Holy Innocents Meeting
This recap for the grueling five-hour Zoning Board meeting was synopsized by local resident Melissa Abernathy. She disclaims impartiality, but made every effort to represent the totality of last night’s events. Thanks, Melissa!
Zoning Board Recap 10/18/2007
“The city council chambers were full, but not SRO on Thursday night for the sixth, and what turned out to be final, hearing on the All Saints Development company’s Holy Innocents site plan. There were only a handful of supporters for the All Saints side. The atmosphere was charged with suspense, as most of the ZBA members had been careful during the proceedings not to reveal the way they were leaning as they asked questions of the various witnesses, with the exception of Jim Perry, who clearly advocated this plan based on his assumption that the church building would be demolished under any alternative.
That said, the proceedings opened with a challenge by All Saints’ attorney of the impartiality of Board member Joe Crimmins, based on his dismissive comments about the traffic engineer’s testimony. Crimmins, however, defended his statements by saying he’s served on the board for 14 years and was expressing frustration with the incompleteness and unprofessional nature of the traffic engineer’s report [a sentiment shared by everyone in the room], and was not indicating his opinion on the overall case. Chairman Lisa accepted his explanation and dismissed the attorney’s complaint.”
Continue reading the rest after the jump.
Allen’s expert witnesses
“The evening continued with some unfinished queries by a member of the public of the applicant’s planner, then Allen Kratz was invited to introduce his three expert witnesses, a lawyer who specializes in historic preservation who explained the process required for de-listing a site before demolition; a development financial analyst who picked apart the financial assumptions presented by All Saints’ financial expert, demonstrating that the project would most likely not even attract a construction lender, based on the flimsy return on investment, thereby calling into question whether the new construction would even be able to generate the funds necessary to restore the old church building; and a former member of the NJ Trust for Historic Preservation, who explained how much grant money is available for projects like this one, how it’s been available for nearly 17 years and gave examples of several Hudson County historic buildings that have successfully applied for such grant money, with matching funds from private, corporate and foundation donors.
Then another objector, represented by a lawyer, swore in a professional planner based in Morristown who has more than 30 years experience in zoning and planning cases, who basically delivered an analysis of the applicants’ case that made mincemeat of their claims that the design fit into the neighborhood because of Church Towers’ precedent. He reminded the ZBA that Church Towers were built as an exception to the code, based on meeting a hardship in the city for moderate-income housing. He said the ZBA shouldn’t base variance requests on exceptions to the code just because they happen to be in close proximity, reminded the ZBA that the zoning designation R2 limits building heights to 4 stories, and said that the Master Plan had reinforced that limit, when it could have allowed for more Church Tower-like projects, because it was sensitive to the impact on the neighborhood of greater density and building mass, not to mention traffic and sewer stress.
Public opposition 14-0
This was the final expert witness from either side, and the hearing was opened for the public comment portion, with the limit set by Dominic Lisa of three minutes per person. About 14 people stood to plead for the ZBA to deny this application for various reasons — no one stood to defend it. Everyone was polite in their remarks, no one in the room shouted or applauded after comments. A couple members of the ZBA commented that in their experience, they’d rarely seen the public opposition to a case conduct themselves in such a conciliatory and supportive manner, objecting not to the developers themselves or their goals, but to the particulars of the plan and its variances.
Some of the comments focused on the negative impacts on the immediate neighborhood of such a massive building on the light and space; others on the lack of parking and the rush-hour stress of parents dropping off school children in a neighborhood with five other schools, an emergency room and two major mass transit bus routes on either side, with the potential risks to children crossing streets and probably traffic back-ups on adjacent blocks; others on the lack of assurances by the applicant that the construction itself wouldn’t damage the church as they were building and the questionable finances to provide for its restoration and ongoing maintenance; another commented on the poor track record of the parish in its stewardship of the site because it had neglected to seek available sources of funding over the years and only provided the minimum investment to keep the floor from caving in; while several others pleaded that the unique character of the site itself would be destroyed under this plan and it needed to go back to the drawing board.
