City Council – 7/18/2007 Recap
From the Wednesday 7/18/2007 Council Meeting:
The Hoboken City Council meeting ended well after midnight, with the council members kept even longer for a closed door “executive session” to discuss litigation. There was a lot of talk about parks and recreation obligations big developers have not been living up to, but when all was said and done it was the developers who won the debate. This recap is long, but not nearly as long as the meeting, which may (or may not) be seen on Channel 78.
See rest below!
Professional Services Contracts Pulled
The bids are in, but the Council decided it did not have enough time to consider the applications for everything from auditors and attorneys to parking and media consultants. If you responded to the “Request for Quotations” you will have to wait until a special meeting to be held at 6pm on Wednesday, July 25th. These are serious big dollar contracts, especially for the lawyers.
Group Dental Resolution Pulled
The resolution approving a $1,130,000 group dental service plan with Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield was pulled from the agenda like a bad tooth. Apparently there are some issues with the provider, so the item was sent to committee. Former 6th ward council candidate Billy Noonan has some expertise in the field, and offered to help the council consider “self funding” the dental plan.
Toll Brothers Windfall Continues
Taxpayers got up to complain about the plan to give Toll Brothers another $1,768,488 in federal funds to pay for the Maxwell Place Park, with the subsidy of this developer now rising to $8,465,493. Jim Doyle called it a “windfall” saying it was “bailing them out” of their obligations to create the park and waterfront walkway as part of the approvals for the massive high-rise condo development. Doyle complained that the Roberts Administration is “Bending over backwards for Toll” when there seemed to be no additional funding made available for the creation of other stalled parks like Pier C and 1600 Park. Doyle called on the city to get Toll to give something back in exchange for the federal cash arranged by the city.
Community Development Director Fred Bado — who is the Mayor’s liason to developers — disputed Doyle’s claims, and said it was all part of an old arrangement with a previous developer who owned the property before Toll. Bado said the Toll money was arranged by the then-Congressman Menendez and then-Senator Corzine. Councilman Peter Cammarano said he didn’t think what Doyle was suggesting was legal, but Doyle, also an attorney, said there is nothing illegal about asking a developer to give money to the city for parks.
2nd ward Councilwoman Beth Mason also expressed concern about the situation. Mason said Toll Brothers have not been good neighbors. She also noted the lack of the promised baseball field on the site, as well as the massive fence that’s been put up. It was pointed out that the timing is key, since Toll would be less likely to consider some sort of giveback if they are just handed a check by Bado for millions of dollars. New 4th ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said there are just so many times the city can go to the well for grants, and the DOT money will be needed for other parks in the city. The sense at the meeting was Toll would have to pay for this work if the DOT funds didn’t come in, so why give them millions more to build a park when their CEO says they’re “Killing them in Hoboken”?
6th ward Councilman Nino Giacchi also suggested efforts be made to ask Toll to consider giving something back, but said they should not be “strong armed”. Bado said he would not advise the city go back to Toll on Doyle’s recommendation. Despite Bado’s best efforts, going back to Toll is open to further discussion, but in the meantime the city is accepting the federal funds via the DOT for the Maxwell project.
Western Edge Redevelopment Zone
The Toll Brothers debate was just the warm-up. Discussion of the proposed Western Edge Redevelopment Zone turned into “The People vs. Tarragon/Ursa”. 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 now under contract to the developers after the current owner lost his battle to keep his property from being designated an “area in need of redevelopment.”
Back 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 12-story high-rise redevelopment variances. This was written out as a “Memorandum of Understanding” that Tarragon/Ursa would be designated the redeveloper of properties that weren’t even in a redevelopment zone until last night. That “MOU” was challenged in court, and thrown out by a judge as illegal.
Leah Healey of HobokenParks.org led that fight, as well as the fight against the City Council designation of the redevelopment zone. Healey gave the council the history of the Mayor’s backroom negotiations with Tarragon/Ursa, saying there was an improper deal done before the redevelopment designation, and that the court directed the city not to have private negotiations before a plan was put together because it violated due process. Some in the audience were shocked as Councilman Ruben Ramos recounted how he was having the same kind of pre-designation negotiations and discussions with Tarragon/Ursa today as David Roberts had nearly three years ago.
Hoboken Redevelopment History Lesson
Healey noted back in 1999 when then-Mayor Anthony Russo gave the redeveloper designation of the Northwest Redevelopment Area to Frank “Pupie” Raia that many things were promised, including 300 units of affordable housing and space for a Charter School, Fewer affordable units have been built, and after Tarragon/Ursa bought Raia’s redevelopment rights the school space vanished. Healey said there was supposed to be a community center and pool built and donated by Tarragon/Ursa years ago, but there has been nothing but artist renderings and campaign promises. Healey said the council should not designate the Western Edge for redevelopment, but if they do they should hold a competitive process and find another developer that will deliver what Tarragon/Ursa hasn’t.
