City Council Special Meeting 8/20/2007
8/21/2007 Quick Recap:
Maxwell Place resolution:
This item was moved up to the beginning of the meeting so Mayor David Roberts could address the council. It passed unanimously, but not before a rather unique verbal sparring match between Mayor David Roberts and Construction Code Official Al Arezzo. It’s must see TV!
Hey Al- You keep referencing the weight of a vehicle stressing the roof of the parking garage. What if twenty 250lb. men stood in close proximity on the grass? What if there was a concert, or large public gathering? What about those planters? Should the park be closed to people too? The way you put it, that project sure seems shoddy. What’s it made of? Balsa wood?
Municipal Garage RFP:
Long discussion of how to move forward with a final bid process. Sensing defeat for their resolution, Councilmembers Ramos and Cammarano rescinded their proposal. After much discussion and some opposition from a few real estate agents and a developer, the OHRA Committee RFP resolution was approved unanimously.
Open Space Tax:
Another long debate and a very interesting turn of events as Dawn Zimmer and Peter Cunningham tried again to remove the word maintenance from the ballot initiative. Though not exactly excited by the prospect of a new tax, Councilmembers Ramos and LaBruno were persuaded to purify the resolution up for a public vote pure by removing the word “maintenance” so that all proceeds would be used for acquisition and construction of new parks, should the public approve. Combined with Councilwoman Mason, the amendments carried with 5 votes. Michael Russo, Terry Castellano, Nino Giacchi, and Peter Cammarano opposed removing the word maintenance from the Open Space Tax proposal.
Read the original preview below.
Read the massive preview to our city’s chunky meeting tonight at 7pm in the City Hall chambers:
It’s astonishing to what lengths some Hoboken politicians and developers will go to thwart the will of the people. Just as Mayor David Roberts appeared to finally be agreeing to a compromise solution to the long-running battle over the redevelopment of the Municipal Garage site, two Councilmen decide to lead the charge to hand the property over to a favored developer for a massive, out-of-scale high-rise project. The Muni Garage, Open Space Tax, and the Maxwell Place Park issue are all on the agenda for tonight’s Special Meeting. Here’s the full preview:
Issue 1: Municipal Garage Sale
The fight for sane development of the Municipal Garage Site has been going on for two and a half years since Mayor Roberts first proposed new zoning that would have allowed 14-story high-rise towers to be built on the Garage and Neumann Leather sites. The Muni Garage shares the block bordered by Park, Newark, Willow, and Observer Highway with 100-year old 5-story brick buildings, as well as the historic 19th century schoolhouse condos at 80 Park. The Neumann Leather site is loaded with small and medium size businesses, artists, and artisans.
Read the rest below!
Hundreds turned out to fight this zoning. It was voted down by the City Council, which called for an advisory committee to be named. See more about the full history in our Downtown Redevelopment Battles Continue thread, which lays it all out.
In February the Roberts Administration tried to hand the property to Tarragon/Ursa following a botched, closed-door, non-public “solicitation and negotiation” process. This ended badly when the other developers involved in the back room discussions cried foul. The process smelled so bad the Council rejected the Mayor’s resolutions.
In March the OHRA Committee stepped up to break the impasse. The group met with attorneys and planners to hammer out a course of action that would be open and fair, while insuring the most competitive bids would be encouraged. The pros and cons of the administration’s first two efforts to sell the property were analyzed, and a new community plan of action was devised.
(artists rendering: community compromise redevelopment plan)
OHRA Committee Recommends Fair Process
With the city mortgaging the Muni Garage to the tune of $14 million to fill two years of budget gaps (keeping tax increases at bay so we don’t “throw the bums out”) and the city needing cash to actually locate and build a new Muni Garage (which they still haven’t done) the Mayor and Council set a $25 million minimum on the price of the land. The OHRA Committee still believes in a truly fair and open bidding process, the community plan for the site will squeeze a $25 million dollar bid out of a developer. Others aren’t so sure, and want some insurance. The Mayor’s original plan to get that insurance was to add one third to the size of the allowable building and throw the community plan out. When the council balked at that (several times) a stalemate was created.
In March the OHRA Committee broke the stalemate with a unique proposal to get the deal done: a public, fair bidding process that allows for developers to bid a minimum of $25 million for the original 9/7 story plan, or bid $25 million to develop the property with the least height and density possible for them to get their desired return on investment. This lets the free market determine exactly what a developer in a competitive environment is the smallest building possible in exchange for a $25 million land cost.
The committee thinks a developer may be so compelled to buy this property, with it’s key location just blocks from the PATH station, that they will make a strong bid on the current plan. If not, developers will make a bid with a plan for a building far smaller than the massive 12/10/8 proposal made by the Mayor. This dual-bid procedure intrigued the city’s planners and attorneys, and it was formally submitted to Community Development Director Fred Bado just prior to his recent medical leave in March.