Another member of the community, who serves on the finance committee of Sts Peter & Paul church, held up that church’s recent experience in raising over a million dollars for a capital restoration campaign as proof that the All Saints vestry wasn’t trying very hard to be good stewards of the Holy Innocents property. A representative of the Historic Preservation Commission expressed their disappointment that the developers hadn’t met their requirements for a geo-technical survey or amending the appearance of the building to coordinate better with the character of the site.
Then the applicant’s attorney made a rambling closing argument in which she attempted to rebut what she characterized as misstatements from the public, which only served to undermine her case, such as pointing out that there would be no school buses serving the location (as if the 100 or so children who arrive at the Washington St. location in separate SUVs is a better solution?), and characterizing an offer from the Quality of Life Coalition to help the church pay for the geo-tech survey as a
hollow one, when it was the All Saints vestry that had voted to turn down the offer, preferring not to find out in advance of zoning approval whether or not the soil on the site could sustain the excavation & pile-driving required for such a massive building.
And the vote was?
Finally, the board members each had a chance to comment on the application, and one by one they showed their disappointment in the case brought by All Saints. Though at least one member displayed serious concern over the actions the All Saints vestry might take if this application were denied, the board voted six to one to turn it down.
Now it’s time for All Saints to open its doors and accept the many offers of assistance made from all quarters of the community — from believers of different faiths and non-believers alike — to help them come up with a better plan for developing their school and restoring the integrity of the Holy Innocents site. There’s a huge well of energy built up by this case to bring the community together to work on restoring the church and its Parish and Rectory buildings to be the gift to the entire city that Martha Stevens originally intended it to be. There are hundreds of examples from communities across the state and the nation of groups pulling together to help restore historic landmarks and put them into constructive, community uses. Let’s use these message boards, and write letters and make phone calls, to make sure the vestry knows we mean business.
Zoning meeting tonight at 7pm, City Hall Council Chambers.
For those wondering what the planned concept is, see the renderings below. I’m curious where that extra green space came from in front of the first picture from the Willow Ave. perspective.
Here’s last night’s Holy Innocents “meeting” as recounted by a Hoboken411 reader “observation style”:
“The Holy Innocents meeting took place at City Hall council chambers. Lasted from 7pm to about 9:10pm. I apologize in advance if my notes or recollection are incomplete, or contain any errors. Please feel free to add or correct as necessary.
Notable attendees were Mayor Roberts, Reverend Geoff Curtiss, Terry LaBruno, Nino Giacchi, Maurice Fitzgibbons, Tom Foley, Helen Minogue, Allen Kratz and other active community residents.
The Mayor opened the discussion by saying that LaBruno asked him to host the meeting (I believe that LaBruno wasn’t supposed to host it, as she would be unable to vote for this once it came to the council – anyone confirm that?)
Allen Kratz indicated this conversation wasn’t about concrete plans, but rather an open dialogue. Mayor Roberts asked Reverend Curtiss to speak initially, but he declined, saying he was “there to listen”.
Continue reading the rest of this readers recount after the jump
Reader recount (continued)
Various residents made comments such as the “2 story school with no nearby parking”, the “9 story building”, that parking was at the Skyclub “half a mile away”, that the traffic study was done during the summer, when there was significantly less traffic in Hoboken. Other sentiments were heard, such as “the neighborhood should remain consistent”, and “maintain open space”. Some called for “more community participation”, and to “delay/withdraw the zoning board application” in order to “set up a committee that everyone can participate in” and felt that this meeting was a “cooling off” meeting, and that the Thursday planning board meeting is more important.
Other comments overheard were that “All Saints is going to wind up with two dysfunctional schools instead of one”, and that “All Saints wants to expand to the 8th grade, but doesn’t have a Plan B”…
While one called the site a “Historical & Architectural gem”, which Maurice Fitzgibbons concurred, and that we should look for help from the county. He asked the Mayor to get the development community to arrange some kind of “land swap” to allow the school to be placed elsewhere, and that it’s unfortunate that NJ doesn’t generally invest in many “historic sites”. He also “wished that Thursday wasn’t the drop dead date”.
Mayor Roberts encouraged people to speak, and cited that at Hoboken’s Centennial, Holy Innocents was considered the most beautiful place to worship.
