Hoboken Planning Board Recap

8/7/2008 Recap:

The takeaway from the Planning Board’s review of the proposed Parks Zoning Ordinance is that it needs further review and study before the Planning Board can be comfortable giving its stamp of approval. The process was complicated by the expected marching orders of the Roberts administration to its planners and attorneys to kill the initiative. The board voted to recommend returning the entire matter to the City Council for further legal review to make sure the ordinance will comply with recent case law. Essentially, they agree with the effort to acquire land for parks, but believe this attempt needs “more time in the oven” to make sure it can stick. What they voted on was to direct their board attorney to draft a letter to the council with this information so the council can take any appropriate action.

Board barely gets a quorum, but two planners are there


Newly appointed Planning Board members Beth Mason and Perry Belfiore attended the meeting, along with longtime members Nick DeTrizio, Liz Falco, and Hank Forrest, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman Tom Mooney. Five members is a quorum, and as usual the board was just one absent member away from having to cancel the meeting.

City Planners Eileen Banyra and Elizabeth Vandor came loaded with a six page document they prepared designed to kill the ordinance. The planners went well beyond their scope in the document, venturing into several legal questions. Though the board got the Planner’s report ahead of the meeting, Planning Board Attorney Jack Dineen did not offer them his written report until they showed up. The planner’s report was NOT made available to the public before or even DURING the meeting. Residents seeking copies of the report before the meeting were denied by Fred Bado. After all, if the public had the report before the meeting they might actually be able to refute each of the administration’s points.

Does it comply with the Master Plan?

This is the only real question for the Planning Board to answer. Despite the fact that the proposed parks in the ordinance were pulled directly from the Master Plan’s parks map, the planners once again “danced with the one who brung them” and did all they could to create doubt on behalf of the Mayor who prefers a high-rise, small park plan for Southwest Hoboken over the SW6 plan.

Instead, the planners testified that they are not in favor of zoning for parks. In the process that let it be known that the city does not have an Official Map, or for that matter even an updated and certified Tax Map, which is a requirement that the city is apparently sadly lax in updating (no surprise considering the current occupant in the Mayor’s office.) Vandor said the council could possibly attain the same goals by having an updated official map with the proposed parks written in, but that would be very expensive and will be unlikely to happen in a town that doesn’t even have a proper tax map.

Master Plan Parks Map denigrated again

Once again the city’s planners repeated the mantra heard at the Zoning Board by developers over and over again: that the comprehensive parks maps in the Master Plan are “only a concept” with no weight in zoning law. Mayor Roberts made sure to insert the word “concept” in all the parks plans in the Master Plan in a legal effort to help developer pals like Dean Geibel build high-rises like Metro-Stop on land earmarked for parks in the Master Plan (same for Ursa-Tarragon’s 900 Monroe high-rise, which got a TON of variances from the ZBA.)

The planner’s comments about the Parks Maps were met with groans by the audience. During public comment several speakers expressed their unhappiness with the planners once again providing aid and comfort to developers instead of advancing the goals of the $350k Master Plan that Dave Roberts touts in fliers but ignores when it counts.

The Planning Board Speaks

Of the five members in attendance, Mason and Belfiore asked the most questions. Mason attempted repeatedly to get the planners on the record with how they think the ordinance could be crafted so it would be reach its goals. They seemed more interested in knocking it down than improving it, but the councilwoman kept trying to get them to make constructive comments with little success.

Belfiore repeated his long-running advocacy for the acquisition of the Henkel/Cognis site in the Fifth Ward, but repeatedly called the ordinance “defective.” Forrest was unhappy that most but not all of the properties on the Master Plan Parks Map were included (some already have buildings on them thanks to the Mayor and Zoning Board, so it’s too late.)

What’s next?

The Planning Board concurred that they would recommend more study is needed. This is part of the process of reaching the goal of the ordinance in the first place: Making sure that land proposed for parks in the Master Plan can be acquired and developed as parks before another developer gets variances for a high-rise condos (like what is currently pending on Block 11.)

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