For the past several months, Hartz Mountain has been driving piles for a pair of high-rise towers at the Weehawken Cove, just north of the Hoboken border. This work is proceeding despite the fact that the ordinance pertaining to this project and the Weehawken Planning Board approvals are being challenged in New Jersey Superior Court.
This past December, Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Turula held a case management conference consolidating the cases of three plaintiffs, including the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW), challenging this project. The suits were filed more than a year earlier in August of 2020. FBW is represented by land-use attorney Gerald Muller of Princeton, New Jersey.
At the case management conference, it was agreed that the challenge to the ordinance would be heard first. If the plaintiffs prevail on this issue, the Board approval would then be considered null and void. Judge Turula will also determine the scope of discovery that will be allowed, as the plaintiffs are seeking to determine the circumstances surrounding the zoning change to accommodate Hartz’s development application.
Throughout several years of hearings before the Weehawken Planning Board, residents of Weehawken, Union City and Hoboken showed up to speak out in opposition to this project. The Planning Board rejected Hartz’s initial proposal for this site that called for 334 residential units in two 200-foot towers atop a seven story parking garage.
Subsequently, the Township of Weehawken amended its zoning ordinance, essentially to accommodate a scaled back project with 261 units and two 160-foot towers. After several months of hearings in 2020, the Weehawken Planning Board granted approval for the project.
In August 2020, plaintiffs filed complaint with the Court asserting the following:
The Hartz Mountain project fails to comply with ordinance standards for setbacks, coverage, distance between buildings, FAR (floor area ratio) and open space. For example, the development must provide a minimum of 20 percent open space but only allows for 9.8 percent. In addition, there is a 50 foot minimum front and rear yard setback requirement but the project proposes a mere 4.5 and 4 feet respectively.
As a condition of its approval, Hartz is required to provide $220,000 to the Township of Weehawken to purchase two shuttle buses to allow Weehawken residents above the Palisades to access the waterfront. Such an obvious quid pro quo, unrelated to the impact of the project, is illegal.
The failure to meet the FAR standard requires what is known as a “d” variance. Only the Zoning Board of Adjustment can grant such a variance, not the Planning Board.
The Planning Board attorney, Elise Dinardo, also serves as an Assistant Municipal Attorney for the Township of Weehawken. Such an egregious conflict of interest is prohibited by New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law.