Someone affiliated with the church (I forget name) said that those that are concerned about the integrity of the church itself need not be worried, as they want to rip everything else down. That they need 2 million dollars to restore the historical building. He also mentioned that several hundred thousand dollars has been spent over the years to maintain it (I think someone from the audience mentioned “three hundred thousand”)
Risk, zoning and more
Speaker Ken felt this project was a big risk, and questioned the future feasibility and that the fees from 50 condos may not be enough for ongoing site maintenance.
Ryn Melberg noted that 2 out of the 3 buildings would be leveled, and was concerned that the frail church might suffer some structural damage during the surround demo. And that the neighborhood doesn’t need anymore tower, with Church Towers already dominating the skyline.
Leah Healey once again flashed her brilliance by noting that the Zoning Board has now become the Planning Board, which is a problem. And that the Hoboken Zoning Board is granting approvals at an overwhelming rate. Plus, how Hoboken has a fundamentally wrong habit to perpetually turn to developers for assistance. That we should do what needs to be done, rather than what we want done.
Mayor went on to agree with that, and that the Zoning Board should act within city ordinances, and that the entire city shouldn’t be re-zoned by the zoning board.
Minds already made up?
Anne Graham (sp?) indicated that a dialogue is a two-part conversation, and was disappointed that the school hadn’t yet addressed the public. As if they had their minds made up already.
Geoff Curtiss then got up to speak, and said “it’s an affront that…” … “the community feels that they can tell the church what to do with their land”… and “it’s an affront that people that don’t believe in God or Jesus feel they should be telling the church what to do”. Added that they have no intention to restore it to an 18th Century Church, and that nobody has come up with a way to pay. In reference to a “plan b”, he noted that there were “20 other” plans, but no mention of why they haven’t been brought forward. He was also concerned that the city could condemn the building if it didn’t get the proper maintenance, which on top of the 2 million to renovate, would require 100k annually for upkeep.
He mentioned as an aside, that he’s been telling city officials for 20 years about this needed refurbishment/re-zoning.
The Mayor said that the offering automatically assumed that variances would be granted. And something along the lines of 100 million left in bonding capacity, and several items on the shopping list (such as the SW, the Henkel site and others)
Resident Sarah was offended at Geoff’s religious comments, and that she was Episcopalian as well.
More community participation?
A previous speaker mentioned more community participation, and Geoff said “no” that they’ve already voted regarding a community based committee, and the Vestry voted against it. Asked “why?”, he responded again “we already voted on it”.
One participant asked if this was an issue for 20 years, why only now did he receive legal notice about it, while another resident said this meeting was simply a “dog and pony show”, but the Mayor cut her off saying we know “you’re clearly against this”..
Finally, Helen Minogue stressed the difference between the QLC she represents, and the cities, while reminding the group that the primary purpose of this proposed plan was supposed to be to expand the school, begging Geoff to pull the zoning application as “incomplete”, and to give people a choice to share more information with the rest of the community.”
Received this email yesterday:
Holy Innocents Public Meeting Oct. 15th
There is excellent news to report! Mayor Roberts has agreed to host a public meeting for the Holy Innocents project, after numerous requests from various members of the public and elected officials.
The public meeting is scheduled for Monday October 15th at 7 PM in the City Council chambers at City Hall. Regardless of how you feel about the project, I ask you to attend this meeting – which is a NON-adversarial forum – to share ideas on how to:
- Address the financial issues of the All Saints Vestry;
- Support ministry and mission of All Saints Episcopal Church via the school; and
- Preserve the Holy Innocents site.
The purpose of this meeting to have the leaders of the Holy Innocents Project and members of the Hoboken community come together to share ideas and options that would satisfy the Church and Hoboken as a whole.
Please let’s all work together to respect our history while adding to the beauty and dignity of all of Hoboken and building a stronger community for ourselves and our children.
I hope to see you Monday night.”
Read previous updates after the jump.
Meeting tonight at 7pm in the basement of City Hall.
