Neighbors sue Tax Collector over construction
Picardo Zoning hearing pulled; Scaffolding erected
Last weeks Zoning hearing for the controversial Picardo property on Castle Point never materialized, and now scaffolding is being erected at the residence. Neighbors assume it’s to begin the actual tear-down of the addition, but won’t believe it until they see it.
Picardo variance case drags on in Hoboken
Despite a tear-down ruling ordered by the Hudson County Court – the 920 Castle Point Terrace debacle rages on.
No action was taken on the court-ordered tear-down (with no enforcement from the city – which they were obligated to see through). And somehow the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustments actually scheduled yet another hearing for this property on September 20, 2011.
It appears that Picardo is trying to find a loophole in the process – by changing the property to a two-family dwelling. There are some doubts whether another ZBA hearing is even legal with the outstanding tear-down order in full effect.
“Another day in the neighborhood, another day in the…”
Picardo loses appeal – tear down order still in effect
A quick update to the Picardo 920 Castle Point Terrace case – he was denied his motion to stay appeal.
Judge orders Picardo to tear down illegal construction at 920 CPT
The Hudson County Court has ruled that Louis Picardo’s construction at 920 Castle Point Terrace was indeed illegal, and must be torn down.
Naturally, Picardo is expected to appeal this decision – as well as file ANOTHER application with the Zoning Board of Adjustments to try and make his building “conform” to current zoning laws. The Brigden’s have apparently lost as well – with no way to recover the legal expenses they’ve endured. They plan on appealing that decision as well.
Zoning Board Denies Picardo Variance
An application for a “D” class zoning variance requires five affirmative votes to be approved. Former Hoboken Tax Collector Louis Picardo came up one vote short last night. Here’s how it went down:
The meeting got underway at about 7:20 pm with Chairman Dominic Lisa announcing that two regular members were unable to make it. He explained that Joe Crimmins was with his son, who was having emergency surgery on his foot, and Murray Fusco was whisked away by his wife on a wedding anniversary getaway trip. This meant the two “alternate members” of the board would be given the opportunity to vote in their place.
Lisa then recognized attorney Jeff Kantowitz, who represents Picardo’s unhappy neighbors, the Brigdens. Kantowitz began by reading the comments made by Crimmins in an earlier meeting where he asked that Picardo be subpoened and compelled to testify about his application. Crimmins wanted Picardo to explain how his building came to house a total of five apartments. The original application showed only three units, as did the tax assessor’s records. Now, in seeking the variance to protect his addition, Picardo admitted to five units. That was a change from what was represented to the Zoning Office that originally signed off on the plans.
Since the board attorney did not recommend that subpoena, Kantowitz said the board should draw a “negative inference” and assume that Picardo did not appear because the answers he would be forced to give under oath “would be detrimental to him.” Kantowitz said there was “no evidence in the record” that found five legal units in the building. He also argued the applicant did not meet the burden of proof that the variance requested would provide a public benefit. In fact, all members of the public who put their feelings on the record said it was a public detriment.
Special Castle Point District zoning at issue
Kantowitz pointed out that in 2005 the City Council created special zoning for the Castle Point area mandating one and two-family uses in the zone to avoid apartment buildings in the historic district. His summation lasted about a half hour. Picardo’s attorney Grace Bertone began her summation by saying the Municipal Land Use Law does not require Picardo’s appearance, so she felt it was not an issue. She agreed there were no CO’s (certificates of occupancy) issued for the additional apartments, but noted Picardo was able to produce multiple leases for the units that would should show they existed prior to the 2005 law change.
Bertone admitted “This does not absolve Mr. Picardo of potential consequences for having no COs.” This was seen as an admission that Picardo had not followed the law and would possibly be forced to pay back taxes on his inaccurate assessment going back several years, but that she was making a calculated decision that it would be worth it as long as he was able to get the variance to keep his massive addition on top of his building.
So what exactly is the public benefit here?
Bertone tried to sell the idea that the simple fact that Picardo was “reinvesting” in his property somehow followed the wishes of the Hoboken Master Plan. It was generally seen as a somewhat odd attempt to take one sentence fragment from the Master Plan and turn it into an argument for the indefensible. Bertone’s statement lasted all of six minutes.
