JERSEY JOURNAL — by Michaelangelo Conte
(June 23, 2004) HOBOKEN – Fund for a Better Waterfront officials are backing a city zoning official’s decision to “shut down” construction of a Stevens Institute of Technology construction project.
“It is our position that zoning officer Joel Mestre’s determination was correct, and should be sustained,” stated the letter issued by FBW attorney Stuart Koenig to Mestre. The letter was also sent to Stevens’ attorney Charles Liebling and Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment counsel Doug Bern.
Stevens has permission to build a four-story foundation for the new Babbio Center of Technology Management, and to use its top level for parking. The lower three levels are to be foundation only. But Mestre charges that Stevens has begun the construction of an underground garage by building car ramps.
“They were actually building the garage without permits,” Mestre said at Wednesday’s zoning board hearing of Stevens’ appeal of the revocation.
Stevens attorney Timothy O’Neil testified that the lower three levels would not be used as a garage until further approvals are granted by the city. “The levels in the foundation cannot be used for parking. There is no access and there is no way to go from level to level because the ramps are not fully constructed,” said O’Neil.
O’Neil also said Hoboken’s zoning ordinance gives only two reasons for revocation of a building permit, and that Mestre cited neither.
However, Koenig said, “It is our contention that the construction is not simply a deep foundation for the Babbio Center, as the construction extends beyond the footprint of the proposed building and includes obvious parking decks and ramps. We submit the Zoning Board of Adjustment has no alternative but to affirm the zoning officer’s revocation.”
Four attorneys and an expert witness represented Stevens at the appeal hearing, but no vote was taken because Mestre walked out during extensive questioning by O’Neil. When O’Neil accused Mestre of being untruthful, Mestre said he would go no further without a lawyer.
“It was hardly a fair hearing,” said Ron Hine, director of the FBW, a grass roots group that works to temper city development. “You had a team of lawyers and experts from Stevens versus Joel Mestre. We were prevented by the board from participating in the hearing and arguing in defense of Mestre’s revocation.”
Hine said the FBW issued the letter because it feared that the FBW would be barred from participating in the hearing.
The Babbio Center is located at Sinatra Drive and Fifth Street. Stevens’ appeal of its permit revocation will be continued on Tuesday.
Stevens spokeswoman Cass Bruton-Ward would not comment on the letter or on Hine. “Stevens does not comment on legal matters currently in process,” she said.
Michaelangelo Conte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.