Dear friends and neighbors,
Making up for lost time with the good, the great, and the ugly…
- Your taxes are going down!
- Another déjà vu, another Stack Box being imposed by Mayor Bhalla
- Northern Waterfront update including new bike lane!
GREAT NEWS FIRST – TAX REDUCTION COMING!
After our first proposed tax cut was voted down 5-4 in early June, I made the following public statement:
“The dialogue about doing better for Hoboken taxpayers and residents during this most difficult time was started publicly last night which is important. I am confident that when all is said and done, in the year when most needed, the City Council will deliver a 2021 Municipal Budget that includes a sizable reduction in local taxes and a fully staffed Rent Control office.”
And on tonight’s agenda that is exactly what is happening. Up for a vote tonight is an amendment to finalize the City’s municipal budget, reduce your Hoboken taxes by approximately 3.24% versus last year and reinstate the most needed Rent Control office that the Bhalla administration had all but disbanded.
As you recall, Mayor Bhalla put forth a municipal budget with a 0% tax increase in a year where we are receiving and using $6.4M of American Rescue Act revenues in our municipal budget. Although better than an increase, some of my colleagues and I drilled down and proposed a budget amendment calling for a $2.7M / 4.5% tax reduction instead. The newsletter I sent out on this in June walked through how this could be achieved. This amendment was quickly voted down by Russo, Falco, Cohen, Jabbour and Doyle.
After hearing feedback from my Council colleagues and in the interest of compromise, we scaled back the cuts and proposed two weeks later a revised amendment with a $1.9M or 3.13% tax reduction. Again, voted down by the same five.
But they heard us. And tonight’s amendment being put forth by the Finance Subcommitte and the Administration effectively takes 90% of what we proposed previously, adds a little more use of surplus, some further cuts offset by some adds, and actually decreases taxes a little more by $67K to $1.967M for a total 3.24% tax reduction. Tonight's rejected many of the specific line items included in the prior versions we proposed that we felt should reduce costs, not increase them. But this amendment includes a few small (~1%) changes to big expenses like Group Health and Debt Service instead that add up to real savings. But nonetheless, the result is your tax bill will be lower!
Here is the quick summary of what changes were made vs. what we proposed:
One important provision we had included previously that has not yet found its way into tonight's amendment is funding for the restoration of Castle Point Terrace and Court Street. This is something that was included in our prior proposed amendments and is something that Council VP Giattino, Councilman DeFusco and I have advocated for for a while given the state of disrepair and the fact that neither road has been "fixed" in decades. I have a proposal in to the administration to include it this year that I hope they will accept. These are not projects that will finish this year, but they are projects that need to be started this year so that we can finish in 2022 when the water main repairs are planned to be fixed on Castle Point terrace. I am hopeful we will get there tonight, but please consider joining the meeting to advocate for this or email the mayor, city council and our business administrator Jason Freeman.
That being said, I am happy that we – and by we I mean those of us who started the discussion on a tax reduction (Ramos, Giattino, DeFusco and me) and those of us who finished the discussion on a tax reduction (the rest of my council colleagues and the administration) – were able to deliver a meaningful tax decrease this year.
The Brian Stack Box Part II
Choosing Union City over Hoboken, Again
Do you remember last summer when Mayor Bhalla announced and celebrated the project he negotiated and the City Council approved on the City’s Western Edge that for the first time included funding for a community pool, the building of 17 affordable units for homeless veterans and resiliency improvements? Located next to the viaduct between Jefferson and Madison where this property currently exists:
The headlines and related stories were:
- Hoboken OKs new Western Edge plan that includes $3M for pool, affordable units, & flood mitigation - Hudson County View
- After Floating $3 Million for Community Pool, Western Edge Development Plan Passes City Council | TAPinto
Mayor Bhalla’s specific statement in these articles was:
“I’m extremely pleased we have adopted a redevelopment agreement that provides for robust community givebacks, especially funding that will be allocated for a new community pool,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “The combination of this much needed public amenity, along with 37 units of affordable housing, open space, and critical flood mitigation will add substantial quality of life benefits to our mile square.”
But all of these community benefits are at risk now because it was recently brought to Mayor Bhalla's attention that the project doesn’t fit in the State Senator / Union City Mayor “Stack Box” (higher than the palisades).
So although there is a signed and celebrated development contract between the City of Hoboken and the property owner, our mayor is now backpedaling his support for the project. And by backpedaling I mean putting out misleading statements about having an agreement for a shorter project and twice publicly threatening the developer to reduce the height or else the mayor will “rescind the agreement” .