The board weighs in before the vote
Regular Zoning Board attorney Doug Bern was not at the meeting, leaving an associate to handle questions from the board. The new guy seemed to be inclined to give answers that supported the applicant’s position. Second Alternate member Tony Soares began the discussion by asking the attorney for an opinion regarding the issues associated with Picardo’s “extra” units and how they should consider that. The lawyer told them to focus on the requested variance and not think about it because the applicant wasn’t asking for a pre-existing use variance certification, or some such New Jersey legalese gobbledeegook.
Commissioner Jose Ponjoan pointed out that while the Superior Court Judge that sent the case back to the Zoning Board hadn’t offered a word of guidance on how to proceed. He argued that if the judge didn’t mention the additional units and their legality that he wouldn’t take it into account either. Ponjoan asked, “Why should (Picardo) be blamed for the city’s mistakes?” referring to the original issuance of a zoning officer certificate that said the Tax Collector didn’t have to come to the board for a variance. Some say a degree of pressure was probably put on the Acting Zoning Officer to get that certificate. They also point out Picardo’s original application was filled out with incorrect information by his original architect, James McNeight, which didn’t help matters. Picardo went out and hired a different architect to testify for this hearing, in what was seen as an effort to keep McNeight from giving sworn testimony about his original “errors”.
Jim Perry speaks up to uphold the law
Commisioner Jim Perry then made a convincing argument that “We have to consider the very serious zoning issue here,” recalling the original proposal for an apartment building that caused the City Council to enact the Castle Point zoning in the first place. Perry said “The real teeth is in the restriction (to 1 and 2 family housing) and we have no justification to deny anyone else who applies to this board if we vote yes” to the Picardo application. He called it “Detrimental to the extreme” to approve the variances.
Commisioner Alex Corrado rarely speaks at these meetings, but weighed in to say he felt the leases provided showed the five apartments were “Pre-existing, even if they are illegal.” Perry then pointed out that the tax assessor’s record showed only 3 units in the building at the time of the application, well after the Castle Point Zoning was approved. Commissioner Randall Underwood – who decided the fact that Picardo does his taxes does not mean he has a conflict that blocks him from hearing the case – said it essentially boiled down to an applicant who was just “adding bedrooms.”
At long last, the big vote is taken
There was tension in the room as Soares made a motion to deny the variances, which Perry seconded. That vote failed 4-3 as Ponjoan, Corrado, Underwood and Lisa voted no while Mike Novak joined Perry and Soares in voting yes to DENY the variance. Here’s where the confusion really begins. Because the motion to DENY failed, another motion to APPROVE the variance was made and seconded. Ponjoan, Corrado, Underwood and Lisa vote to APPROVE the variances while Perry, Novak and Soares voted against. The rub? Though a majority of the board voted yes, a FIVE vote supermajority is needed to approve a “D” class variance, which meant Picardo did not get his variance.
Activists rejoice, while Picardo’s pal yells at them
After the vote the board moved on with the rest of their agenda as people filed out of the council chambers into the halls. Picardo pal and real estate development business partner Rob Ranieri (right) caused a scene at the door by yelling at the objectors, at least one of whom yelled back. Ranieri is apparently not too happy with the way Hoboken411 has followed the story from the beginning, and decided to unleash some pent up frustration. He also didn’t like the picture 411 ran of him punching away on his BlackBerry. Sorry Rob, but Hoboken is now in the Internet age, and news travels fast even if you don’t want it to. Feel free to let us know if you think anything reported here is inaccurate, because no complaint about the coverage since has been received since Hoboken411 broke this story a year ago.
So what’s next?
Within 45 days, the Zoning Board attorney will write up a resolution that will explain the board’s vote, which they will vote to accept formally. This will then be sent up to Superior Court, where a judge will likely hear arguments to tear down the addition and restore the historic roofline of the building. Last night’s vote was a victory not only for the Brigdens, but for anyone who believes the Zoning Ordinance should be enforced.
READ THE COMPREHENSIVE (AND EXCLUSIVE) YEAR OF UPDATES BELOW!
