city would have needed to be committed to spending millions for the pumps before the grant could have even been put to use.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.