Western Edge Redevelopment: Update
Zimmer plan: LESS park space than the old Roberts plan
Building heights of 12, 8 and 6-stories, lots and lots of office space.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer unveiled her version of the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan last night to mostly poor reviews. Public speakers called it “The worst of both worlds,” “Unbuildable,” and “Actually worse than the Roberts Plan” for the Western Edge.
Believe it or not, the Zimmer plan includes less park and public space than former Mayor David Roberts called for in the area. It also lowers the proposed building heights to a level some claim is not likely to be profitable, and forces 353,000 Square Feet of Office Space into 8- and 6-story buildings that also include apartments and retail.
Big ownership changes, including an NFL Team owner
The old Roberts plan with it’s high-rise buildings and distinct scent of Eau De Quid Pro Quo has been replaced by a hodgepodge of compromises that may not be economically feasible, let alone attractive to the new developers Zimmer is seeking for the project. Former Mayor Dave Roberts created the original concept solely with heavy campaign contributor Ursa/Tarragon in mind as the re-developer. Tarragon is gone, but Ursa still owns the northernmost properties. The southern-most plot was sold to Bijou Properties, which developed the LEED Gold-certifed Garden Street Lofts.
Meanwhile, the central property in the zone has been apparently been purchased by David Mandelbaum of Interstate Properties and Vornado Realty Trust. Mandelbaum is also part owner of the Minnesota Vikings. He’s got big money, and a lot better lawyers than Zimmer does.
More owners, more difficulty, Eminent Domain?
With four owners now in a zone where there used to be one, Zimmer’s plan to scatter mixed-use development in odd-sized buildings stands on shaky ground. As members of the public and representatives of property owners rose to raise these concerns, Zimmer’s Special Redevelopment Counsel from Maraziti, Falcon and Healey dismissed it with a declaration that the city could simply “exercise eminent domain” and take the properties so her designated developer could build condos on it.
This is becoming a theme of the Zimmer administration. Soon-to-be-former Corporation Counsel Michael Kates also dropped the Eminent Domain bomb in court in an unsuccessful attempt to fight Hoboken Unleashed’s rights to 1714 Willow.
8-story wall of buildings replaces larger high-rises
Zimmer’s plan starts where Roberts left off with a pre-approved 12-story building at 9th and Monroe across from Shop-Rite. Heading north Zimmer is calling for 8-story construction, the same skinny triangle park as in the Roberts plan, and a new 6-story component. One critic of the plan said 8 stories across the inner blocks is “Too short to be elegant and too tall to be Hoboken scale.”
The 8-story construction is also the “worst of both worlds” for the developer, because it goes beyond the 6-story financial “break point” mandating cement and steel high-rise construction methods. To conform to construction code they’ll have to pay the additional per-floor cost of a 12-story building while only getting the revenue of an 8-story project, making the whole investment less attractive to potential re-developers.
A block of parkland disappears; new “Shop-Rite” style parks appear, along with lots and lots of office space… and the flooding will continue. That and much more on the new Western Edge plan after the jump!
Large park on Madison between 13th & 14th gone…
The original plan included two open space sections, one on nearly a full block south of the viaduct and another odd-shaped triangle. The triangle park remains, despite being too skinny to put active recreation fields on. The bigger block park is gone, replaced by an 8-story building and a “Community Center” that the plan would mandate as built first by the developer. Critics say that would make the project unworkable for any developer seeking financing for the project.
…but more Mini Shop-Rite Parks in Zimmers plan
If you love that “park” at the end of the Shop-Rite parking lot you will really get into the two tiny (and functionally useless) “Plaza Parks” the Zimmer plan includes one each on the north and south ends of the Jefferson Street block between 13th and 14th. Zimmer’s planner also referred to a glorified extended sidewalk in front of some of the buildings as a “Green Circuit,” comparing it to the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway. The catch? Instead of New York City you’ll be looking at the PSE&G substation and Shop-Rite. Grab the cameras, kids!
No NEED for LEED or any flood mitigation either!
Despite her claim to be “The Green Mayor” Zimmer failed to include any mandates for LEED Silver or Gold certifications for the buildings. She also failed to include any additional flood mitigation technology for the buildings or open space that could assist in the terrible flooding in the area. Instead, the Zimmer Western Edge Plan only allows the re-developer to do as much as required by law, which isn’t much. Here’s what the zone looks like when it rains:
353,000 Square Feet of Office Space mandated
The addition of 353,000 square feet of office space and 59,000 square feet of “Business Incubator” space was also criticized as making the project unworkable. The commercial space would be scattered through the zone instead of concentrated in an office building, which some said was an unworkable arrangement in the real world. Others pointed out the fact that the Rockefeller Group and NJ Transit will soon be unveiling their updated visions for a very large amount of office space in Hoboken, making the need for it in the residential Western Edge even less than there is today.