And there it sat with no action since March
There were many excuses for why the new bidding procedure wasn’t implemented. “Mr. Bado has been out of the office” was one; “we can’t take action on this during a (city council) election season” was another. The results of the council election were encouraging to the OHRA Committee. Council members Castellano and Russo had consistently led the charge for the community compromise plan; Councilman Giacchi was often the key vote that kept the OHRA plan alive.
The anti-overdevelopment themes struck by new council members Mason, Cunningham, and Zimmer seemed a perfect fit with the spirit of the plan. The election set the stage for a true test of the community plan, and a fair and open bidding process for the developers.
Roberts sees the light, but Ramos throws a fit
On August 6th Fred Bado sent a memo to the Mayor and Council President Castellano including a new resolution that “complies with the Citizens Advisory Committee’s approach to the re-bidding of the Public Works Garage through a request for Proposals.” The only difference was a $500,000 increase in the minimum bid, a 2% increase over the original goal set two years earlier. This resolution was set to be a “late add” to the August 8th meeting agenda.
When Ruben Ramos heard about the plan to move forward with a proper bidding process, he went ballistic. Ramos was due to be on vacation that week, and would not have a chance to push his proposal to simply hand the property over to his new favorite politically connected developer from Bergen County, MDK Development. Acting in concert with Councilman Peter Cammarano, Ramos was able to convince the administration not to place the new RFP on the August 8th agenda because it “wouldn’t be fair” to the future Assemblyman.
Who is MDK, and why do Ramos and Cammarano care?
An agent from Chelsea Realty named Hany Ahmed brought MDK in to Hoboken last year to bid on the Muni Garage during the Mayor’s failed “solicitation” attempts. MDK was the one who made the bid that included the hotel that got Tarragon/Ursa all riled up. The city’s planners had determined that MDK’s bid did not conform to even the city’s widest specifications, and were rejected.
Ahmed – seeing potential finders fees and real estate commissions flying out the window – started lobbying Ruben Ramos, Chris Campos, and Peter Cammarano to see things his way. He also found a new friend in failed 2nd ward council candidate Richard Tremitiedi. Ahmed also started hanging out with Al Arezzo’s crew. Arezzo has been opposed to the community having a say in development since he wants to build a 15 story high rise on his property in the Southwest Redevelopment Area. Arezzo and his crew of developers, contractors, and realtors have been the core opposition to the OHRA Committee plan.
With Ramos and Cammarano breaking off from the HCDO, they need to find new developers to give them campaign contributions. Tarragon/Ursa is an HCDO developer. MDK is the new kid on the block here, even though they are deeply entrenched in Bergen County politics. They know how to “Pay to Play”, and may show their appreciation to the DFHC if Ramos and Cammarano grease the skids for them in Hoboken.
Cammarano and Ramos pull a fast one
On Friday after the legal notices had already gone out for the Special Meeting tonight, Ramos and Cammarano got a fourth item on the agenda that would resolve to reject all other developers and simply hand the Muni Garage over to their new favorites – MDK – for $27 million. In exchange for the cash, MDK would be allowed to build a building which doesn’t comply with either the OHRA committee plan, or the Mayor’s plan. The MDK plan is for a monolithic “333 River Street” type megablock that reaches to over 10 stories tall on the entire length of the property with no stepdowns.
(MDK/Ramos/Cammarano Revevelopment Plan)
The OHRA Committee is optimistic that a majority of the council will support their bidding proposal and reject the developer giveaway proposed by Ramos and Cammarano. Just as the OHRA Committee cried foul when it appeared the administration appeared to be favoring Tarragon/Ursa, they will protest the new favoritism toward MDK shown by Ramos and Cammarano. The committee wants a fair and open process so the smallest building possible brings in the minimum bid for the city.
Issue 2: Open Space Tax Amendment
The Council will take a third shot at the wording for the proposed “Open Space Tax” referendum that will be on the ballot this November. The effort sponsored by council members Cunningham and Zimmer to remove the stipulation that money from the tax could be used for maintenance of parks was pulled after a lively debate at the last meeting.
The changes proposed this time clarify the tax will be .02 per $100 of assessed value (instead of equalized value), and indicate the funds raised may also be used for paying down debt related to the bonding for the purchase, development, or maintenance of open space. This is time sensitive, since it needs to get the Hudson County Clerk by August 24 to get on the November ballot.
Issue 3: Maxwell Place Pedestrian Access
The last item is a resolution supporting pedestrian access to the public open space (south lawn) at Maxwell Place. The idea here is to send a message to Toll Brothers, The State Department of Community Affairs and the public where the city stands on the issue. It is also the Mayor’s attempt to have the city speak with one voice against Construction Code Official Al Arezzo’s effort to close the new public access point for the park. The resolution also sends a message to Maxwell Place condo owners who have called the cops on people who have used the park they thought was for their private use.
The “Special Meeting” gets underway at 7pm at City Hall. There is no caucus an hour before, but thanks to 2nd ward councilwoman Beth Mason pushing the issue at the last special meeting, there will be a “Public Portion” at the end of the meeting for people to speak their mind to the council.