5th ward Council runner-up Perry Belfiore complained that Healey had stolen much of his thunder, but called on the council to reexamine the Master Plan before designating yet another redevelopment zone. Years after the Master Plan was adopted by the Planning Board the actual zoning code changes needed to enforce it are collecting dust on a shelf in Fred Bado’s office instead of being adopted as law by the council. This has been done to allow developers to get variances they would not be as easily received if the Master Plan zoning was the law, and has also allowed high-rise condo towers to be built where the Master Plan calls for parks. Several others rose to oppose the designation before an attorney for Ursa/Tarragon rose to address the council.
John Curley said the public was being given “misinformation” about Tarragon/Ursa, and urged the council to pass the redevelopment designation for its properties on the Western Edge. Curley said Tarragon/Ursa has “fully complied” with it’s responsibilities in the Northwest Redevelopment Zone. He said the Charter School never came to the NW zone because the school couldn’t afford to rent the space that the developer was offering. Turns out the space was not being donated, unlike the educational condominium that is being handed free and clear to the Elysian Charter School by the developer of 1415 Park Ave. Curley admitted Tarragon/Ursa is “in this business to make money” but claimed they “didn’t assemble the properties on the site as part of some backroom deal.”
Two Years ago Councilwoman-at-Large Terry LaBruno stood beside Mayor Roberts and council members Ramos and Cammarano at the site where Tarragon/Ursa said it was going to build a community center and pool, and said when she stood there she assumed it was a go then, not something that years later is contingent on the Western Edge study. Now Tarragon/Ursa says that it is.
Bob DuVal got up to ask the question “I find it humorous how many times the same pool can be dragged out as the same carrot!” in exchange for variances for the developer.
Time For a Vote
During the council discussion, Cunningham, Mason, and Zimmer focused on issues of law, planning, zoning, and community process, while Cammarano, Ramos and Russo said it was about getting a pool and rec center for the kids. Russo took it a step further and said council members who vote against the redevelopment zone vote against the pool. The boos and cat calls after that comment were almost embarrassing. LaBruno disagreed with the notion that voting against redevelopment was voting against the children. You really felt that Labruno was on the edge, and asked some very poignant questions. She seemed as if she being torn in both directions.
Mason said the council should take a step back and take a look at all the Roberts redevelopment zones. Mason and Giacchi said they thought the two-block Henkel/Cognis site should have probably been considered as part of the Western Edge zone so it could be turned into a park.
For a while, it seemed as if it was going to be tabled, just as a result of the obvious opposition in the room. But after hours of public comment and debate, it passed (as always) old against new. The vote was 6-3 with Mason, Zimmer, and Cunningham in the minority. Some people in the room were witnessed congratulating the Tarragon/URSA men as they left the room. The council president had to ask everyone to be quiet since they still had business to discuss. The many attendees who opposed it felt like, WTF, you are obviously conducting the business without us, so go ahead. It didn’t feel much like a meeting after that. More like a show. A waste of time show.
Dawn Zimmer suggested the council consider taking the words “and maintenance” out of the Open Space tax referendum that is to go on the November ballot. The words were placed on the resolution by former Councilman Chris Campos after public comment was closed. Zimmer said any new open space tax should go toward acquisition and building new park space, not maintenance of current space. The suggestion was referred to committee, and supported by public speakers.
Beth Mason pointed out that after two and a half years of discussion about selling the Municipal Garage on Observer Highway the Roberts Administration has still not secured a new location for a new garage, and can’t move out of the old one until a new one is built. There is also no professional estimate of how much a new garage will cost. She suggested the council move the issue forward. Nino Giacchi noted there has been talk, but Roberts and Bado have yet to initiate any action on any potential sites. Mason also called on the council to adopt the New Jersey Public Advocate’s proposed municipal Redevelopment Guidelines designed to protect the interests of homeowners and residents.
The Second Ward Councilwoman also called on the council to put guidelines together so their names would not appear on any taxpayer funded mailers and ads from Mayor Roberts that do not reflect their opinions.
Channel 78 Troubles Revealed
The city “A/V Squad” told the council the July 1st reorganization meeting was not broadcast on channel 78 because the audio was not good enough. Beth Mason offered her cameraman’s recording of the meeting for air on channel 78, and was told it still wouldn’t air because the July 18th meeting would have to air this week because of how long it was.
Conspiracy theorists still say Mayor Roberts was embarrassed by the cheering masses that welcomed the new council members, as well as the victory speech from council president Theresa Castellano who has been a consistent thorn in Roberts’ side. Mason said she would submit her video to the city, which would make it available under the Open Public Records Act.
