Would be another victory in 30-year battle to preserve Hoboken’s waterfront for a public park

The Monarch Towers proposed for this pier over the Hudson River at the Weehawken Cove would have privatized what should be an additional portion of a public waterfront.

FBW | February 5, 2021

Last Wednesday, the city moved a step closer to securing one of the final missing pieces of Hoboken’s waterfront park with the City Council’s approval of a revised settlement agreement with Shipyard Associates. This accord would avert yet another attempt to privatize the water’s edge.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s administration has negotiated an agreement that transfers development rights off the Monarch pier at the northeast waterfront to the Municipal Garage site on Observer Highway, a trade that benefits both neighborhoods. Next, the parties must come to terms on a developers agreement for the Municipal Garage Redevelopment Area and the City must find a new home for the City’s garage.

For the past ten years, the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) has joined with the City of Hoboken and neighborhood residents to oppose and litigate against the Monarch Towers. In 2011, after Shipyard Associates completed its 1160-unit luxury, residential development on ten acres of prime waterfront real estate between 12th and 15th Streets, it proposed to build an additional 78 units, the Monarch Towers, on its final parcel where it had formerly agreed to provide open space. A series of misguided court decisions allowed Shipyard to evade its obligation to provide the open space.

Securing this land for a public park is just the latest in a series of battles that FBW has fought to ensure that Hoboken has a truly public waterfront. In the early 1990s, FBW successfully defeated a proposal by the Port Authority and City to build a 33-story office complex on Pier A and 500,000 square feet of residential units on Pier C. Both piers are now remarkable additions to the waterfront park.

In 2001, FBW successfully negotiated an arrangement with the original developers of Maxwell Place to remove townhouses proposed for the piers and move all the residential units to four new blocks west of Sinatra Drive North. The developers agreed to dedicate the land on the river-side of Sinatra Drive North for the public, which is now Maxwell Place Park.

In 2000, FBW mounted a campaign to stop a Shipyard Associates’ proposal to build 120 luxury townhouses on the North Pier at the Shipyard Development. After FBW threatened legal action, the proposal was withdrawn. At the same time, FBW opposed a proposal by Stevens Institute to build a series of projects on the river-side of Sinatra Drive. Stevens hit FBW with a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) which dragged on in the courts for over five years. Stevens eventually withdrew the suit and its waterfront proposals never came to fruition.

FBW has also helped lead the battle to prevent Union Dry Dock from becoming a ferry refueling/repair depot. In the months ahead, it is expected that the City of Hoboken will acquire this three-acre site for a significant, vital addition to the waterfront park.

For FBW, the line in the sand was Sinatra Drive. On the river-side at the water’s edge, it would be a public park. Private development would take place on clearly delineated upland blocks. After thirty years of contentious battles, this vision for a continuous, public waterfront park, first proposed by FBW in 1990, remains within reach.

In the latest recently approved settlement, Ironstate Development (same ownership as Shipyard) will also transfer to the City its 1.4-acre property at 800-822 Monroe Street on the west side of town for use as a public park. The City and Ironstate both conducted financial analyses comparing the value of the 78 units at the Monarch Project vs. 331 units at the Municipal Garage site. Including the Monroe Street property in the deal made up for the difference in the more valuable garage property. At the February 3rd City Council meeting, residents in the vicinity of 800 Monroe provided nearly two hours of testimony vigorously supporting this park while voicing objections to the excessive development taking place in their neighborhood.

The agreement will require the City to relocate the Municipal Garage. This has become an increasingly difficult problem as the development of Hoboken continues at a rapid clip and property values continue to escalate. At the City Council meeting, residents near 13th and Jefferson spoke out in opposition to a proposal to temporarily relocate the garage across from Northwest Park.

Several years ago, FBW consulted with a marine engineer at McLaren Engineering concerning the costs of building a park at the Monarch site. Although rebuilding the pier that is collapsing into the Weehawken Cove is cost prohibitive, the cost of removing the pier, repairing the bulkhead and building the park and walkway is within reach. The portion on land is just a little over a half acre but significantly, links the public walkways to the west and east/south. FBW is currently exploring funding sources to complete this work as well as building the park at Union Dry Dock.