Please note that the previous news updates (from September 28, 2006 through July 11, 2007) for the SW Redevelopment plan have been moved to the “SW Re-development Plan Archives” section, due to the large size. You can refer back to there for reference if necessary. All future updates (as well as previous comments) will continue here.

Thank you!

9/28/2007 Update: Planning Board Inches Ahead

The Planning Board spent another four hours discussing the “Area In Need Of Redevelopment” study written by Heyer Gruel Planner Chuck Latini Wednesday night. The board will likely meet just one more time before taking a vote on the issue.

Read the whole recap after the jump.

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Setting the stage for another meeting

Several members of the Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition sat with their attorney Michael Rubin in the first two rows on the left side. Behind them sat several people connected to the Shah family, who own the buildings on Block 6 (including My-T-Fine), as well as other members of the public. Former councilwoman Dawn Zimmer was seated in the rear of the right side of the room, behind some other property owners, attorneys, and members of the public. Chris Campos did not attend, nor did planning board member Peter Cammarano who continues to recuse himself from the discussion due to his legal conflicts.

The Shahs Take a Bite Outta Crime

Dennis Shah and his sister Eva Ghosh attempted to analyze the reams of crime state data attached to the Heyer Gruel study. They attempted to enter their analysis into the record indicating their properties do not contribute to an unsafe or criminal condition, and therefore is not a “blight” on the community. Mr. Shah and Ms. Ghosh are not statisticians, so they could not give “expert” testimony. Latini isn’t a statistician either, but he did slap reams of unanalyzed data on the back of his study to pile on to the property owners.

Peluso Blindsides the Shahs

In an effort to blight the property, Latini said the buildings on Block 6 are strewn with trash, broken windows, and graffiti. The Shah’s deny that. Suddenly during the discussion Planning Board member Joe Peluso produced several color photos of trash and broken windows on the Shah property. In addition to being on the Planning Board, Peluso is the city director of environmental services. After the last Planning Board meeting Peluso took a field trip with one of his inspectors to the Shah property and began to write tickets.

The attorney for the Shahs protested that Peluso was giving testimony that he was not able to cross examine him on since he was a member of the board. It was a strange situation, and could possibly be the basis of a legal challenge of the redevelopment zone designation in the future.

Heyer Gruel Planner Defends Himself

Following the drubbing that Latini received from Planner Peter Steck and Water Resource Engineer John Miller at the last meeting (see recap of 9/10 meeting below), Latini rose to defend himself. Instead he seemed to dig a deeper hole. Latini tried to say he took classes in environmental planning that made him able to speak about issues like Global Warming, Sheet Flow, and Heat Island Effect. HSPC attorney Rubin rose to protest, saying the Planning Board’s attorney was allowing testimony to go so far afield that it’s “beyond the pale” and “ridiculous” adding global warming has nothing to do with the study of whether an area is in need of redevelopment.

Of course, the board attorney allowed Latini to continue. He turned to his assertion that parking lots “have a tremendous effect on the health safety and welfare” of citizens because they create “heat-related illnesses and ground-related ozone.” Latini went on to claim that studies show people are “afraid” of parking lots, and they have a deleterious effect on people emotionally because they “make people feel unsafe.”

Latini Challenged on Parking Lot Drainage

Latini went on to say that the runoff control in the parking lots is not adequate and is causing flooding to occur, before he was forced to admit he did not study the schematics of the drainage systems, or even visit on a rainy day to see how they worked. The attorney for the Shahs, Mr. Potter, noted Latini is not an expert in hydraulics and civil engineering. This was pretty much the tone of the meeting until Latini gave up the floor.

No More Witnesses: Summations Ahead

The Planning Board will meet again on November 27th to hear closing summations by the attorneys representing the HSPC and the Shah’s International Realty. The board will then close the hearing, and do what they have wanted to for a very long time: recommend to the City Council that they declare Southwest Hoboken an “area in need of redevelopment.”

9/26/07 Update:

Planning Board Meets Again TONIGHT

When we last left the Planning Board September 10th (see full recap just below) representatives of International Realty were poking holes through the “area in need of redevelopment” study for southwest Hoboken drafted by planning firm Heyer Gruel. The Shah family owns several interconnected buildings – including the historic My-T-Fine building – through their International Realty business. They intend to tear them down and build two modern 12-story high-rise condo buildings in their place.

