(September 16, 2009)
Stevens Institute’s latest waterfront garage proposal is fraught with problems. They are proposing to reroute a public street through their property so that it leads to the entrance of their parking garage. They are adding turning lanes and preserving an overly wide Sinatra Drive thus ensuring that it remains a high-speed thoroughfare rather than a pedestrian/bicycle-friendly street at our precious waterfront. The 15 variances requested by Stevens will set a dangerous precedent on the waterfront, opening the door for a new proposal at Union Dry Dock for four 12-story towers to be approved without regard to the city’s zoning laws. On Tuesday, September 22, the hearing on Stevens’ application before the Hoboken Zoning Board will be continued.
Most of Hoboken’s east-west streets lead directly to our waterfront, inviting all to come to the public waterfront park first proposed by the Fund for a Better Waterfront in 1990 that today is nearly 80% complete. On the municipal map for Hoboken, Fifth Street also leads directly to the waterfront. But Stevens, with its latest proposal seeks to relocate Fifth Street, making a right angle turn to the north so that it leads directly to its garage entrance before turning again to connect to Sinatra Drive. Only in Hoboken would such a preposterous street design be taken seriously.
To make matters worse, the engineering firm hired by Stevens has proposed to maintain Sinatra Drive as a thoroughfare along the waterfront, inviting cars to speed along a portion of the waterfront by Sinatra Park where scores of young people cross the street to play soccer & engage in other athletic activities. There is an opportunity that Stevens and the City have ignored to redesign Sinatra Drive so that traffic is forced to slow down, making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, and making it compatible with one of Hoboken’s most remarkable assets, its public waterfront park.
For too long, the Hoboken Zoning Board has gladly dispensed variances to favored developers thus making a mockery of the Hoboken Zoning Ordinance. Stevens’ current application before the Zoning Board requests 15 variances, asking the Board to ignore the zoning standards for open space ratio, building length, front yard setbacks, distance between buildings, number of principal buildings per lot, etc. The Board does not have the authority to rewrite the Zoning Code which is what they would be doing by granting so many variances. That authority resides with the City Council. Granted that the zoning for this site needs to be revisited along with the opportunity to create more open space on the river-side of Sinatra Drive, but it should be done by ordinance.
Zoning Board approval of these variances would put the City on a slippery slope. This month, developer Lawrence Bijou has submitted an application to the City of Hoboken and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to build a project at the Union Dry Dock site. The project consists of 148 units in four 12-story towers. This waterfront parcel is zoned for 2 stories. After granting the variances to Stevens, how could the Zoning Board deny them to Bijou?
On July 21, at the last Zoning Board hearing, the Fund for a Better Waterfront attorney Michael Garofalo of Laddy Clark & Ryan cross-examined Stevens Institute’s planner Richard Bartholomew of Wallace Robert & Todd. Bartholomew was unable to answer any of the basic questions posed to him by Garofalo pertaining to New Jersey law on the granting of C and D variances. Zoning Board Chair Dominic Lisa interrupted the testimony, thus giving the opportunity to Stevens to return on September 22 with a planning expert who is qualified to provide evidence.
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