Southwest Park in Jeopardy
Block 11 developer sues city
What’s a Hoboken developer to do when a bad real estate deal is going sour? Sue the city in an attempt to have the taxpayers make him whole!
That’s the latest development in the Block 11 saga, as the ill-fated plan to put a ten-story tower on a land designated for a future park in the Hoboken Master Plan is headed to court. Here are the latest developments in brief, with details to follow:
- The Hoboken Historical Museum has backed out of Museum Place
- Developer Nat Salvemini is suing the city over the failure of his plan
- The Roberts administration is aiding and abetting Salvemini
For a review of how this all started, scroll down after the jump to the “What’s up with Block 11?” portion of the thread dated March 31, 2008.
Developer deal goes sour
Nat Salvemini has filed a lawsuit against the City of Hoboken demanding the city buy his property and pay him damages. Salvemini made a bad bet when he paid somewhere around $2.5 million for the former auto repair shop on Block 11 on the hope he could score some sweet variances from the Zoning Board to make his profit. According to the Hoboken zoning code, he’s only allowed to build three stories of residential over one story of parking on 60% of the lot.
At over two million bucks, real estate people say he likely overpaid thinking he could make it up in variances for height and lot coverage. His first attempt at a 6-story, 100% lot coverage building was headed for failure, so he regrouped with the Hoboken Historical Museum behind him for a 10-story application.
Lawsuit cites Hoboken411, parks advocates
Among the developer’s exhibits in his lawsuit are pages and pages of comments from Hoboken411 readers who overwhelmingly opposed the plan. The suit describes a “Public Clamor For Acquisition of Plantiff’s Property”:
“On local blogs and internet comment boards there has been a continuous stream of postings and comments be vocal members of the public to influence the City to create more open space by acquiring property for SW6. In general, these blogs and postings have been grossly inaccurate, incomplete and unfairly critical of the Museum Place project.”– Salvemini lawsuit
The suit goes on to note the council’s efforts save land targeted for parks in the Master Plan through ordinances, applications for grant money, and resolutions to hire a firm to appraise the land for city acquisition have led to what the developer argues is “a taking” of his land. Throughout the lawsuit, Salvemini goes on about the money he would have made if his application was heard and the variances were granted, but he leaves out the fact that there is no guarantee he ever would have received those variances. He wants the city to make him whole on a deal that was going to die due to overwhelming public opposition.
The plantiff goes on to charge that the city’s move to consider an open space ordinance has “prevented him from developing his property,” when in fact nothing stopped him from going to the Zoning Office with plans to build an “as of right” project that would be only four stories tall.
CONTINUE READING THE REST AFTER THE JUMP…
(Southwest Parks in Jeopardy, continued…)
Wait, what happened to the appraisals and negotiations?
Salvemini does make a few valid points in his suit. First he notes that although the City Council approved a resolution to hire McGuire Associates to appraise his land for purchase last June, the administration of Mayor David Roberts ignored the resolution and never followed through. The Mayor supports the “Heyer Gruel” plan for a high-rise Hoboken. The Mayor may not be the only one at fault here.
In addition to the appraisal resolution, Fourth Ward councilwoman Dawn Zimmer added wording indicating the Planning and Zoning subcommittee of the council would “begin negotiations with the Block 11 property owners the next day.” With Roberts not interested in building a southwest park, Zimmer and Councilman Ruben Ramos said they would make the calls. Did they? The lawsuit contends the city “has never commenced negotiations with Plantiff regarding the acquisition of the Subject Property (Block 11, Lot 9).”
Salvemini claims Zoning Board won’t hear the case
At the June 17th Zoning Board meeting, Salvemini’s attorney Tom Foley was willing to postpone the hearing on his applicant’s plan to give the council time to come up with it’s plan for the area. Foley is a former Zoning Board member who parlayed his brief stint on the board into a lucrative practice representing developers looking for variances. Foley also failed in his attempt to run for the 6th ward council seat in 2007.
Though Foley represented Salvemini at the ZBA, he is not the named attorney on the developer’s suit against the city. The board indefinitely suspended the Museum Place application on September 16th.
The Hoboken Museum backs out, but why?