4/2/2009 8:15pm Update:
More to come…
The Zoning Board meeting is tonight at 7pm. Please note that NO public comments will be heard, rather closing arguments from each side’s attorneys will lead off the meeting instead. Once complete, the board will have a chance to speak. The final vote is estimated to be around 9pm (give or take).
Summations and Vote April 2nd
It was another long night of twists and turns for the Zoning Board in the curious case of former Tax Collector Louis Picardo. They heard testimony and comments until almost 12:30 in the morning. Picardo’s planner was cross-examined by attorney Jeff Kantowitz (representing the neighbors), followed by testimony of another planner who stated why he believed Picardo’s professionals had not proven his case for the variances he seeks to keep the massive addition on his house. While his original plans (as well as the tax rolls) indicate only three apartments in the house, the variance application indicates there are five. Some have charged Picardo may be attempting to use the Zoning Board process to gain approval for two additional apartments that were never officially recognized by the city and are not legal under the Castle Point Historic District Zoning Ordinance that permits one- and two-family homes.
All Public Comment against Picardo
Following the testimony several members of the public rose to explain why they felt the variances should not be granted. Some were angrier than others. No member of the public rose to defend Picardo, who stayed away from the hearings despite calls from board members to have him brought in to testify about discrepancies in the number of units in the building. While Picardo never showed, his friend and real estate business partner Rob Ranieri could be seen furiously punching the keys of his Blackberry during several key moments of the many hearings.
Public comment is now closed, so the attorneys for The Brigdens and The Picardos will present their summations on April 2nd, followed by a final vote by the board.
Pictures, and much more on the historical saga continued after the sponsor message…
Final Hearing Tonight?
No St. Patrick’s Day Party for volunteer members of the Zoning Board tonight. It’s back to work on the year-long saga known as the “Battle of Castle Point Terrace.” At the last hearing a month ago on Louis Picardo’s house addition, the board spent an hour going back and forth about what constitutes a “conflict of interest.” Board Attorney Doug Bern advised the commissioners to make their own call about whether or not they had a conflict, and let a judge sort it out later if necessary.
Chairman Dominic Lisa declared he did not have a conflict and would continue to hear the case. Randall Underwood, who also has his taxes done by the former Hoboken Tax Collector – was not at the last meeting, so may make that call for himself tonight. The hearing was adjourned last month because when the board went to resume where they left off with the applicant’s planner, the planner wasn’t there. The b oard was quite annoyed that Picardo’s attorney had led them on about being prepared for the hearing when she didn’t even have her witnesses ready. They may wish to exact revenge later.
One big question is whether or not Picardo will testify. Many moons ago Zoning Board members Joseph Crimmins and James Perry indicated they wanted Picardo to be sworn in as a witness to clear up questions about how many units were in his house, which is subject to special historic district zoning. Picardo stopped coming to the meetings long ago, though his real estate business partner Rob Ranieri has been there, presumably keeping his friend informed.
The meeting begins at 7:00 in the basement meeting room at City Hall near the Newark Street entrance.
SEE LONG TRAIL OF PREVIOUS UPDATES BELOW…
Tonight, the Zoning Board holds what will likely be the final meeting on former Tax Collector Louis Picardo’s controversial addition to his home. The hot topic is the first hearing on a long agenda, but may begin with a closed-door discussion about whether the board should overrule their own attorney’s opinion that Chairman Domenic Lisa and Randall Underwood have a conflict and should not continue to hear the case. Board lawyer Doug Bern says Lisa and Underwood’s prior business relationship with Picardo should conflict them out of the case. Each uses Picardo to do their personal taxes.
The board could overrule this legal opinion and allow Lisa and Underwood to serve if a majority is concerned Picardo will not have the votes he needs for his variances. If Lisa and Underwood do not hear the case the votes of newly appointed “alternate” board members Mike Novak and Tony Soares will be crucial. Though neither is expected to be partial to Picardo, recent discoveries about the previously little known Novak have people questioning his motives.
