Downtown Redevelopment Battles Continue
A few things are known here. This municipal garage redevelopment issue has been somewhat of a mess over the past two years, and is still very much “unknown”. No contract has been awarded, and nothing is cast in stone. The only approved plan in the books is the 9/7 story version that the OHRA Committee recommended to the City Council. Now there are other proposals floating around that are 12/10/8 stories, with and without a hotel. MDK Submitted a hotel plan, while Ursa did not. This hasn’t been approved by the City Council, nor has it been properly studied for viability in that neighborhood. It’s all up in the air, and will be determined over the next couple weeks or so.
It seems apparent that Tarragon/URSA has published this site to garner public opposition for a plan that isn’t even a reality at this point. They’re not showing or promoting URSA’s proposal, just opposition to MDK’s hotel plan. They’re focusing on the problems of a hotel and the issues it will cause, both for quality of life and financial risk. Any new development there will require great amount of study regarding the traffic impact it will have, hotel or not. So hopefully proper steps are being taken to make sure no further stress is put on our roads and the people that use them.
One thing all of us know, is that no one wants the Municipal Garage there anymore. The trucks, the noise and everything else about it. Where it’s going to go, and how it’ll be paid for is another story altogether.
For more on the Municipal Garage saga see updates from recent City Council meetings below, followed by a full review of the process to date.
2/21/2007 City Council Recap – Municipal Garage Plan Withdrawn
The Mayor’s latest attempt to throw out the community plan for the property was still on the agenda when people arrived to oppose it. After some discussion about how unnecessary it was to move forward with it, the resolution and ordinance were pulled from the agenda.
As a courtesy, people were still allowed to speak on it during the meeting. Members of the Observer Highway Redevelopment Advisory Committee thanks the council for removing the Mayor’s 12/10/8 story proposal once again and asked for support in working to find a solution to the ongoing saga.
Attorneys for Tarragon/URSA and MDK Development also addressed the Council. The developers seem to be almost as frustrated by the Mayor’s handling of this as the community is. Tarragon/Ursa’s attorney said his client wants a bidding process with a “Level Playing Field.”
2/7/2007 City Council Recap – Municipal Garage Resolutions Disappear, Controversy Remains.
The Mayor’s proposed ordinance to raise the proposed height of a building complex on the Municipal Garage Site to 12, 10, and 8 stories was pulled from the agenda before the meeting started. Apparently the votes weren’t there for the plan, which failed twice before (last month and back in August).
As a sign of “good faith,” Councilwoman Castellano and Councilman DelBoccio removed their resolution calling for the project to be put out for sealed bids under the approved 9 and 7 story plan. They are members of the Observer Highway Redevelopment Advisory Committee, which put together the 9/7 plan, and is opposed to the 12/10/8 plan that Roberts is trying to hand over to Ursa/Tarragon – coincidentally one of his biggest campaign contributors. The Mayor’s process is such a mess that there is talk of re-bidding the project, but Community Development Director Fred Bado told the council he would have more information for them next week.
TO GET UP TO SPEED, SEE THE FULL HISTORY FROM JANUARY 2007 BELOW.
Here we go with the Municipal Garage and Neumann Leather. It’s Citizens vs. David Roberts Over Redevelopment – Again.
Downtown residents are once again mobilizing against Mayor David Roberts’ latest effort to trash the redevelopment plan for the Municipal Garage. The plan crafted by the Observer Highway Redevelopment Advisory Committee calls for a building to rise no higher than 9 stories, with a drop-down to 7 stories along Willow Avenue. Now the Mayor is once again trying to up-zone the site to allow a building at least 12 stories tall, that would drop down to 10 stories, with a small portion being 8 stories.
Instead of selling the property to the highest bidder in an open and fair process, Roberts wants to raise the allowable height and hand the garage site over to his good buddies at Ursa/Taragon, who also happen to be among his biggest campaign contributors. This would flush two years of work by the OHRA Committee and several current and former City Council members down the sewer. The Mayor has never been a fan of the community input process set up by the City Council, and is once again working to destroy it.
