Council will hear FBW appeal of 19 variances

Council will hear FBW appeal of 19 variances

Stevens plan would add turning lanes and provide overly wide vehicular lanes that encourage speeding traffic.

The latest Stevens Institute scheme also maintains Sinatra Drive as a speedway around Castle Point.

(January 2010)

The Hoboken Zoning Board has had a long history of usurping the authority of the City Council by granting numerous exceptions to the municipal zoning ordinance. One of the more egregious cases was the Zoning Board’s approval for Stevens Institute’s latest scheme for the waterfront. The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) has appealed that approval to the Hoboken City Council. The hearing is scheduled for 7 P.M. on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 after the February 25 date was postposed.

On September 22, the Zoning Board approved Stevens’ ill-conceived waterfront project granting 19 variances and allowing for Sinatra Drive to remain a speedway around Castle Point. For the past 20 years, since its inception, FBW has advocated for a pedestrian-friendly waterfront. Beginning in 1990, FBW became the driving force behind the concept for a continuous waterfront park at the water’s edge and an extension of Hoboken’s narrow street grid that serves to slow traffic and provide the public rights-of-way to the waterfront.

The decision by the Zoning Board granted exceptions to the zoning ordinance for open space ratio, building length, front yard setbacks, distance between buildings, number of principal buildings per lot, lot coverage, etc. FBW attorney Michael Garofalo of Laddey, Clark & Ryan is arguing that the Hoboken City Council has the sole authority to create and amend its local zoning ordinance and by granting so many variances, the Zoning Board is engaging in de facto rezoning, thus undermining the Council’s authority.

FBW also contends that the Zoning Board denied its right to present its case before Board. Remarkably the last hearing continued to 1 a.m. in the morning, as Stevens Institute wrapped up its presentation to the Board. At that late hour, the Zoning Board Chair Dominick Lisa told FBW’s attorney that he should have been prepared to present his witnesses at that time. Stevens Institute and the Board also failed to provide copies of reports and notices to FBW’s attorney during the hearing process.

Stevens’ project also rerouted a public street — Fifth Street — through its private property. Such a move requires the Hoboken City Council to pass an ordinance vacating that portion of Fifth Street which, on the City’s map, follows the current direction of this public street due west to Sinatra Drive. The City Council would be required to adopt an additional ordinance permitting this rerouting of Fifth Street. The Zoning Board moved forward with the Stevens application without regard to the Council’s or City’s will on this matter.

The site of this project at historic Castle Point is one of the most valuable waterfront parcels in the region, facing Sinatra Park, the Hudson River and New York City skyline. Stevens’ plan fails to take advantage of the remarkable opportunity provided by this location. The project includes a parking garage that would allow Stevens the opportunity to relocate cars currently occupying the surface parking lot across the street at the Hudson River. That surface parking area, in deteriorating condition, is a terrible eyesore, in marked contrast to the beautiful tree-lined waterfront park extending five blocks to the south.