Shortly after Novak was named to the seat word spread that he was planning to run for Council-at-Large on Peter Cammarano’s Mayoral ticket. Insiders say Roberts named Novak to the seat to get his name recognition and previously empty public service resume pumped up for a run with Cammarano. Once the board decides who will hear the Picardo case testimony will wrap up and the public will get the chance to express opinions to the board on whether or not the application will be granted. The meeting starts tonight at 7pm. Use the Newark Street entrance for the downstairs meeting room.
CONTINUE PREVIOUS UPDATES BELOW…
Picardo wants conflicted friends to hear case
Tax Collector Louis Picardo wants the Zoning Board members he has business ties with reinstated to hear his case for variances. When we last left The Battle of Castle Point, board attorney Doug Bern gave the opinion that board members who use Picardo to prepare their taxes have a conflict of interest and should recuse themselves from the Picardo case. Since then Picardo’s attorney Grace Bertone presented a written brief to Bern in an attempt to reinstate them. Bern is an attorney hired to give legal advice to the non-attorneys on the Zoning Board. Instead of having him decide when there is a conflict, Bertone wants the members of the Zoning Board to vote on whether or not Dominic Lisa and Randall Underwood should be allowed to continue to hear the case.
Going behind closed doors before the vote
Bern proposed the board hold a closed session so that he can explain the law to the Zoning Board and how it applies to them and this case. Then the attorneys for Picardo and those opposed to his application can argue the points of the conflicts before the board itself votes on how to proceed. Keep in mind the only zoning board members who voted with Picardo on the original issue of whether he should have been given approval to begin construction in the first place were the same members who ended up off the case due to their relationship with the tax collector.
“The cavalry is on its way”
Remember that the hearing had to stop not only because two members were found to have a conflict, but because Mayor David Roberts has been dragging his feet on filling two vacancies on the board. Its not unusual for Roberts to use these appointments as political paybacks to people who scratch his back at election time. Last night Bern told Picardo’s attorney that “The cavalry is on its way” in the form of appointments to the board, reinforcing the fact that the fate of Picardo’s variances is in the hands of the Mayor.
Meeting tonight, but no action
The Zoning Board holds its regular December meeting tonight. Though Hoboken Tax Collector Louis Picardo’s application for variances is on the agenda, the hearing will not continue tonight. As we told you first last month (see below) Picardo’s attorney Grace Bertone requested an adjournment after it was discovered that two commissioners had a conflict of interest (previous business relationship) with Picardo and could not continue to hear the case.
With two seats vacant on the board thanks to Mayor David Roberts inaction and habit of leveraging appointments to city boards for political gain (Hello, Governor Blogojevich?) the decision was made to put the hearing off until Roberts named more board members. Despite this situation Roberts has so far refused to rectify the situation, although he was seen cavorting with Picardo at City Clerk Jim Farina’s annual birthday party for Frank Sinatra. This means the Picardo application is on the agenda tonight “for scheduling only” which means no action other than possibly scheduling the continuation of the hearing at a later date will take place.
Another note from tonight’s ZBA meeting: Hoboken developer and Board of Education member Frank “Pupie” Raia likes to claim that he “Has never asked for or received a variance from the Hoboken Zoning Board in all his years as a developer.” That goes out the window tonight when Raia receives a class “D” variance for his project at 202 Bloomfield Street.
Picardo’s fate is in Roberts’ hands
In a stunning turn of events, the ultimate decision on the controversial construction by Tax Collector Louis Picardo is now squarely in the hands of Mayor David Roberts. How and why did this happen? Read on about the crazy twists and turns at last night’s Zoning Board meeting.
Questions about Conflicts lead to chaos
Before testimony could resume Zoning Board member Joe Crimmins asked board attorney Doug Bern a question about conflicts of interest. Crimmins said Picardo operates a tax preparation business, and he wondered if it would be a conflict if board members had used Picardo’s service. Bern answered yes, stating it would be a conflict to have a business relationship with an applicant seeking variances from the board.
Lisa and Underwood get conflicted out
This set off Chairman Dominic Lisa, who said Picardo does his taxes. Board member Randall Underwood also said Picardo does his taxes. In response to the attorney’s advice Lisa said he has “Had it up to here with conflicts” adding he “has a conflict with 95% of the people in front of this board.” (You’ll perhaps recall Lisa’s lunch with a developer here.) As he handed over the meeting to Vice Chairman Murray Fusco, Lisa angrily threatened to resign from the Zoning Board. Lisa and Underwood left the meeting, leaving five members of the board present to consider the Picardo case.
