FBW challenges state approval for high-rise towers on Hoboken pier

(January 9, 2012)
Mayor Zimmer is opposed to it. So is the Hoboken City Council. The neighborhood residents are up in arms over the development scheme. The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) voiced its objections as did trustees at the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy. Yet on December 2, 2011, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) granted a waterfront permit to the Shipyard Associates to build two 11-story towers on a pier at Hoboken’s north waterfront, a project dubbed the Monarch.

This Monday, January 9, FBW filed an appeal challenging the State’s approval through its legal counsel Hilary Semel, Executive Director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center. The appeal requests an administrative hearing from the NJDEP, joining a similar action filed by the City of Hoboken. The Hudson Tea Building is expected to file its challenge to this permit this Thursday.

This legal action urges the NJDEP to void the permit due to the project’s failure to comply with fundamental sections of the State’s Coastal Zone Management regulations including requirements for public open space, building on structurally sound pilings and blocking of views to the Hudson River enjoyed from the Weehawken Cove. The appeal letter also points out that the original waterfront permit granted for the 1160-unit Shipyard project on August 5, 1997 stipulates that the developer was required to develop the pier as open space with tennis courts and a tennis pavilion. (See link below: FBW request for hearing.) If the NJDEP upholds the permit decision, FBW will then take the case to the New Jersey Appellate Court.

Last August, developers Michael and David Barry of the Shipyard Associates submitted their application for an amended site plan approval to the Hoboken Planning Board. In 1996, the Hoboken Planning Board granted site plan approval for the Shipyard development, a planned unit development (PUD) on ten acres of prime Hoboken waterfront real estate. The last units of this 1160-unit PUD were completed last year. Last week, the Planning Board scheduled the hearing to begin at its February 7th meeting.

FBW has successfully fought a series of proposals to build on the piers in Hoboken beginning in 1990 with the 33-story commercial complex proposed by the City of Hoboken and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. In that same year, FBW unveiled its proposal for a continuous public park at the water’s edge in Hoboken. Pier development would thwart the opportunity to make that park continuous for the entire length of Hoboken’s 1.5 mile waterfront. In 2001, FBW and other groups succeeded in getting Shipyard Associates to withdraw its proposal to build 120 townhouses on the 16th pier.

Monarch pier.

Google Earth image of dilapidated pier slated for Monarch towers.

This legal action urges the NJDEP to void the permit due to the project’s failure to comply with fundamental sections of the State’s Coastal Zone Management regulations including requirements for public open space, building on structurally sound pilings and blocking of views to the Hudson River enjoyed from the Weehawken Cove.

Although Michael Barry claims that the pier is his private land and he has a right to build on it, there are some interesting legal issues raised as to the public nature of the Hudson River and the piers over the river. Over 100 years ago, the state of New Jersey granted permission to maritime industries to operate on piers and at the water’s edge along the Hudson River. According to the Public Trust Doctrine, this is permissible for water-dependent uses yet what is being proposed is a non-water dependent use.

FBW is being represented by the Eastern Environmental Law Center in this matter. For press inquiries, please call the Executive Director, Hilary Semel at 973-424-1166.

Related links

FBW Request for Hearing
DEP flouts its permit to restore pier as open space
Shipyard’s plan to privatize pier
NJDEP 1997 permit