The suit states that on October 20th the board of trustees of the Hoboken Historical Museum decided to rescind its February 28th letter of intent to sign on to Salvemini’s application. As a result, the lawsuit says the application is “no longer viable.” The suit further states:
“As a result of the City’s actions, the cloud of condemnation has precluded Plantiff from utilizing the subject property for any reasonable or productive economic use and Plantiff has been deprived fie its reasonable, investment-backed expectations with regard to the use of the Subject Property.”– Salvemini lawsuit
The bottom line: What Salvemini wants
According to the court papers, the developer wants to force the city to buy his property at what would be an inflated rate in a down market, and have the taxpayers also pay compensatory damages and attorneys fees, etcetera. However, what he may really want is his day in front of the Zoning Board. The Roberts Administration has placed resolutions on the city council agenda tonight that would essentially remove the roadblocks that Salvemini claims the city has placed in front of his application.
The conspiracy theorists say the Museum Board (which so steadfastly rejected the concerns about this plan from members of the public who otherwise support their programs) is still playing ball with Salvemini, and will jump back on board if the lawsuit gets the city out of the way of his application. After all, if the Museum hadn’t opted out of the letter of intent four months early then Salvemini would have no way to claim his application was crippled by the city’s actions, helping him to make his case in court for more city tax money than his land is actually worth.
Another fine Hoboken mess…
PREVIOUS UPDATES FROM 2008 CONTINUE BELOW!
ZBA hearing delayed until September
I got word that it was an early night for the packed house that turned out for tonight’s hearing.
Thanks to the park zoning ordinance prepared by the Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition, the attorney for the Zoning Board advised them to delay action on the Block 11 high rise until at least September. With a new ordinance now under review following the city council’s unanimous vote, the attorney felt it would be appropriate to wait until the Planning Board and City Council gets through its process.
Zoning Board Tonight!
Tonight is the night for the latest Hoboken showdown between advocates for parks called for in the Master Plan and developers who want to build high rise condos instead. This time the people are walking into the Zoning Board of Adjustment armed with an ordinance drafted by the Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition designed to protect the property for public use. The ordinance approved on first reading last week in a unanimous vote of the city council could go a long way to protecting the land that speculators and developers have been scooping up in Southwest Hoboken. (A Planning Board review, public hearing, and final vote on the ordinance is still to come.)
The new Save Block 11 group of concerned neighbors of the SW6 site are expected to be out in force tonight to fight the variances a developer is seeking. The project calls for 8 stories of condos over two stories of raw, unfinished space to be donated to the Hoboken Historical Museum in a deal designed to offset the waves of criticism about the developer’s plans. In the past couple of weeks the developer and his architect have ramped up public relations efforts to turn the high tide that has risen against the project, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Parks Ordinance researched and prepared by HSPC’s Ann Holtzman and sponsored by Councilmen Mike Russo and Nino Giacchi.
Large crowd needed for big impact
Despite the expectation for a big turnout, the meeting is likely to be held in the small downstairs meeting room at City Hall. A larger meeting room makes sense, but if it’s not available members of the public may vocally (but politely) issue a complaint on the record to the ZBA chair during the meeting that they cannot see or hear the proceedings of this public meeting. The more people in the room, the louder the message to the city, including Mayor David Roberts, who is NOT on board with the SW6 action plan despite public and council support. The development community is expected to be out in force, including others who want to build on parcels designated for parks.
The meeting starts at 7pm, but it will go long, so people who work late should feel free stop by whenever they can.
Save Block 11 Fundraiser
Last Thursday night, Save Block 11 held a successful fundraiser at the SkyClub.
The new citizen activist group was launched to fight a developer plan to build a 10-story building on land designated for a park in the Hoboken Master Plan and SW6. Dozens of people enjoyed wine and cheese with their neighbors, and dropped checks into a box to help pay the attorneys and planners needed to fight the many variances requested by the developer. Thousands of hard-earned dollars were raised to fight the developer and the members of the Hoboken Historical Museum board who signed on to the high-rise plan (including Fred Bado, Mayor Roberts‘ Community Development Director.)
To learn more about how to save block 11, or to donate to the cause visit SaveBlock11.com. For more on SW6 visit HobokenSPC.org. The Zoning Board is scheduled to take up the high-rise application on Tuesday, June 17th.
Date Change for Block 11 Meeting
This update on the big story we brought you first this week: the Zoning Board of Adjustment will NOT take up the proposed 10-story high rise on Block 11 at its April 15 meeting. Instead the application will be delayed until at least the May 20 meeting, allowing opponents more time to organize against it. Since we posted the story the developer involved in the project has offered a counterpoint in the comments section. Many other posters have also weighed in on the issue. Watch Hoboken411 for updates to come.
Good morning, Hoboken!
What’s up with Block 11?