From resident Ryn Melberg:
“Please attend tonight’s Zoning Board Meeting to review the Holy Innocents project. All Saints Parish, the operators of the Episcopal Day School on Washington St., wants to demolish two of the three historic buildings and build a multi-story tower above the church located on 6th Street between Willow and Clinton. Their goals are to maximize the utilization of the site (which is current nil), expand the space for the school to allow for an increased enrollment of 50 students, and add income to All Saints Parish.
There are a lot of strong feelings on both sides regarding this project. Many people are concerned that a large project with significant impacts to Hoboken’s historic past, open space that has a lot of sentimental value for the community, will profoundly impact multiple wards should at the very least have multiple public hearings to allow the impacted people (pro and con) a open forum.”
See more photos, and additional points and last weeks letter to the editor below.
Ryn’s comments continued:
“A few things the Zoning Board has been ask to consider:
- The church is covering the expenses of the church property and buildings with very minimal value to the parish.
- All Saints is a popular private school for Hoboken and non-Hoboken students and they need to expand their school to support the growth and their academic mission as a parish.
- There is more than one existing but vacant school building in Hoboken and has rejected by All Saints.
- The school is asking to expand their enrollment by 50 students. At the current Hoboken vs. non-Hoboken ratio, that would be only 25 to 30 Hoboken students.
- If the near-term growth rate is expected to be retained, then the proposed site would be insufficient in only a few years.
- The tower would require the destruction of at least one and potentially all three buildings according to All Saint’s/Holy Innocent’s architect and understandings of the ground composition.
- The plans have changed several times including changes not requested by the Historic Preservation Board and the Zoning Board without revised and/or additional zoning variance requests.
- The school entrance has been moved to be near the condo building entrance.
- Current parents of students at All Saints have expressed concern about having a school in the same building as a residence and all the related security issues and concerns that entails.
- The new entrance requires a pick-up/drop-off driveway that would cover 60+% of the existing green space (where the Christmas trees are sold).
- Condo analysis shows, step-by-step, that not until units sell at average $660,000 does the parish get more than half a million in profit — but even at that level, the developer hasn’t recovered their cash ($1.3M vs. $1.6M).
- Housing affordability worksheet shows that selling units at average $660,000 per unit would require income of $228,907 per person in two-person household or three-person household. That’s about four times what the median-income resident of Hudson County would feel is “affordable.”
- Switching from “sales” to “rent,” rental analysis shows that project would not provide attractive cash flow to developer/landlord unless rent was set at average $3,000 per month per unit. However, that assumes that developer is going to find $10.1M to cover gap that results from total development cost minus developer’s equity investment minus amount able to be financed (mortgaged).
- The tower would over shadow Church Square Towers and other neighbors in the 6th and 3rd wards and have traffic impacts to those wards as well as the 5th ward.
- A traffic study has not been filed with the City Clerk to review the impacts to the neighborhood and Church Square Towers during pick-up and drop-off times.
- Other options that would address the issues of All Saints Parish and Hoboken have not been fully explored (i.e., funding for Arts and Entertainment, Green Space, and Historic Preservation from the county, state and federal levels).
Letter to the editor in last weeks paper:
Preserve an Open Space and Historic Site
One of the most beautiful relics of Hoboken history, the Church of Holy Innocents at Sixth St. and Willow Ave., is at risk. Despite inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the church and its two adjacent buildings aren’t protected from alteration or even demolition by its private-sector owner, All Saints Episcopal Parish.
On Thursday, September 20, at 7 p.m., the Zoning Board will hold its fifth hearing on All Saints’ development plans for the property, which call for a nine-story, 50-unit condo tower/school building to surround the church, requiring several major variances, including height, density, lot coverage and lack of parking on site.
The Quality of Life Coalition believes this special Zoning Board meeting is a good opportunity for the public to show up and be heard. Here’s why.
The project would eliminate the green space and historic setting of the church and its two companion buildings. It would destroy the original vision of Martha Stevens, who built the church in memory of her daughter and dedicated it to the working people of the city as a bucolic site for quiet reflection. It’s one of the few places in the city that preserves a tangible connection to the past.
The plan proposes that funds from the condo sales will be used to restore the church building. Unfortunately, financial assumptions appear overly optimistic, and the application does not include any studies showing that the 150-year-old building can withstand the excavation and pile-driving for such a large project.
