Once the court approves the Consent Order for Final Judgment, NY Waterway will receive the agreed-upon purchase price of $18.5 million and the City of Hoboken will finally have clear title to the Union Dry Dock property 

FBW | November 27, 2023

In November of 2017, Hoboken was stunned by the news that NY Waterway had purchased the Union Dry Dock property at Hoboken’s north waterfront to be used as a diesel ferry repair and refueling facility. A protracted, sometimes bitter battle ensued, with the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) joining forces with the City, the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse and many other groups to secure this site for use as a key link in Hoboken’s public waterfront park, first conceived by FBW in 1990.

By June of 2021, Governor Phil Murphy, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and NY Waterway announced their “historic agreement to preserve Union Dry Dock for public open space.” The City agreed to pay NY Waterway $18.5 million to acquire the property, $7 million more than the ferry company paid in 2017. The agreement also allowed NY Waterway to lease back the site while it rebuilt its maintenance refueling facility in Weehawken; however, no details about the lease were revealed at the time. Indeed, the public received little information about the settlement agreement for months

Then in October 2022, the Hoboken City Council adopted an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of the Union Dry Dock site by eminent domain for use as a public park. A month later on November 28, 2022, the City of Hoboken recorded a Declaration of Taking with the Hudson County Register and two days later, filed a Verified Complaint with New Jersey Superior Court exercising its right of eminent domain. Superior Court Judge Jeffrey R. Jablonski has been presiding over this case, City of Hoboken vs. Port Imperial Marine Facilities

As prescribed by eminent domain law, the City appraised the site’s value and deposited that amount — $13.36 million — with the court. The City utilized its Open Space Trust Fund (OSTF) to cover that cost.

On February 15, 2023, the Hoboken City Council approved the lease, thus fulfilling a basic requirement of the settlement agreement. During that Council meeting, many members of the public spoke in opposition to the lease, arguing that it heavily favored NY Waterway. The monthly lease payments were a mere $4,573 for control of 5.6 acres, or 68 percent of the site. The lease, termed “temporary,” was for three years with an option to renew for an additional two years. Permitted uses that will operate 7 days a week, 24 hours a day included storage, repair and refueling of the ferry fleet. Kayakers who used the beach area at the Hoboken Cove directly to the north raised safety concerns.

By March 6, 2023, NY Waterway (DBA Port Imperial Marine Facilities) and the City had worked out the details of their settlement in an Order of Settlement and Stay and a Consent Order for Final Judgment. The court will approve the Consent Order once all the terms of the agreement have been satisfied. This includes the transfer to NY Waterway of the agreed-upon purchase price of $18.5 million (the $13.36 million plus an additional $5.14 million) which also resolves all claims in connection with relocation obligations. The City will also assume all responsibility for site remediation except for any contamination that occurs after NY Waterway occupies the leased area. The City will finally have clear title to the Union Dry Dock property once all the terms of the Consent Order have been complied with and approved by the court. 

Fortunately, the Consent Order includes strong language stating that the City of Hoboken has the authority to evict NY Waterway at the end of its lease after serving a warrant of removal. FBW sought further protections in March when its attorney, Renee Steinhagen of New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, wrote to Hoboken’s mayor. The letter pointed out that the City’s OSTF ordinance required any sale or lease of properties acquired with OSTF monies be approved in a referendum. The ordinance also stipulates that language be included in the deed restricting its use for public open space purposes and acknowledging the use of OSTF funds. 

The City never responded to FBW’s letter thus prompting the nonprofit, on October 3, 2023, to file a motion to intervene in the eminent domain case, City of Hoboken vs. Port Imperial Marine Facilities. FBW and the City soon reached a settlement ensuring that any new sale or lease of properties acquired with OSTF monies is subject to approval of Hoboken voters and that language prescribed by the ordinance be added to the deed. Once this settlement was finalized, FBW withdrew its motion to intervene. 

FBW plans to carefully monitor the situation in the coming months and years to ensure that future administrations locally and at the state level abide by the Consent Order, ensuring that NY Waterway leaves promptly at the end of its lease. NY Waterway has funding from NJ Transit and the sale of the Union Dry Dock property to cover the cost of building a new ferry maintenance facility. The status of building this facility in Weehawken, where the ferry company has been based since its founding in the 1980s, is unclear, as the Township has yet to approve construction plans proposed by NY Waterway.