Below, read the comprehensive overview of this situation that is about to break wide open again.
You won’t get analysis like this anywhere else!
How This All Started
Nearly two years ago Roberts tried to ramrod a zoning change to allow 14 story condo towers to rise on the Garage site and Neumann Leather complex. This outraged people who lived in low rise buildings in the area, as well as the many craftsmen, artists, artisans, and small business owners who occupy the Neumann Complex. Roberts needed to sell the Garage quickly to fill an 8 million dollar hole in his 2005 Budget.
Hundreds of people turned out to oppose the high-rise zoning plan, which was unanimously defeated by the City Council in April 2005. That night the Council also passed a resolution calling on the Mayor to form a committee of citizens to study the sites and craft redevelopment plans for the Garage and Neumann Leather. The Observer Highway Redevelopment Advisory Committee was appointed with volunteer members including architects, financial services professionals, Neumann tenants, local Condo Association leaders, current and former members of the City Council.
The Committee does its Work
The OHRA committee was charged with creating a redevelopment plan that would meet the financial needs of the city without further scarring the surrounding neighborhood with more out-of-scale high rise development like the 15-story monolith at 77 Park Avenue. After several months of study and debate the OHRA committee presented its compromise solution to the City Council in April of 2006.
Al Arezzo Tries To Derail the Plan
By law the redevelopment plan was referred to the Planning Board for a hearing, where none other than Construction Code official Al Arezzo led a small group of people tied to land speculation and development to call for the plan to be defeated. Developer Jim Caulfield, Jr. also opposed the plan. What do Arezzo and Caulfield have in common? They want to build high-rise buildings a few blocks away in the Southwest Redevelopment Zone, and see a 9-story proposal as a threat.
Arezzo has a plan for a 15 story building on Newark, and Caulfield (Fields Development) for a 13 story building on the Corner of Observer and Henderson. Rather than take the word of their own planners and OHRA Committee members, the Planning Board took sides with Arezzo, sending a recommendation to the City Council to raise the height of the buildings to at least 12 stories.
Back To the City Council
This motivated residents from all over the city to show up at the City Council’s public hearing and call for the adoption of the original 9 story plan. Arezzo also came with his not-so-merry band of naysayers, but they did not get a very warm welcome from the Council. In fact, Arezzo started shouting at them, and they shouted back. Arezzo’s group was drowned out by dozens of people who spoke out in favor of the 9 story plan. After hours of public comment, the City Council unanimously approved the plan they crafted with the community.
The Council also decided they wanted to use the redevelopment plan as the basis for an open bidding process where any developer – regardless of how much money they gave to the Mayor’s reelection campaign – would be allowed to bid on the project. Many developers were interested, and signed up to look over the city’s “Request For Proposals” for the Municipal Garage.
Still, there were several things that stopped this from being a robust process.
Time Is Short, and the City Asks Too Much
The way the Roberts Administration set up the RFP process, developers only had 17 business days to study everything, have architects and engineers draw up reports and proposals, and hand over a $100,000 check just to have their bid considered.
At a pre-bid developer conference shortly before the bids were due, several developers asked many questions the city had few good answers for. They wanted a “Phase 2” environmental study done on the site to see how polluted it was, and the city hadn’t gotten past “Phase 1.” The city wanted tons of cash up front, even though it could be at least two and a half years before a developer was even allowed to take possession of the property because the city didn’t have a place to move the garage operations to.
Too many questions, too few answers, and whispers that the Mayor wasn’t really supporting the committee’s redevelopment plan anyway.
The Bids Come In
When the deadline for bids came in May, only two developers made offers on the project. The high bid came from Metro-Ran, a partnership involving Dean Geibel, Robert Ranieri, Jr. and Louis Picardo, who is also the Hoboken Tax Collector.
Metro-Ran offered 22.1 million dollars cash, plus some financial concessions designed to save the city up to 3 million dollars in added expenditures related to leaseback and use of the existing municipal Garage for as long as the city needs to use the existing site. (The current leaseback and debt service is costing the city $840,000 a year!) Metro-Ran also included architect’s renderings, as required by the “Request For Proposals.”