The community is rallying against a developer plan to build a 10-story high-rise on the site of the proposed Hoboken Southwest Park. The next showdown is set for City Hall on Tuesday, April 15th at 7pm. That’s when a developer will ask the Zoning Board of Adjustment for variances to build a high rise on the corner of Patterson Avenue and Harrison Street. The site is commonly known as part of “Block 11” just west of the Harrison Court condos and south of the Sky Club. Read on to learn more about the plan and, what people are doing to stop it.
Designated for a park for four years
In April 2004 the City Council and Planning Board wrapped up a long public process by adopting the Master Plan. This document included detailed objectives for the southwest area, including the creation of a six-acre park that was anchored by Block 11. Once it became clear Mayor David Roberts was going to allow favored developers to build on land designated for parks in the Master Plan, groups like HobokenParks.org and Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition fought for new open space and recreation sites. Despite this mandate for a park – and growing public unrest — Hoboken developer Nat Salvemini plunked down more than $2 million for one third of Block 11 in 2006. That was followed by an application for a six story, 100% lot coverage condo building shaped like a boat.
Big turnout to fight boat shaped building
The public turned out to a Zoning Board meeting en masse to oppose it, and with the help of land use attorney Michael Rubin, fought the plan back until Salvemini pulled it “without prejudice” before the ZBA could take a vote. Since then the push to build the Master Plan park has gained momentum through the election of new parks-friendly city council members and the creation of the HSPC Plan SW6: Greener, Greater Hoboken. The plan took a big step forward when the city council unanimously endorsed an application for grant money to purchase Block 11 for a park. But now, it is all in jeopardy again.
Developer regroups, adds board
Seeing his plan for a nautical six story building essentially dead in the (flood) water, Salvemini needed a new hook to offer an alternative proposal to the ZBA that might fly. He got it when the Hoboken Historical Museum sent an open letter to the local papers asking developers to donate additional space for new exhibitions. Salvemini pounced on the opportunity, which now has the effect of pitting one community group (the museum) against another (the parks groups).
The Museum Board of Directors also includes several pro-development players that would support such a plan, including Danny Gans of Hoboken Brownstone Company (who sold Maxwell Place to Toll Brothers for a huge profit), Michael Barry of Applied Development, and City Community Development Director Fred Bado (Mayor David Roberts’ point man on high-rise buildings.) Gans’ partner George Vallone wrote a letter to the Hoboken Reporter last week extolling the virtues of large-scale development projects in Hoboken (projects that have made Gans and Vallone very rich).
Museum Board ignores Plan, groups, election results…
Despite opposition from museum volunteers, the Board of Trustees took a secret vote to enter into a letter of intent to support Salvemini’s 10-story high-rise in exchange for the promise of a 7500 square foot payoff. Led by Chairman Larry Henriques (who along with his wife was also an active proponent of the rejected plan to build a high rise on the Church of the Holy Innocents) the Museum Board ignored the Master Plan’s parks mandate and years of work by open space advocates and the city council to build a park on Block 11.
In response to this criticism, museum board supporters claim they are just saying they would take the space if a building is built there. Opponents say what they neglect to note is there would be no plan for a ten story high rise if they had not consented to it. No museum board approval would have meant no application for a high-rise condo proposal called “Museum Place”.
What does the proposed building call for?
Much like the Sky Club, Salvemini needs a ton of variances to get this high rise built, including:
Several other variances are requested for parking, front yard setback, etc. None of these variances would have a shot at the ZBA if not for the Museum Board’s decision to support the application. The whole thing would be moot, as the city council moves forward to find money to acquire the properties on Block 11.
What happens if the variances are granted???
The Zoning Board is an autonomous group appointed by Mayor Roberts. They often reward Hoboken born-and-raised developers like Salvemini with many variances. They also routinely dismiss the Master Plan as a document that does not apply to them, since Roberts and Bado have not offered the supporting zoning code changes that would make its directives law. Just like at previous hearings on the Southwest Redevelopment area, the developer community is likely to come out in force to support one of their own.
If the high-rise variances are granted by the ZBA, the price tag on the property will skyrocket, placing the southwest park plan in jeopardy. If a 10 story building is allowed, then another developer may request variances for a 12 or 14 story building on the rest of block eleven, using Sky Club and this new building as a baseline for their request, further walling in the flood zone with more high-rise development.
What is being done to stop it?
Just as they did during the city council election, active fourth ward residents are organizing and getting the word out that the meeting is coming up. A large crowd is needed to oppose the high-rise plan at 7pm on Tuesday, April 15th at city hall. It is not necessary to speak, but the bigger the crowd supporting speakers opposing the plan, the more likely it will be defeated. Watch Hoboken411 for more announcements in the next two weeks.