After Midnight Executive Session
After midnight the council went behind closed doors to discuss the mounting legal bills related to the Parking Utility’s strong-arm ouster of Robotics parking from the 916 Garden Automated Parking Garage. Apparently the city is not only paying its own legal bills for that maneuver, but the legal bills of new automated parking contractor Unitronics. At the beginning of the year Parking Utility head John Corea said the Garage would be up and running for an “April Ribbon Cutting”. It’s still not ready, but Corea says it will be fully operational within a month. After that he says he wants to move forward on the Stevens Garage and wants to stack cars at the surface parking lot at 11th and Willow, among other projects.
Back Again Next Wednesday
The council meets again for a Special Meeting at 6pm on Wednesday to discuss the professional services contracts.
See original preview below:
City Council Preview – 7/18/2007
The new Hoboken City Council meets tonight for it’s first regular Wednesday night meeting since three new members were elected, and a new Council President picked up the gavel. It’s a long agenda, and more items may be added before the caucus. Here is a look at the published agenda…
Petitions and Communications
There is a “Communication from Mayor David Roberts regarding appointments to various boards” at the top of the agenda. No names are listed on the agenda, but we know from the Planning Board meeting that alternate member Hank Forrest was sworn in as a full member and C. Jeffrey Barnes was named to replace him as an alternate member. We learned today Barnes has something in common with the “Obama Girl.” He publicly declares his love for the Illinois Senator here.
Paying For The Elections
Two resolutions include the paying the City’s tab for the spring elections. The May 8th election cost $23,170 for election workers and associated costs. It looks like the city pushed this bill into the new fiscal year to ease the stress on Mayor Roberts’ budget. The June 12th runoff came with a $17,275 bill.
Anti * DUI Resolution
The Hoboken PD will get a $5000 state grant to participate in the “Over the Limit – Under Arrest 2007 impaired driving crackdown” scheduled for August 17th through September 3rd. The council resolution accepting the money says impaired drivers kill someone every 30 minutes, 50 people per day, and almost 18,000 people each year. 34% of motor vehicle fatalities in New Jersey are alcohol related. With the defeat of Chris Campos, no current council members are due to stand trial for DUI.
Massive Dental Bills
If you work for the city, you get good benefits and a pension. Tonight the council will be asked to approve a two-year contract for a Group Dental Service Plan with Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield in a total amount not to exceed $1,130,000.
Waterfront Walkway Improvements Delayed
Only one bid was submitted for improvements to the waterfront walkway from Sinatra Drive up to 12th Street. EIC Associates of Springfield, New Jersey put in a bid for $13,866,845 for the project. That’s probably more than the city planned to spend, so they will go out to bid again.
Another resolution calls for another $1,768,448 in federal funds to pay for the Maxwell Place waterfront walkway park that many people think Toll Brothers should have to pay for. That would increase the federal taxpayer subsidy for the Maxwell Place Park to $8,465,493. Some see it as just another thank you for the developer campaign contributions to Hoboken and Hudson County politicians.
Resolution 25 ** Are you Serious ??
Remember all those “Requests for Quotations and Proposals” for professional services? Everything from Attorneys to Media Consultants, Auditors to Parking Consultants were put out for RFQ. You would think the City would want to take each proposal and carefully consider it individually, right? Not the Roberts Administration, which placed all eighteen contracts on the agenda as one resolution for an “up or down” vote. These are some of the most important and expensive contracts the city approves. They are also subject to the professional contractor pay-to-play law.
The new council may see this a lot differently than the Mayor, so there could be some interesting discussion. In the past Roberts has directed contracts to HCDO-affiliated contractors who give big bucks to political campaigns, including millions for State Senator Bernie Kenny’s own law firm. The new majority on the council may be more interested in directing contracts to contractors who support Union City Mayor Brian Stack and the DFHC. It’s not simply a “low bidder gets it” situation, so there could be some fireworks on this key pay-to-play issue.
Western Edge Redevelopment Designation
The council will be asked to designate the area west of the ShopRite as an “area in need of redevelopment. It’s another custom high-rise district for Dave Roberts’ favorite developers and campaign contributors at Ursa/Tarragon, who bought up most of the land in that area. Years ago Roberts tried to illegally designate Ursa/Tarragon as the redeveloper of the site through a “memorandum of understanding”. A judge ruled that was improper.
Part of this area was designated for parks in the master plan, but Ursa/Tarragon wants to build high-rise condo towers similar to Dean Geibel’s Metro-Stop now under construction to the South of the “Western Edge Redevelopment Area”. Developers want to line the light rail with blocks of high-rise condo buildings from north of the Velocity up to the Weehawken border.
Expect lots of new business from the council, as well as talk about things that are not on the official agenda. The caucus begins at 6pm at City Hall, followed by the regular meeting at 7pm. This is going to be a long one, so bring food. Might want to bring your video camera, too in case the city has more “technical difficulties” with it’s camera.