But I am writing about this today, because up for a Council vote tonight is an amendment by Mayor Bhalla that proposes to offer the developer a city property – specifically the block adjacent to the NW Park that has been earmarked for a pool, municipal garage and community center – to move their residential density (and build a new residential tower instead) if the developer reduces the height of their currently proposed building to fit in the 'Stack Box'.
In a nutshell: Mayor Bhalla is offering the property owner the following in exchange for the property owner lowering the height of the building to fit in the “Stack Box” (and subject to City Council approval):
- Letting the developer use the “North Flap” that we paid $5M for in their redevelopment project; reminder this lot was earmarked for a pool, community center and parking garage
- Increasing street level building lot coverage from 75% to 100% (so wider and with no open space)
- Allowing the property owner to build on the Hoboken owned “Right of Way” on Monroe Street at the back of their building instead of using for open space
- Reducing minimum open space requirement from 40,000 sf to 5,000 sf.
Additionally, to accomodate the owner of the 930 Monroe site (the monollithic project I referenced earlier this week and introduced the term Stack Box), the amendment also provides for the green circuit that the property owner is responsible to build on their own property, to be built offsite instead on another City Owned property - aka the street.
Although the administration added language at the last minute (as I write this) to say that a community center must be accomodated in Stack Box 2, these are just words on a paper. And the math will not work. It doesnt even work just moving the high floor, high rent residential units off the top of a building and covert into lower floor, lower rents with the costs of building a new building (mechanicals, elevators, etc.) without adding more units and giving the property owner the City's property for free. Adding into this mix a community center that will cost tens of millions of dollars to build only means the property would have to go even higher to cover these additional costs. And then we are back to square one where the new building on the City property built to make the math work, doesn't fit in Stack Box 2.
I can honestly say, I am flummoxed and have never seen anything this recklessly anti-Hoboken before. Mayor Bhalla is giving away the prospect of a pool and community center, municipal parking and even part of the street to accommodate Senator Stack's interest in protecting the views of Union City residents just up the cliff (the Yardley is due west of this site). This is not an assumption, it is fact as we have discussed many times in multiple meetings. And Senator / Mayor Stack is using Union City taxpayer dollars to legally oppose this application that is currently before the planning board. Taxpayer dollars that are heavily subsidized by the $15M annual transition financing Stack uses his legislative authority to get for Union City residents. You can't make it up...
Whether you want to see the building shorter or not...This. Is. Unacceptable. Period. If you agree, please let your council representatives and the mayor know.
Back to good news…
NORTH WATERFRONT BIKE LANE – UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
Hudson County restarted their milling and paving and upgrade project for 12th street between Hudson and N. Sinatra and N. Sinatra between 12th and 14th. I am thrilled that the project will include new ADA ramps, a raised cross walk by Pier 13, and…. a new north bound bike lane along the east side of Sinatra drive! A shout out to Chris Adair of Bike Hoboken who raised this idea on Twitter. This tweet prompted me to reach out to the County and Hoboken HPU director Ryan Sharp and see if we could quickly accommodate something in the County’s roadwork plan. And with some gentle nudging the County agreed! The project should only take another week or so to complete! A huge thank you to all involved at the county for making this happen so Hoboken residents and visitors can enjoy this new waterfront bike lane this summer!
SPEAKING OF NORTHERN WATERFRONT
AREA AROUND PIER 13
I have heard from many of you about the chaos seemingly emanating from and around Pier 13, mainly on the weekend including garbage, noise, traffic, public urination etc., and drunk and disorderly people. Mayor Bhalla and I met with neighbors of one of the area building to discuss this in more detail about a month ago. Since then Environmental Services Director Jen Gonzalez and I reached out to and met with a representative at Applied who has revised their operations so they are cleaning earlier on the weekends. The Applied representatives also spoke with Pier 13 manager about ensuring garbage is taken care of as quickly as possible. I also spoke with our new Police Chief (interim) Lobue and he offered to revisit the police staffing at the waterfront on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from about 10pm to midnight around the time Pier 13 closes which seems to be the witching hour. I know it is already cleaner. And with the new elevated crosswalk it should be a little safer. Just know we are working to do more to ensure the quality of life for residents and visitors is maintained in this area.
Finally - a quick reminder that Hudson Street will be closed beginning tomorrow through the end of the summer for the Northern Phase One of the Rebuild By Design Project. So please plan accordingly to avoid this area. As always, please forward to anyone you think may be interested in receiving this. Feel free to email me at [email protected] or call me at 201-208-1674 to discuss what you have read or anything else that is important to you.