Hoboken Mayor revokes promise of open space at 800 Jackson. Proposes high rise development up to 14th Street.
Proposed development plan for 800 Jackson Street superimposed on photograph of site, showing view of Palisades cliffs completely blocked for the building’s 300 foot length.
Mayor Roberts is sponsoring projects on west side that will benefit developers who are among his largest campaign donors
Last spring, scores of demonstrators picketed Hoboken City Hall and later draped 300 feet of black fabric across the top of the Palisades to protest the 300-foot long high rise proposed for 800 Jackson Street. On May 4, 2004, New Jersey Transit Executive Director George Warrington wrote to Mayor David Roberts expressing grave concerns regarding this project that would be constructed directly in front of the 9th Street light rail station. In response, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts promised that the City-sponsored redevelopment project would not be built and instead the site would be preserved as open space as called for in Hoboken’s newly adopted Master Plan.
But in announcing his new “open space plan” on January 20, 2005, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts acknowledged that the 800 Jackson project was back on track. Leaders of a coalition of Jersey City, Union City and Hoboken groups that opposed the development expressed shock after being promised for the past nine months that the Mayor would work with them to ensure that the site be preserved as a public park leading up to the light rail station at 9th and Jackson Streets. On February 2, the Hoboken City Council had a first reading for an ordinance that would amend the NW Redevelopment ordinance, increasing densities on the 800 Jackson Street block by 29% to accommodate developer Dean Geibel’s project. The public hearing and final vote are scheduled for March 2.
In his May 2004 letter, Mr. Warrington, wrote, “the proposal at 800 Jackson Street threatens to visually and physically isolate the new station.” Commuters at this station would be wedged between the 3-story parking garage of this 300-foot long building and the Palisades cliffs, creating a serious security problem. The station serves both Hoboken residents and commuters from Jersey City who are able to take an elevator from Paterson Plank Road to the base of the Palisades.
At the January 20th presentation, the Mayor also announced plans for a series of high rise projects from 9th Street north to 14th along the light rail tracks. These plans, presented as part of the Mayor’s new open space initiative had the name URSA Development on them. Prior to the February 2 Hoboken City Council meeting, more than 150 picketers protested in front of City Hall demanding that this land be preserved as open space as called for in the Hoboken Master Plan. At this meeting, the Council approved a “memorandum of understanding” with URSA Development/Tarragon Realty to allow them the exclusive rights to negotiate a redevelopment plan for this industrial/commercial zone.
Panoramic views from historic Paterson Plan Road over Hoboken to the Hudson River and New York City skyline would be forever altered by these high rise projects at the base of the Palisades. Hoboken’s Master Plan, adopted in April 2004, recommends these views, both to and from the cliffs, be preserved, noting that the Palisades are an important natural feature that define Hoboken’s western border. The same goal is stated in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Palisades Conservation Plan drafted by the Trust for Public Land and Regional Plan Association in 1986.
Although the Mayor has asserted that his new open space plan conformed to the City’s new Master Plan, civic activists say that it is not so. The Master Plan was adopted after many months of public input and professional advice. This municipal document designated the area along the base of the Palisades as public open space, thus creating a “green circuit” around Hoboken. The Master Plan maps as open space both 800 Jackson, 900 Monroe and the area to the north up to 12th Street which the Mayor now is promoting for this succession of high-rise projects. The Master Plan also advocates building new neighborhoods, not isolated, monolithic structures such as those proposed at 800 Jackson Street and 900 Monroe.
URSA Development is owned by Michael Sciarra and Mark Settembre, who currently have an application before the Hoboken Zoning Board. This proposal, 900 Monroe, is for a controversial 12-story residential building in a zoning district that is restricted to industrial uses and 4-story heights. At the February 9 Zoning Board meeting, the zoning commissioners narrowly defeated a move to reject the application after five hearings due to the City Council’s memorandum that includes this site as part of its newly proposed redevelopment plan.
Zoning Board attorney Douglas Bern expressed frustration that the City had been working on a redevelopment plan for this area without informing the Board. Bern said that any decision by the Board on this application potentially could contradict standards being developed as part of this new redevelopment plan. Bern asked attorneys representing objectors and the developer to brief this issue that would then be taken up at the next hearing of the Zoning Board scheduled for March 9.
David Roberts was elected Mayor in 2001, promising voters that he would curb over-development. But since elected, he has collected roughly $420,000 from developers most of whom are building in Hoboken. Sciarra and Settembre have contributed $38,150 to the Hoboken Democratic Party and the Hoboken United, the two political organizations controlled by the Mayor. Dean Geibel, the developer of 800 Jackson, has given $24,200 to these same political organizations.
In addition to Sciarra, Settembre and Geibel, the Mayor has accepted large contributions from every major developer in Hoboken. Michael and David Barry of Applied Companies have contributed a total of $21,300. Daniel Gans and George Vallone of Maxwell Place have donated $31,950. Dil Hoda and Gerald Seidel of Monroe Center, LLC gave $26,100. James and Robert Caulfield of Fields Development Corp. gave $15,200.
During Roberts’ term in office, the Hoboken City Council has increased the building height limits for Applied Companies’ waterfront hotel project from 12 stories to 27. Joseph Barry, for many years the president of Applied, was indicted for delivering kickbacks in connection with federal money he received for the Shipyard project at Hoboken’s north waterfront. He pled guilty and in October, 2004, was sentenced to 25 months in prison.
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