Refuting the Crime Stats

Up next Dennis Shah will refute reams of police report printouts attached to the Heyer Gruel study. Planner Chuck Latini claims the data is further “evidence’ the properties are “in need of redevelopment.” Shah has done an analysis and will share his findings with the Planning Board tonight. That may be followed by Latini getting up and defending himself from the onslaught of critical testimony against him presented by Planner Peter Steck and Water Resource Engineer John Miller (see below for details).

Testimony Could End Tonight

The Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition will also have their attorney Michael Rubin on hand to participate in the discussion, and possibly offer a closing statement should the Planning Board wrap up the hearing tonight. The public is also invited to speak at the end of the hearing to share their views on the process. This is the first meeting since the unveiling of the SW6 Action Plan, which outlines a community-based plan for a 6-acre park, flood mitigation, affordable housing and sensible development in southwest Hoboken.

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The meeting begins at 7pm at City Hall, most likely in the council chambers.

9/11/2007 Update:

Recap of 9/10 Planning Board meeting

The Planning Board heard another three hours of testimony about why the Southwest Redevelopment Area study should be thrown out, and agreed to meet again later this month for more discussion. This time professionals hired by one of the property owners in the study area took their shots at what many have criticized is a lazy, incomplete, and largely unnecessary effort to declare one of the hottest real estate markets in the country an “area in need of redevelopment.”

International Realty Responds

The Shah family owns several interconnected buildings on “Block 6” bordered by Jackson, Harrison, and Newark Streets and Observer Highway through their International Realty business. Unlike other large property owners in the Southwest Study Area who are well connected to the Hoboken Power structure, the Shah’s are concerned that the city will try to take their land by eminent domain. While the Arezzos, Cassessas, and DellAquilas of the zone are looking to cash in on being part of the high-rise redevelopment plan the Mayor puts together, the Shahs are concerned they will be forced out of their property.

Flooding Experts Refutes City’s Planner

Water Resource Engineer John Miller testified that Heyer Gruel Planner Chuck Latini’s testimony about “sheetflow” water runoff was different than that used by flood management professionals and hydrologists. Miller pointed out that Latini – who put together the “area in need of redevelopment” study – did not have qualified individuals study the area before his misused the “sheetflow” term in an effort to deem most of the southwest area “in need of redevelopment”. He added professionals in wastewater management use the term very differently than the way Latini used it.

A “Global” Flooding Solution Needed

Miller said the flooding problem in Southwest Hoboken is not best served by declaring the area in need of redevelopment as Latini testified. Instead he said a “global” solution was needed, including upgrades to the undersized system and ancient infrastructure. The flood specialist rejected the idea that simply because rain would “sheet” on a parking lot that it would be “in need of redevelopment”.

Planner: City’s Area Study Fatally Flawed

International Realty also presented testimony from Planner Peter Steck, who is well known in New Jersey for presenting testimony that leads courts to overturn municipal “area in need of redevelopment” designations like the one being considered here. Steck presented a document outlining many things he believed were wrong in Latini’s study. Steck noted that Latini’s plan for the southwest often complained about the current problem with stormwater runoff leading to flooding, but never mandated stormwater retention facilities to help alleviate the problems in new buildings planned for the zone.

“Heat Island Effect” Rebuttal

Steck pointed out that one of the excuses Latini used to designate some properties as “in need of redevelopment” is they contributed to “heat island effect” where urban areas get warmer than suburban areas. Steck said Latini was misusing this term, like he was misusing the “sheetflow” term. Steck said Latini produced no substantial credible evidence to declare his client’s property “blighted”. He also told the board the could not rely on the study as having the legal merit to declare the area a “redevelopment zone.”

Crime Data Refuted

The Heyer Gruel study used reams of police report printouts about properties in the area as further “evidence’ they should be redeveloped, but Steck said Latini misunderstood the data, which he said is worthless without analysis. He also pointed out the inconsistencies in the way the city determined which properties qualified for the zone and which did not, which could be grounds to toss the whole thing. He said the way Latini wrote the study most of Hoboken and Manhattan would qualify as “blighted.”