And, despite the fact that the property sits between the major arteries of Willow and Clinton, there is no provision for a drop-off and pick-up zone for parents, most of whom drive their children to the school’s present location on Washington St.
Join fellow citizens to hear testimony from All Saints’ witnesses: the head of their school, a traffic engineer and a planner. There’s an opportunity for members of the community to question the experts and encourage the Zoning Board to weigh the impacts of the project on the surrounding area and on Hoboken’s fast-disappearing heritage.
This is one busy “Tuesday Meeting Day”. Another 7pm hearing tonight regarding the variances proposed for the All Saints project. Residents are not out-right opposing the plan, but are looking for guarantees that prevent any typical Hoboken tomfoolery from taking place in the future. Although the parish acts “offended” as if people are questioning their integrity, concerned citizens want them to come clean and ensure loopholes aren’t present that will just end up leveling the whole entire site for developers eventually. This has happened before (such as the Martha Institute building at 6th and Park.)
Here’s the formal announcement from Allen Kratz:
Questions remain about All Saints Episcopal Parish’s plans to develop its historic Church of the Holy Innocents site, 6th St. between Willow and Clinton.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13 (tonight), on the ground floor of City Hall, Hoboken’s Historic Preservation Commission will hear from All Saints for the second time. The Commission will prepare a recommendation to the Zoning Board. The Zoning Board will hear the matter in March (date TBD).
A key historic preservation issue: All Saints has promised the City — in return for the City granting variances for the parish’s proposed nine-story, 50-unit school/residential tower — that the historic church will be restored and preserved.
But before the City grants variances, will All Saints complete its homework? Will All Saints begin and complete an investigation of soil conditions underneath the school construction site and next to the 133-year-old church walls? Note: On Feb. 7, All Saints’ governing body rejected an offer by a community group to provide $7,000 toward the cost of starting that due diligence right away.
Will All Saints perform and complete a structural engineering report showing that incorporating the historic Parish House on Clinton St. into the proposed school/residential tower would be feasible and affordable?
Will All Saints provide a 10-year budget that projects construction and preservation costs, cash flow and a capital reserve? So far, All Saints has resisted providing data showing that it can achieve and sustain what it promises to the City: restoration and preservation of a historic church structure.
Will All Saints provide performance guarantees and remedies for non-performance? Such protections are typical in development contracts. The City should demand as much from All Saints.
This coming Tuesday’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting is a timely opportunity for you to ask these and other questions that are critical to saving the miniature cathedral that Martha Stevens erected in 1874 for Hoboken’s working class and endowed in memory of her seven-year-old daughter. Help save a unique part of Hoboken’s heritage.
Read more about the vigil that was held back on December 29, 2006 below.
Tonight, several people came down to be involved with the quiet protest regarding the plans to re-develop the church grounds. Channel 9 and Channel 12 News were on scene, as well as the Hoboken Reporter.
Additionally, the People for Open Government (POG) were also present to collect the much-needed signatures for their petitions (click to read more about it.)
You can also get a quick recap from the Jersey Journal.
This is another important event in Hoboken. The residents are very concerned that quick and rash decisions are being made for additional condo development without appropriate research. Read more below and see link to flier.
Save the date: 6 p.m., Thurs., Dec. 28, 2006: Candlelight vigil in front of Church of the Holy Innocents.
By gathering at Sixth and Willow, Hoboken, with candles and flashlights, let’s encourage All Saints Parish to LET MORE LIGHT SHINE on its plan to develop a nine-floor school/apartment tower at the site of three historic buildings.
On church calendars, Dec. 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
Let’s spotlight our community’s need for All Saints to provide the Zoning Board a:
- feasibility study for saving parts of the Parish House (Clinton St.)
- backup plan if the Parish House collapses
- soil stability report
- historic preservation plan for the church building
- plan for returning ecclesiastic art, furnishings removed after the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
- 10-year projection of construction costs, recurring expenses, income for All Saints Day School and for historic preservation
LET OUR LIGHTS encourage All Saints to BRING MORE LIGHT to this issue. We’ll meet regardless of the weather. NJ Transit buses serve Willow and Clinton during the evening rush hour. Share the attached flier with friends.