Hoboken411 has been following the Western Edge from the beginning. See stories on the Roberts plan for the site from 2008 & 2009 below…
On agenda tonight
The controversial Western Edge Redevelopment Zone is on the agenda for tonight’s Hoboken City Council meeting, although a final vote will not be taken on the plan. Most members of the council are not happy with the way lame duck Mayor David Roberts, Community Development Director Fred Bado and his redevelopment planners and lawyers have “negotiated” with developer Tarragon/Ursa. Though the council voted to introduce the 12, 14, and 16-story redevelopment ordinance a few meetings ago, it refused to refer the ordinance to the Planning Board for review, which must happen by law before a final vote can be taken.
Council wants changes
After meeting with parks activist and redevelopment attorney Leah Healey, the planning and zoning subcommittee of the council agreed changes would be needed before they approved the plan. Several months went by and the administration refused to follow up with the developer. At first the council balked at even introducing the redevelopment ordinance, and then said it was “sending a message” that it wanted changes by voting 7-2 to simply introduce the ordinance, while simultaneously refusing to send it to the Planning Board for review.
Healey has offered a memo with several changes she recommends to improve the redevelopment plan and insure the city gets the “givebacks” promised by Tarragon/Ursa.
The Hoboken Western Edge website describes the “glaring flaws in the plan” as:
- Major up-zoning from 4 to 16 stories (1.4 million sq ft of development) allowing condos instead of the office space called for in the City’s zoning master plan
- Not requiring the developer to build the amount of affordable housing required by law which means the tax payers will have to make up the difference.
- Location of the pool and community center next to an electrical transformer substation and no guarantees or specificity in the plan that the pool and community center will be built.
- Only 1.9 acres of park space and some of it includes buffer bushes along the light rail. Plan claims to provide 4.4 acres of open space but the missing 2.5 acres are sidewalks and paved plazas around the building.
- No consideration of the traffic and tax implications of 1000 new residential condo units and 2500+ new residents.
Zimmer weighs in with election time video
Even though it is very unlikely to move forward before a new Mayor is elected, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer is attempting to insert the issue into the Mayoral campaign:
While Zimmer opines about an uptown redevelopment area, critics point out she has yet to offer any improvements to the still frozen Southwest Redevelopment Plan in her own ward, where developers are seeking and receiving Zoning Board variances for projects which do not contribute to the goal of building a park in the zone. Also, despite the tone in the video, a careful review of the vote shows while seven members of the council voted to introduce the Western Edge ordinance, an introduction is not an approval, and most expressed intentions to see major changes in the plan before it ever moves forward. In fact, the original vote may actually be thrown out and re-done before it ever sees the light of day again, something Healey is advocating.
City for Sale: No Park-ing?
“There are two competing visions for the area defined by the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan. Open-space advocates call for aggressive action to increase the city’s park and recreational space. Developers want to build 12- to 16-story residential towers. Who will win out?
If the flow of campaign contribution dollars is any indication (and if Mayor David Roberts still has any pull in town), developers Tarragon/URSA, who own most of the properties in the zone, will win hands down. In 2005, Tarragon/URSA and their principals contributed more than $150,000 to Roberts Team 2005, the Hoboken Democratic Party (then controlled by David Roberts), and the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).
The HDP and HCDO, which enjoy significantly higher contribution limits, functioned as a means to pass through contributions to Roberts. That year, the HCDO contributed $368,000 to the Hoboken Democratic Party which in turn contributed $510,000 to Roberts Team 2005. URSA also contributed $24,000 to then-Representative now-Senator Robert Menendez, who purportedly had a substantial degree of influence over the Mayor and Council.
Tarragon/URSA have contributed at least $205,000 to David Roberts and his allies since 2001 and have been amply rewarded with redeveloper designations for a considerable portion of the northwest section of the city. 800 Madison, 901-915 Madison, 1000 Jefferson, 1100 Adams, 1200 Grand, 1300 Grand – all were developed by Tarragon/URSA. Watch to see if their cozy relationship with Roberts and his allies continues with the Northwest Edge.
Tarragon/URSA’s largesse was not limited to Roberts. Michelle Russo, wife of disgraced Mayor Anthony Russo and mother of Third-Ward Councilman Michael Russo, was given the exclusive sales listings at 901-915 Madison in 2001. That’s $500,000 in commissions split between her and her then-employer Riverside Realty. Michelle went on to work as a sales agent for Upper Grand Realty, a sales division of Tarragon/URSA. A source close to the developers says that she had annual earnings in the low six-figures until two years ago, when her employment with Upper Grand came to an end.”