The low bid came from Applied Development, which offered 18 million dollars for the garage site without offering any specific plans or proposals for it.
The City Council Is Urged To Take the Money
In June the Council rejected the bids by a close 5-4 vote because the Mayor’s attorneys convinced a majority that there were “flaws” in the bid process. It was a convenient way for the Mayor to take the process in a different direction – the one he started with in the first place – the largest building he and his developer friends thought they could get away with.
Instead of selling the garage, the Council approved yet another borrowing scheme to fill yet another budget gap ($5 million more in 2006) and moved on. There was some talk of putting the project out to bid again, but with the budget gap filled and summer vacation on the way, no action was taken.
The “August Surprise”
August is a quiet time in Hoboken. You can always find a parking spot because everyone is at the shore. That is what David Roberts was counting on when he stuck big changes to the Municipal Garage Redevelopment Plan on the Council’s August agenda. He did this without consulting the “Advisory Committee.”
Suddenly an ordinance was on the agenda to change the citizen-designed 9 and 7 story plan into a developer-driven 12-10-and-8 story plan. The effort was handled so poorly by the Mayor that five members of the City Council voted it down on First Reading. Richard Del Boccio, Theresa Castellano, Nino Giacchi, Michael Russo and Michael Cricco voted no. Peter Cammarano, Terry LaBruno, Ruben Ramos and Chris Campos supported the Mayor’s plan.
Back To School… Back To Work
In late September Roberts sent the City Council a letter saying he was “contemplating a new course of action to revitalize and effectuate the redevelopment” of the Garage property. Roberts wanted the opportunity not to go out to bid again, but to “seek to identify a developer… through solicitation and negotiation.” Some people read that as “I want to go in a back room and negotiate a weasel deal with my favorite developer.” Others gave the Mayor the benefit of the doubt, since the rest of his letter addressed many of the issues and concerns of the City Council members who voted against his plan in August, as well as some of the concerns of the OHRA committee.
By now the “Phase 2” environmental study was finally done, and the word was things weren’t so bad on the site. Roberts no longer said he would require full payment from a developer before the city actually relocated the garage. It was also assumed he would give developers more than 17 business days to get their offers together. The three main issues with the first RFP bidding process had been resolved.
Roberts also told the Council he would keep them and the OHRA Committee in the loop as things developed. Of course, he did not.
This Brings Us To Today
At the City Council meeting on January 17th Mayor Roberts ordered his staff to once again place the redevelopment plan changes that were defeated in August back on to the Council agenda. Members of the council were not aware this was even going to be on the agenda until they walked into the chambers for the meeting.
Roberts staffers told the OHRA Committee that there would be nothing related to the Municipal Garage on the agenda at the meeting, only to have it stuck on there at the last minute. One member of the OHRA committee was at the meeting to stand up in protest of the move.
The latest vote on the Mayor’s plan was a four-four tie with one abstention. That means it once again failed to pass. Roberts had his attorneys cook up a way to force Michael Russo not to vote, because his mother handles the real estate listings for Ursa/Taragon. Council members Castellano, Del Boccio, Giacchi, and Ramos voted against the plan, while Campos, Cammarano, LaBruno, and Cricco voted for it.
People walked away from the meeting with three questions about the vote. Why was Russo disqualified from voting on a redevelopment plan that he had voted on several times before, that was not attached to any developer? Why did Ramos vote against the Mayor, and why did Cricco vote for moving the 12/10/8 plan forward after earlier being so supportive of the 9/8 plan (even voting to accept the high bid on the property from Metro-Ran)?
Word on the street is Ramos is annoyed because Roberts is trying to hand the property over to his buddies at Ursa/Taragon, while another developer that Ramos wanted to see get the property is getting blocked out of the Mayor’s backroom deals. There are also developers who expressed good faith interest in the project only to be refused the opportunity to participate by the Roberts administration.
So that brings us to now… with the community once again gearing up for another showdown two years after the whole thing started. Stay tuned.