Shah Family Responds to “Blight”

Denis Shah spoke on behalf of his family’s businesses on Block 6, taking exception and offense to the Latini’s conclusion that his property is ”blight” on Hoboken that is “deleterious” and “obsolete.” He produced articles about his company’s success, and explained he had big plans for expansion on the site for Chambord Prints and Wallpaper. He also noted that expansion included a plan for two 12-story residential towers.

It’s 10pm – Time To Call It a Night

Shortly after 10 the Planning Board adjourned, saying they will resume the discussion and debate on Wednesday, September 26th. Up next Shah will refute the crime data in Latini’s study. Other witnesses and the public will also get a chance to speak, time permitting. The Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition had their attorney Michael Rubin on hand to participate in the discussion, and he will be back at the next meeting as well.

No Council Members

Peter Cammarano is the City Council designee on the Planning Board, but he did not attend due to his legal conflicts with clients who own land in the study area. 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer – who represents the study area — did not attend the meeting either.

Original preview below:

mayor-roberts-backdoor-deal2.jpg9/10/2007: Planning Board Meeting TONIGHT

Tonight the Planning Board will resume the public hearing on the designation study of Southwest Hoboken as an “area in need of redevelopment.” This designation is designed to grease the wheels for the development of high-rise condo buildings for well-connected developers and landowners. Supporters of parks and sane development say this meeting tonight is the place to be for people concerned about flooding, over-development, traffic and the lack of park space in southwest Hoboken.

The Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition hired land use attorney Michael Rubin to cross-examine the planner hired by the city to do the study. At the last meeting, Rubin picked apart the inconsistencies and incorrect information found in the study by the Heyer Gruel planning firm. Heyer Gruel also put together the widely criticized first Redevelopment Plan for the area, which was thrown out following a court challenge.

Tonight Rubin will present his summation, followed by an attorney for one of the property owners who will begin his own cross-examination of the planner. The public will also be given the chance to ask questions, and state their opinions to the board about the study before the hearing process is over. Representatives of developers are likely to call on the board to expedite the process, so they can cash in on their properties.

Heyer Gruel’s first plan for the area included several high-rise buildings and “public” parks built on top of 2-story parking garages, with far less park space than called for in the Hoboken Master Plan. Critics say the city has bungled the process, and has not risen to the challenge of putting together a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of current and future residents.

The meeting begins tonight at 7pm, most likely in the downstairs meeting room at City Hall. Enter via the Newark Street entrance into the lower level, unless you are Councilman and Planning Board member Peter Cammarano, who can’t participate because of his conflicts.

8/8/2007 Update:

Here’s a user-contributed recap from last nights planning board meeting, plus the original email sent out by the SW Parks Coalition this week.

“The big issue was the continuation of the debate over the Southwest Redevelopment Zone. In short, Mike Reuben, the lawyer hired by Southwest residents group cross examined the planner hired by the City for about 2 hours before the planning board ended the meeting at 10:00. How anyone sitting in that room could determine that this is an area in need of redevelopment, mainly to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public – is beyond comprehension.

The issues that the planner concentrated on were made to look totally ridiculous. Heat generated from parking lots, parking problems in the area and proper drainage from parking lots seemed to be the only thing the planner could go on. It wasn’t difficult for Mr. Reuben to simply ask “How do you know that?,” over and over again and the planner had no answer. He had no answer for lots of things, including WHY this area could not develop on its oqn, particularly when there are a number of projects already before the board from owners of the land and there is no reason to take the land by eminent domain to do with it as we (or the interested developers) please. In the end, the board decided to continue with the cross examination at the next meeting, now scheduled for September 10th at 7:00. Mike Reuben rocks!”

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Southwest Parks Coalition Notice:
HSPC’s attorney, Michael Rubin, will finally have the opportunity to cross-examine the city’s planner.
HSPC has a new park flyer that is being distributed. Please visit our website to see it: www.hobokenspc.org

We have been doing some extensive research on parks and have included a condensed version of some of the information:

Hoboken’s Park Deficit Is Real
Hoboken is suffering from a severe open space deficit. The national average is 6.25-10.5 park acres per 1000 residents. NYC has 2.5 park acres per 1000 and Hoboken only has 0.78 park acres per 1000 residents. The time to build more real parks in Hoboken is now!

