I wanted to give an update on the former Union Dry Dock site, and what we hope will someday be Maritime Park at that location.
There are a lot of moving parts and I have received a number of questions so I will do my best to answer them.
What is prompting me to send this newsletter today, and I will go into more detail below, is that NYWW have submitted their application to the Hoboken Planning Board who will be having a Site Plan Review hearing on it to determine if the application is complete. The hearing is tomorrow night (4/11) at 6pm via zoom: https://zoom.us/j/96414361825. The public can attend this meeting, but practice has been that the public cannot speak at a completeness review hearing. The NYWW application will be the second one to be heard. I plan to attend if anyone wants to join me.
Back to the questions and answers…
1. WHAT IS THE CITY PLANNING FOR THE FORMER UDD SITE?
Maritime Park! And the public gets to decide what will be there so make your voice heard! #morevoices. Last week, the first phase of the public planning process started. There was a public meeting hosted by the planning firm hired to design the park, where I would say about 75-100 people attended. I was so busy talking to so many neighbors and new faces that I didnt take time to take a picture! But this one from the city will do:
photo: City of Hoboken
Attendees provided feedback on not only how they currently use the waterfront, but also what they would like to see there, and what their priorities are. The planners provided choices that were very extensive including categories such as passive uses, waterborne activities, and environmental conservation. You could select any and all.
Whether you attended or not, I encourage you to fill out the survey which will collect this similar feedback. The link to the survey can be found here:
The survey is scheduled to close on Tuesday, April 18, at 6 p.m. The next step in the process would be to take these survey results, and share with the public the top categories at the next meeting. So don't miss this opportunity to make your voice heard now!
2. WILL THE PLANS FOR THE FORMER UDD SITE BE INCORPORATED INTO SORT OF A NORTHERN WATERFRONT MASTER PLAN?
This is a great question and one that came up a lot the night of the Maritime Park public meeting. The answer to me is “yes, of course”. But this may be because I am and have been actively involved in all of the various projects that frame the 2nd ward waterfront including UDD, Monarch, Rebuild By Design, and the Weehawken Cove. But neighbors persisted that night and wanted more confidence that all of these would be considered together as sort of a "Northern Waterfront Master Plan".
So I raised with Maritime Park design team and walked them through all that is happening along the northern waterfront so that we do not plan the Maritime Park in isolation, which we often are apt to do. An example, and not meant to be critical, during his introductory comments, Mayor Bhalla mentioned that maybe Maritime Park could have an ecological focus (as one of many great ideas he mentioned). Of course we want that everywhere along our waterfront, but this is something that we are hoping will be a prime focus for the Cove Point (northern, natural area part of Monarch site) and Weehawken Cove. This is an example of something that the Maritime Park planners were unaware of. But after we reviewed the entire northern waterfront, I would say the design and planning teams are now even more excited about making sure all the pieces fit together as sort of a Northern Waterfront Master Plan. Hoboken’s Environmental Services Director Gonzalez joined the discussion and she agreed too and said she would make sure the planners had all the info they needed!
Because each of the pieces of the waterfront are in various stages of planning and development, we will fold all of this in together as each evolves. I am on the Environmental Services City Council Committee and will continue to make sure this happens. But please keep raising this as it is critical for our community! And thank you to all who made this important point that night!
3. FBW RECENTLY SAID THAT THE LEASE WITH NYWW NEEDED A PUBLIC REFERENDUM VOTE FOR IT TO BE VALID. IS THIS TRUE?
At issue is Hoboken’s Open Space Trust Fund ordinance that has the following provision (underlined for emphasis):
No property acquired with funds from the Trust Fund shall be leased or sold, unless action has been authorized by the Mayor and City Council and by referendum in the manner prescribed by law. The deed of any property acquisition with funds from the Trust Fund shall contain the specific notation reflecting that the property was acquired with funds from the Trust Fund, and are subject to the limitations contained herein.
The question being whether the funding used to purchase UDD was paid for specifically with open space trust funds. I know the city and their attorneys have looked into this and, if you have not seen, Mayor Bhalla’s chief of staff Vijay Chaudhuri provided this public statement in a Hudson County View article:
“We are confident that the interim lease for a portion of the property, required to balance the needs of Hoboken residents that rely on the ferry with the ultimate goal of a public park, has been fully vetted and is valid.”
4. HAS NYWW STARTED THEIR PLANNING BOARD APPROVAL PROCESS IN HOBOKEN YET?
Yes. They submitted their application to the Hoboken Planning Board on March 13th. And, as mentioned above, the Hoboken Planning Board Site Plan Review committee will review the application for completeness tomorrow night April 11th at 6pm via zoom: https://zoom.us/j/96414361825.
FBW has issued a letter to the Planning Board outlining some of their concerns with the application, including:
- potential conflicts with Hoboken’s Sinatra Drive project
- the applicant’s position that a “Neighborhood Impact Study” is not required
A couple of things that jumped out to me that I would like to understand better:
- the application proposes to lower the bulkhead by 3’ across a fifty foot section - what impact does this have from a flooding perspective.
- the application calls for the RELOCATION OF TWO BARGES from other sites - one a 243' x 72' travel lift barge, and one a 120' x 33' shop barge - where are they being relocated from, when and why? If from Weehawken, then what remains in Weehawken to service their ferries and is all of their operations transferring to Hoboken?
Please join me if you can. Past practice has been that the public cannot speak at this meeting, but I often find you learn a lot from what questions the commissioners may have. And once the Hoboken Planning Board determines the application to be complete, it will then be scheduled for a public hearing where the public can be heard. This will be the time where members of the public can discuss quality of life concerns like noise and safety concerns that hopefully can be addressed within the applicant’s approval. I will let everyone know when this meeting will be held.
5. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE NYWW SITE IN WEEHAWKEN?
Weehawken residents do not want NYWW on their waterfront either. As reported last month in a Jersey Journal article, Weehawken City Council recently approved a resolution to study the use of Eminent Domain to acquire the NYWW site in their town. And my understanding is that NYWW have not yet submitted any plans for their new maintenance facility in Weehawken. More to come on this…
6. WHY DID YOU VOTE ‘NO’ ON THE UDD/NYWW LEASE? DO YOU NOT SUPPORT HAVING A PARK THERE?
First and foremost, I have advocated for the City of Hoboken to acquire the former UDD site as open space since I was first elected in 2015 and have always supported having an end to end public waterfront in Hoboken. In fact, one of the first conversations I had after I was elected and wasn’t even sworn in yet was with Ron Hine and Jim Vance of Fund for Better Waterfront with them telling me the urgency that the city needed to act to secure the site because UDD was planning to exit. Since then, I have continuously worked with Mayor Bhalla, who inherited a terrible situation with regard to this property, and have supported his efforts to acquire the site to complete Hoboken’s waterfront.
I am 100% excited about planning the proposed Maritime Park and all that it can be. And I am thrilled about finishing what we started so long ago on all of the northern waterfront pieces over the next couple of years:
- The former Monarch site – both parts – which started in 2011.
- Rebuild By Design and Cove Park which started in 2015.
- And now the former Union Dry Dock site.
I voted ‘no’ on the UDD/NYWW lease for many reasons, but mostly because I felt the lease did not do enough to protect the interests of Hoboken residents. The lease as written feels less like a temporary solution and more like a negotiated path for NYWW to occupy our waterfront. Based upon feedback from the public, I had made the following recommendations (and others per my 2/14 newsletter) that would help to better protect Hoboken’s interests. Because the administration kept the proposed lease from the City Council and the public until the last minute, with a proverbial “gun to our heads” inability to make changes, none were incorporated:
- THE MOST IMPORTANT --> Make NYWW’s ability to occupy and move ferries to the UDD site contingent on their achieving Weehawken permits for their new terminal. In the face of Weehawken’s new threat to condemn the site in their town, NYWW can now potentially leave Weehawken and occupy our site in Hoboken. Stating the obvious, this is not good.
- Change the refueling condition tying it only to when the Weehawken site is disrupted due to the construction of the new terminal. Right now Weehawken can just end NYWW’s ability to fuel there for any reason and our lease permits them to refuel in Hoboken as a result.
- Require that the 20 boats to be stored in Hoboken will include all of NYWW's electric vehicles to reduce the number of diesel powered ones at this location and obviate the need for refueling. The lease as written would allow NYWW to store all the diesel ones in Hoboken.
- Minimize the amount of horn noise allowed early in the morning or late at night. The lease currently has no restriction on this.
- Require a regular meeting between the Hoboken Cove Boathouse and NYWW to address and stay on top of safety concerns. Again, no provision for this.
- Specifically state that NYWW is not allowed to use the north side of the northernmost pier for boat storage, maintenance, or refueling, under any circumstances. This is expected, and their plans submitted to the Hoboken Planning Board show this, but without an actual stated prohibition, NYWW can potentially use the northern side. This is something to raise at the future planning board meetings.
I do not know why any of these basic and protective concepts were not included in the original lease and hope that it was not for the same reason we would want them - because it would make it harder for NYWW to occupy the UDD site. Because I am concerned that once NYWW occupies the site, it will be nearly impossible to remove them. Why? Because of what we know currently and the figurative "writing on the wall":
- There are no other locations in our region identified to accommodate NYWW's operations after multiple studies have been conducted, so why would this change in five years?
- Ferry operations are critical to the regional transportation solution for our area and NYWW and New Jersey Transit are looking to expand, not shrink, waterborne transportation.
- New Jersey Transit previously committed over $10M to backstop NYWW’s acquisition of UDD, so why wouldn’t they commit these funds again to preserve this location in the future.
- The site was already split allowing Hoboken to use an important piece of it immediately for the expansion of Sinatra Drive and our waterfront walkway. This is a great and important thing for Hoboken but hopefully not just our consolation prize.
- Weehawken Mayor Turner has said publicly that Weehawken and Hoboken should share the burden of these operations and there should be a regional solution. Not saying he should be right, just suggesting that maybe this is actually what might be happening (and we are the last to know).
- John Allen, known for making transactional agreements that have short term political wins, has recently, publicly taken credit for negotiating this lease (John is Mayor Bhalla’s former chief of staff and tragically has been picked to be our next representative in the state assembly which I will address at another time).
7. WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO TO CONTINUE THE FIGHT FOR OUR WATERFRONT?
We need to stay vigilant.
We need to continue our planning process for the Maritime Park so we are prepared when the NYWW lease comes to an end.
We need to expand commitment and support from outside agencies, like Hudson County, the State, and environmental groups, to make as many as possible attached to the future park’s success.
We need to continue to engage, not leaving anything to be overlooked, and attend all meetings relating to our waterfront.
We need to stay informed and be on top of every single action, approval, and activity of NYWW and act early when there are any more hints that it looks like NYWW are not planning to move.
We need to persist, together, with our advocacy and continue the battle that started over 30 years ago for Hoboken’s public waterfront.
We need to hold our elected representatives accountable for their promises made to the public, me included.
I am in this with you. And always will be.
As always, please share this with everyone you know who may be interested and reach out any time on any issue important to you: 201-208-1764 or [email protected].
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