Only 5 members remain for a 9 member board
It’s believed 5 affirmative votes may be needed to get the variance approved, so it’s dangerous for an applicant to move ahead with a hearing knowing they have to secure every available vote, or lose the case. Even if only 4 votes are needed for approval, Picardo probably does not have them secured among the remaining 5 members. After a short recess Picardo’s attorney requested an adjournment until more people can be appointed to the board to offset those who may be opposed to the application.
There are supposed to be 9 members appointed to the Zoning Board by Mayor David Roberts, but his inaction to fill vacancies has left 2 seats empty. One of the seats was vacated by James Monaco, Junior – a Hoboken school teacher who was indicted along with his father in a massive online gambling ring bust.
So how does the vote look now?
With only 7 people on the board and 2 with a conflict in the Picardo case, it leaves 5 to vote. It’s likely at least one (perhaps even two) of those people is poised to reject the application, which means it’s up to David Roberts to appoint two new Zoning Board members who would be the key votes to determine the fate of Picardo’s application! If Dave Roberts picks more Zoning Board members who side more with developers than with the public to fill the vacancies it will likely ensure Picardo’s application is approved.
The disqualification of Lisa and Underwood removes the only two board members who actually voted back in April NOT to overturn the improper zoning approvals given to Picardo by the acting Zoning Officer. With an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the action was improper, a majority overturned the permits, which led to this hearing on the variances needed to complete the project.
Lisa and Underwood were extremely likely to approve the application. Fusco, Jose Ponjoan, and Alex Corrado are also seen as likely “Yes” votes, while Crimmins and Jim Perry are seen as less likely to approve the application. With two seats empty, two likely yes votes removed by conflict, and five members remaining, the prospects for a Picardo victory are very much in question.
That’s why it’s now in the hands of the Mayor. Stay tuned to see who Roberts decides to appoint ahead of the next Zoning Board meeting on the Picardo application on December 16th.
Final hearing tonight
The final hearing on the approval the zoning code variances with 920 Castle Point Terrace will be at City Hall TONIGHT at 7 pm. This is a continuation of the August meeting and should conclude discussions on the property and the proposed D variances. Please attend to support opposition to the project if you want to ensure the character of Hoboken neighborhoods are maintained – and the Zoning laws are followed by everyone – including insiders.
Strong neighborhood and local support is the only way to prevent this addition from being approved.
Picardo’s legal team must demonstrate that there is a benefit to the community to this addition. If you think this is an eyesore – outside the city’s master plan – and therefore shouldn’t be approved – stand up and state your opposition. The Picardo building currently has 5 units despite being zoned and taxed as a 3 family… an he is the tax collector!
A Hoboken411 reader asks…
There is a team working on 920 CPT despite the stop work order. So my question is, when is a stop work order a stop work order? And why can they paint and fix the roof when they don’t have approval for the structure?
Meeting tonight 7pm
Hoboken Tax Collector Louis Picardo will be back in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment tonight, and so will a throng of objectors to his effort to stick an extra story on top of his historic 920 Castle Point Terrace home. His neighbors had to go to court to stop the construction, which was begun without a hearing on the variances needed to do the job. (Read more in original story after the jump)
In theory, Picardo’s legal team must demonstrate that there is a benefit to the community to this addition. In Hoboken reality, the Dave Roberts-appointed Zoning Board is anxious to rubber stamp variances when there is no opposition, especially for insiders like Picardo. In this case there is opposition, and the more people who come out to support the neighbors who have hired an attorney to fight the plan, the more likely it will be defeated.
The objectors to the application are calling on people to stand up and say that this is an eye sore, a violation of the zoning code, outside of the Master Plan, and should not be approved. The Picardo building currently has 5 units despite being zoned and taxed as a 3 family.
