2019 Amended Hoboken Railyard Redevelopment Plan
Final City Council vote on project has been postponed to November 6 (one day after the election)
FBW | October 20, 2019
Over the past three administrations, various iterations of the Hoboken Railyard Redevelopment Plan have sparked controversy. In 2014, after much debate, the City of Hoboken approved a 2.3 million square foot commercial and residential development for 10 underutilized acres at NJ Transit’s Hoboken Terminal. At the October 2 City Council meeting, the debate began anew due to proposed amendments.
The latest changes were prompted by an 11 foot high floodwall south of Observer Highway that runs through much of the site. This flood mitigation structure is part of the $230 million federally funded Rebuild by Design project administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). The floodwall is under contract and must be completed by 2022 or risk a loss of funding.
Although this plan has been in the works for the past 14 years and is worth tens of millions for the financially-strapped NJ Transit, this public agency has not managed to relocate some of its railroad tracks and repair facilities that could have permitted a more rational route for the floodwall.
LCOR, the developer, represented by Brian Barry emphatically stated that there is no possibility of building any of the project over the floodwall due to liability and maintenance issues thus eliminating nearly one million square feet of development. The floodwall is designed to protect Hoboken from another Superstorm Sandy type surge which was a rare storm event.
Building heights were perhaps the most controversial aspect of the 2014 plan. The amended Railyard Redevelopment Plan has increased the height of a Hudson Place commercial building from 200 feet to 300 feet, making it taller than the W Hotel, currently the tallest building in town. The height of the residential building at the foot of Washington Street, south of Observer Highway would increase from 24 to 28 stories. A third development parcel at the corner of Observer Highway and Marin Boulevard representing 350,000 gross square feet of office space is designated for phase 2.
The Hoboken City Council was scheduled to cast a final vote on the amended redevelopment plan on October 2. That night, once the ordinance came up, Council members began to ask questions. Members of the public followed asking why there has not been an opportunity to learn about the fundamental changes that had been made to the Railyard Redevelopment Plan the Council approved in 2014.
In response, the City scheduled a public meeting on October 15. A standing room only crowd voiced familiar complaints about traffic and parking and why yet more development is needed. Hoboken has always been a densely populated urban environment and because it is a highly desirable place to live, the demand for more residential development continues.
The Railyard Development is slated to be what planners call a TOD, a transit-oriented development. In TODs, the commercial and residential development would be largely dependent on the adjacent mass transit hub at the Hoboken Train Terminal. This hub provides transportation throughout the region via train, bus, light-rail and ferry.
In fact, the entire city of Hoboken could be considered a TOD as 61 percent of residents take public transportation, a greater number than any other city in the country. An additional 7.7 percent walk to work. Twenty-seven percent of households in Hoboken do not own a car while the national average is 4.4 percent.
At the October 15 meeting, Brian Barry described the complex problems involving the various public agencies including NJ Transit, NJDEP, the Port Authority, and the City of Hoboken. He explained that the residential units would be smaller and more affordable, aimed at millennials who would be attracted to the easy access to the nearby public transportation.
Another selling point for the project is restoration of the public plaza, known as Warrington Plaza, at the Hoboken Train Terminal and the renovation of the ground floor of the historic ferry terminal as a commercial market. There would also be a canopy built to upgrade the dreary bus terminal that sits atop the PATH Station.
The project has been further complicated by local politics. In September, prior to the introduction of the amended plan, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 endorsed City Council members Ruben Ramos and Michael Russo plus five council candidates running on Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s slate, four of which are running against incumbents who have staunchly opposed the Bhalla administration. The final Council vote will take place on November 6, the day after the election. At this point, it is uncertain if there are sufficient votes to pass the amended plan.
The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) had been critical of the 2014 redevelopment plan and advocated for extending the Hoboken street grid throughout the site thus creating distinct development parcels and an optimal traffic circulation plan. FBW also developed a plan that demonstrated how 2.3 million square feet of development could be comprised of buildings 16 stories or less. The opportunity to achieve these goals has been greatly diminished given the new constraints for this redevelopment area.
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