411 note: During the time his mother worked for Upper Grand Michael Russo abstained on all votes involving Tarragon/Ursa. Since then Russo has voted against their interests, and is currently among the council members calling for changes to the Western Edge plan before it moves forward.
If the resolution to refer the Redevelopment Plan to the Planning Board remains on the agenda, the public will get another chance to speak on the issue at the City Council meeting tonight. Also, before this turns into another thread between the political extremes promoting over-development vs. no development at all, the webmasters at HobokenWesternEdge.com offer this thought:
Development is not a bad thing for Hoboken when it is handled carefully and with the current residents in mind. However, the plan before the Council incorporates little to none of what residents asked for and it is full of unanswered questions about how infrastructure and services will be modified to accommodate this level of population and traffic growth.
5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham announces a community meeting to discuss the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan.
Meeting set for March 19th
“As some of you might know already, the council is close to approving a Redevelopment Plan near Shop Rite from 9th to 14th street along Monroe Street and Madison. The proposal includes 1000+ residential units and 3 buildings with heights of 12, 14 and 16 stories.
A new website is up with details on the plan.
I invite you to a community meeting on Thursday, March 19th to discuss the proposed Redevelopment Plan, talk about the remaining steps in the process, discuss how to get involved and most importantly solicit feedback on how to improve the plan.
The meeting will be held in the 1200 Grand’s Community Room @ 7pm.
See www.hobokenwesternedge.com for more details and e-mail me with any questions.
Thanks, and look forward to seeing you. Peter”
Previous updates from 2008 continue below…
Attend if you’d like to make sure wool doesn’t get pulled over your eyes once again.
Third Public Meeting tonight
The third and final “Public Meeting” on the development of a redevelopment plan for the area designated the Western Edge Redevelopment Zone will be held tonight at 7pm at City Hall. Back in April, the second public meeting on the zone quickly went downhill as an enraged public listened to a city-paid planner make it clear he pretty much ignored what the public had to say at the first public meeting. Though the public called for parks and amenities, the planner followed Mayor David Roberts’ script for high-rise apartment buildings with thin strips of lawn.
At issue is a proposed redevelopment zone including four properties on Monroe, Madison, and Jefferson streets between 9th and 14th streets.
Three of the properties are owned outright by Tarragon/Ursa, while the fourth is in question after the current owner lost his battle to keep his property from being designated an “area in need of redevelopment.”
In late 2004 Mayor David Roberts made a deal with Tarragon/Ursa (who were among his largest campaign contributors) to give them the inside track on high-rise redevelopment variances. This was written out as a “Memorandum of Understanding” that Tarragon/Ursa would be designated the redeveloper of properties. That “MOU” was challenged in court, and thrown out by a judge as illegal. The city appealed, and lost again in June.
Fighting for Parks, against High-Rise condos
Leah Healey of HobokenParks.org led that fight along with Fund for a Better Waterfront. Roberts’ backroom negotiations included an improper deal done before the redevelopment designation just before the developer poured tens of thousands of dollars into the effort to get the Mayor and Ruben Ramos re-elected along with Peter Cammarano and Terry LaBruno.
What happened at the last meeting?
The last meeting started with a “Smart Growth” lecture from Community Development Director Fred Bado, laying the groundwork for more high-rise talk. Phillips Price Shapiro planner Paul Phillips took over, outlining his take away from the previous meeting, showing pictures of potential high-rises that could be built on the site and putting up slides purporting to be built from the public input at the previous meeting. These bullet points included the developer’s talking points of building high-rise up to the top of the palisades and passive recreational space. The Master Plan calls for active park space in this area of town.
The tower talk didn’t come from residents at the previous meeting, but from the administration on behalf of the developer. Residents including Healey, Jim Doyle and Helen Hirsch debated the planner and an annoyed Bado. The planner seemed directed to push for high-rise buildings and downplay the potential of active recreational space – such as ballfields – on the Western Edge. Residents also pointed out development in the area (including the nearby Shop-Rite) has caused increased flooding as the overburdened infrastructure bites back.
Meeting again tonight
Tonight the planner is expected to show even more sketches and concepts that are likely to look even more like the original Tarragon/Ursa “Northwest Green” sketches from the 2005 Mayoral Campaign. This will be the last chance for people to speak out on the plan before it is handed to the Mayor’s rubber stamp Planning Board. The meeting begins tonight at 7pm at City Hall.