There is also an additional application on the agenda from Bahama Mama’s owner David Jacey, who lives next door to Picardo at 918 Castle Point Terrace and wants to add a fourth story to his house as well. The application is strikingly similar to the Picardo application, though the Tax Collector also needs variances for expanding a non-conforming use. The zoning only allows for a maximum of two families per house. The Picardo house apparently has 5.
The meeting begins tonight at 7pm in the downstairs conference room at City Hall. See full agenda here.
In another “sneak attack” meeting maneuver, no notice was given to the community that this debacle is back on the ZBA agenda tomorrow night.
More Zoning Board trickery
“The Picardos have filed with the city and will be back in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) to apply for variance relief on their property. The ZBA is discussing the property tomorrow evening Tuesday, July 15th at 7pm in City Hall. No notices were provided to neighbors regarding the property and I just found out that this will be discussed tomorrow.
Their submission states that the property contains 5 units (despite being approved and taxed as a 3 unit building). Their package to the ZBA argues that the expansion is an expansion of an existing non-conforming use and should not be considered an additional unit.
We will need strong local neighborhood support showing that neighbors are upset that this construction has gone on and want it torn down. It is highly likely that the ZBA will approve this without strong neighborhood and local support. Please come out and show your support!”
Will it get torn down?
It was standing room only as the Zoning Board heard the appeal of Gretchen and Julian Brigden, who claim Tax Collector Louis Picardo improperly received approval to begin a major renovation on his Castle Point Terrace home. After over three and a half hours of testimony and deliberation, the ZBA begrudgingly voted 4-2 to agree that the City’s acting Zoning Officer improperly allowed the construction to happen, but refused to consider whether or not it should be torn down. That may be the ultimate call of Hudson County Judge Maurice Gallipoli.
Though the city planner testified under oath that the Brigdens were correct that Picardo needed to come to the ZBA for a D-class use variance before putting another story on his building, two members of the ZBA — including Chairman Dominic Lisa — sided with Picardo. Four members voted to declare the zoning certificate invalid. Where does it go from here? Probably back to a courtroom in Jersey City. Keep watching Hoboken411 as the story continues to unfold. We hear Picardo is not the only one on Castle Point hoping to add a floor to his building.
There is a storm brewing on Castle Point Terrace, and it involves one of Hoboken’s richest men: city Tax Collector Louis Picardo. Despite being on the public payroll nearly all his adult life, Louie Picardo has managed to amass vast wealth through real estate deals, mostly in Hoboken. Now Picardo may have used his connections at City Hall to get something that average people couldn’t dream of: a quickie addition of a new floor of living space on his house built within a matter of weeks. Here is the story of what smells like an all too typical Hoboken insider deal that is now being challenged in court.
St. Valentine’s Day Neighborhood Charm Massacre
On February 13th, neighbors noticed workers on the roof of Louie Picardo’s 920 Castle Point Terrace house, and assumed they were just there to do some roof work. Less than two days later an army of workers was on the roof hurriedly building cinder block walls. As if to try and get it done before anybody would notice, within hours the walls and roof of a new top story had been built. Not only was the addition ugly, blocking views and sunlight for neighbors on every side, but it added a new ugly wall within view of Elysian Park in what is supposed to be a special historic preservation district. A classic building roofline was destroyed in favor of a new box to apparently bring additional revenue to the tax collector.
Neighbors take action, Seek answers from City
Neighbors on the Hudson Street side of the block are even more severely affected by this construction, since their buildings are already built one story below the Castle Point houses on connecting lots. Julian and Gretchen Brigden of 925 Hudson Street were among the many neighbors who couldn’t understand how Picardo could get approval for adding an additional story to his house without going in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Brigdens say there were no permits posted for the construction, which continued at a fever pace through the Presidents Day holiday. They say as many as 10 people at a time were working to get the addition up, with ceiling joists raised less than a week into construction. (You try that with Al Arezzo.)
How can they go that high in an R-1 zone?
The Brigdens contacted a lawyer to see what could be done to halt the project. They noted the Picardo house is in an R-1 zone and has an apartment in the basement, which is included as a “story” under the law, and that another story would have to go before the ZBA in a public process. That kind of thing can take many months and involve angry neighbors, so it’s no surprise Picardo tried to avoid that step.