READ THE REST BELOW

Why Does Hoboken Need More Parks?
Facts About The Benefits Of Open Space

Economic Benefits of Parks:
Increased Property Values, both Residential and Commercial

  • The real estate market consistently demonstrates that many people are willing to pay a larger amount for property located close to parks and open space areas than for a home that does not offer this amenity.

    This holds true for commercial properties as well. Bryant Park in NYC is a perfect example. By 1980, the 133-year-old square behind the New York Public Library was riddled with drug dealers and had an average of 150 robberies a year – citizens entered at their peril. But after a 12-year renovation the park re-opened in 1992, becoming the site of major fashion shows, a jazz festival, outdoor movies, and an outdoor café, and attracting thousands of visitors each day. The leasing activity in the neighborhood increased 60%. The park revived the demand for space in neighboring office buildings and between 1990 and 2000, the rents for commercial office space near Bryant Park increased between 115% and 225%, compared with increases of between 41% and 73% in surrounding submarkets.

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Economic Revitalization: Attracting and Retaining Businesses and Residents

  • Quality of Life is a determining factor in real estate values and economic vitality. A 1998 real estate industry report calls livability “a litmus test for determining the strength of the real estate investment market….if people want to live in a place, companies, stores, and apartments will follow.”

Public Health Benefits of City Parks
Physical Activity Makes People Healthier

  • Physical activity produces important psychological benefits. It relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being.


America’s Twin Plagues: Physical Inactivity and Obesity

  • Despite the well-known benefits of physical activity, only 25% of American adults exercise and only 27% of students in grades 9 through 12 engage in moderate to intensive physical activity.

    A park is a great motivator to improve those dour statistics.


Access to Parks Increases Frequency of Exercise

  • Strong evidence shows that when people have access to parks, they exercise more. In a study by the CDC, creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity led to a 25.6% increase in the percentage of people exercising on three or more days per week. The same group of studies showed that access to a place to exercise results in a 5.1% median increase in aerobic capacity, along with reduction in body fat, weight loss, improvements in flexibility, and an increase in perceived energy. When people have no where to walk, no where to play, they gain weight.


Exposure to Nature and Greenery Makes People Healthier

  • Contact with the natural world improves physical and psychological health. The concept that plants have a role in mental health is well established. Horticulture therapy evolved as a form of mental health treatment, based on the therapeutic effects of gardening. It is also used today in community-based programs, geriatrics programs, prisons, developmental disabilities programs and special education. Research on recreational activities has shown that savanna-like settings (grassy plains with scattered trees) are associated with self-reported feelings of peacefulness, tranquility, or relaxation.

Environmental Benefits of Parks

Pollution Abatement and Cooling

  • Green space in urban areas provides substantial environmental benefits. Trees in NYC removed an estimated 1,821 metric tons of air pollution in 1994. Trees and soil under them also act as natural filters for water pollution.


Controlling Storm Water Runoff & Flooding

  • Trees and grass more effectively and less expensively manage the flow of storm water runoff than do concrete sewers and drainage ditches. Runoff problems occur because cities are covered with impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and rooftops, which prevent water from soaking into the ground. A 1-acre parking lot causes 16 times more run off than a 1-acre meadow. By incorporating trees and grass into a city’s infrastructure, managers can build a smaller, less expensive storm water management system, according to American Forests Urban Resource Center.

Social Benefits of Parks
Among the most important benefits of city parks – though perhaps the hardest to quantify – is their role as community development tools. City Parks make neighborhoods more liveable; they offer recreational opportunities, and they provide a place where people can experience a sense of community.

Reducing Crime

  • Access to public parks and recreational facilities has been strongly linked to reductions in crime and in particular reduces juvenile delinquency. Recreational facilities keep kids off the streets and give them a safe environment to interact with their peers, and fill up time within which they could otherwise get into trouble.

    In one city, police documented a 28% drop in juvenile arrests after the city began STARS (Success Through Academics and Recreational Support) Program in 1990. Importantly, building parks costs a fraction of what it costs to build new prisons and increase police-force size.

    Research supports the widely held belief that community involvement in neighborhood parks is correlated with lower levels of crime. The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods studied the impact of “collective efficacy,” which it defined as “cohesion among neighborhood residents combined with shared expectations for informal social control of public space.” The study found that “in neighborhoods where collective efficacy was strong, rates of violence were low, regardless of socio-demographic composition and the amount of disorder observed.”

Recreational Opportunities: The Importance of Play

  • Play teaches children how to interact and cooperate with others, laying foundations for success in school and the working world. Exercise has been shown to increase the brain’s capacity for learning in adults as well.


Creating Stable Neighborhoods with Strong Community

  • Green spaces build community. Research shows that residents of neighborhoods with greenery in common spaces are more likely to enjoy stronger social ties than those who live surrounded by barren concrete.

Note: Information obtained from The Trust for Public Land, The AJA Journal of Architecture, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources: Storm Water & Runoff Pollution, U.S. Geological Survey: Effects of Urban Developments on Floods.

7/17/2007 Update:

Planning Board Do-Over

The Planning Board got back to square one on Southwest Redevelopment last night, and there is a lot further to go. When members of the Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition successfully challenged the way the city handled the swearing in of expert witnesses at a Planning Board meeting last year, Councilman Peter Cammarano belittled the victory and claimed it was just a technicality that would be easily rectified by one meeting of the Planning Board. Looks like he was wrong. Every indication at last night’s meeting was the board has been forced to start the process anew, throwing out the “fruit from a poison tree” and beginning again with a “complete review of the entire process”. Cammarano, however, was not there to see it. Though he was reappointed council representative on the board by a 6-3 vote, he did not attend the meeting, and word was it was due to his recently discovered conflicts.

( Nearly ) All Hands On Deck

A full house in the City Council chambers counted Planning Board members as they arrived to see if there would finally be a quorum. Only two didn’t show. People were happy to see Chairman Tom Mooney was well enough to attend following a bout with pneumonia. The quorum troubles must have sent a message to Mayor David Roberts, because he finally filled the open seat on the board with alternate member Hank Forrest. C. Jeffrey Barnes was picked by the Mayor to be the new alternate. Other than being sworn in, Barnes didn’t say anything during the meeting, and left quickly when it was over. He didn’t publicly introduce himself, and nobody knew him, so people were left to Google him to find out he is an architect who went to Harvard. Others said they thought he has ties to Cammarano.

New 4th ward councilwoman Dawn Zimmer and 2nd ward councilwoman Beth Mason were the only members of the council who attended the meeting. Former 4th ward councilman Chris Campos was not there.

Hours and Hours of Testimony

After being sworn in this time, Heyer Gruel Planner Chuck Latini (or “LAN-tini”, as the Planning Board attorney kept calling him) spent the better part of four hours going page by page through his “area in need of redevelopment” study. The attorney seemed to be keying in on every potential item that could face a legal challenge later. It was tedious. Latini’s job is to find reasons why properties are “in need of redevelopment” which means they become subject to eminent domain to be taken from the owner and handed to a city-chosen developer. This includes single-family homes in the Southwest study area.

People pointed out that the many reasons Latini found to call the properties “in need of redevelopment” would qualify every old building in Hoboken, and some of the new ones, too. An uptown block of brownstones could also be called not “the highest and best use” for the property, making it “in need of redevelopment”, condemned, and handed over to a high-rise developer. Though activists throughout the state have been fighting the loose wording of the New Jersey redevelopment law in court, it remains easy to “blight” something if enough developers get together with the Mayor and lawmakers to make it happen. At one point Latini mentioned he saw a rat at one of the properties. Without missing a beat someone in the audience with a Hoboken accent asked, “The four-legged kind or the TWO-legged kind?” Classic.

Making a Long Meeting Story Short

After hours of planner testimony, the board attorney opened it up to questions from the public, who were not impressed with the redevelopment study, and began to poke holes in it. People from “Old” and “New” Hoboken alike rose to question the planner, but only a few had a chance to speak because it was getting late. Hoboken Southwest Parks Coalition and some of the property owners had lawyers and planners present for testimony, but they were told to come back for another meeting on August 7th.