Gretchen took off from work the Tuesday after Presidents Day to try and get some answers from City Hall (you know, where Picardo has worked since 1978). She was able to determine that building and construction permits had been issued, which meant Acting Zoning Code Official Virginia “Ginger” Buonfiglio had approved Picardo’s request to build without a variance. Construction Code Official Al Arezzo signed off as well.
What’s with the Zoning Office?
Ever since former Zoning Officer Joel Mestre managed to slide into the job of Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Buonfiglio has been holding the fort. (Rumors have been around for over a year that Mayor David Roberts is keeping the Zoning seat warm for a good friend of his.) Gretchen spoke with Ginger to ask why she had approved it, and explained the reasons why she believed that was wrong. According to Brigden, Ginger told her to fill out an OPRA request.
When Brigden asked Ginger to go see the house to determine whether there she missed a floor in her calculations, she refused, saying she didn’t have a car. The Zoning Officer is the city employee tasked with going around town looking for zoning violations and considering applications, but Ginger didn’t have a car? The Brigdens’ attorney sent a letter to the Zoning office, and got no response. The Brigdens also received no response to their OPRA request.
Time to go to court to try and stop the building
Legal papers were filed the week of February 20th to attempt to get the work stopped based on irreparable harm to the neighbors. The judge agreed to hear arguments a week later. Hudson County Judge Maurice Gallipolli heard the arguments, but determined there was not adequate cause to stop work immediately. His rationale was that any harm – if proven – could be fixed by either taking down the structure or the through recovery of monetary damages. He ordered the city to provide all documents related to the property by the close of business the following day. The Brigdens believe the documents that were ultimately provided by the city (only under court order!) were at best incomplete.
The judge also made it clear that Picardo could proceed at his own risk but if this was deemed to be out of compliance with the city’s zoning code that he had no hesitation to order it pulled down.
So, what do the documents show??
The documents showed that the current addition was treated as a third floor on plans provided by James McNeight and no basement was ever reflected. Additional records show that there were alterations made in the 1990s that added first a garage and then an apartment in the basement. Those additions make the basement a floor under the zoning code. The Brigdens say the current addition adds a 5th apartment to the building as well as an elevator.
Back to court on March 20th, with Arezzo and Picardo
The Brigdens provide the following summary of what happened in court March 20th: Their attorney, Jeffrey Kantowitz, opened the discussion with a ten minute explanation the Hoboken zoning code clearly requires a variance for the kind of work Picardo was doing. The judge let the city’s attorney and Louis’s attorney speak. The city’s outside attorney Tom Segreto had no defense. The judge made him admit that there were four stories and that this is in clear violation of zoning code.
In addition, the city provided no documentation in support of the compliance with zoning code. Al Arrezzo provided documentation that said that no documents are provided demonstrating compliance with the zoning code despite the fact that Hoboken’s law requires it. According to the Brigdens, the judge said he did not believe Al Arrezo. Judge Gallipolli did not make a ruling on the case but sent the plaintiffs back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment to apply to stop the work. He ordered Corporation Counsel Steve Kleinman to ensure that we are the first order of business at the next ZBA meeting, which is on April 15th.
Why send it to the ZBA, packed with Picardo’s pals?
By sending it back to the ZBA, Judge Gallipolli is essentially sending it to a board full of Louie Picardo’s old buddies from the “Hoboken First” days. They will have the power to issue the variance that Picardo probably should have applied for in the first place. In order to fight the variance – and the further degradation of the “Castle Point Historic District” — a large turnout of people will be needed to fight against Picardo’s move. Already other connected people are reportedly planning similar additions to their buildings, and this project could set a terrible precedent.
Adding Insult to Injury
Because the Brigdens are seeking the stop work order on the project they have to pay the fee to file the appeal and legally send notice to all of the neighbors about the meeting by law. Who are they required to request the legal mailing list of neighboring properties from? You guessed it! Tax Collector Louie Picardo, and they say he seems to be in no hurry to comply.
A showdown is to come on April 15th, and after that it could be back in court for Picardo and the Brigdens, as well as the City of Hoboken.