FBW | February 2, 2020
Hartz Mountain has been developing the 50-acre Lincoln Harbor project at the south Weehawken waterfront since the 1980s. Now they are suing the Township of Weehawken over last October’s denial of its application to build two 18-story towers on the Weehawken Cove and last December’s approval of an amended Lincoln Harbor redevelopment ordinance. Concurrently, Hartz has resubmitted a development application for the towers at the Cove scheduled to come before the Weehawken Planning Board on February 4.
Last year, throughout six months of Planning Board hearings, residents from Weehawken, Union City and Hoboken raised objections to Hartz’s development proposal that the Board ultimately rejected on October 29th. The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) and neighboring property owners were represented by counsel in these hearings.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who also sits on the Planning Board, attempted to resolve the controversy by having the Township Council quickly pass an amended redevelopment ordinance last December. This ordinance would allow Hartz to build two 160-foot towers, a few stories shorter than the previous proposal, at the Weehawken Cove dubbed the Atir Site, but also require the developer to provide hundreds of public parking spots at Lincoln Harbor.
On January 27, 2020, FBW filed its complaint in New Jersey Superior Court claiming that the ordinance was based on a 35-year old master plan that had not been updated as required by state law. At the same time, two of the neighboring property owners, Rock Eagle Properties and 1715 Grand Street LLC filed suits challenging the same ordinance stating that it constituted “spot zoning” designed specifically to benefit Hartz’s application to build on the Atir Site.
As a result, both the developer and opponents of the new development are challenging the amended redevelopment ordinance in court, but for different reasons. The Hartz legal complaint challenges the redevelopment ordinance’s public parking requirements and attempts to reverse the Planning Board’s rejection of its application to build two 200-foot towers at the Atir Site.
The FBW suit, filed by attorney Gerald Muller of Miller Porter & Muller in Princeton, New Jersey, also cites the failure of the Township to conduct the necessary studies related to traffic, flood control and other planning elements and the failure of the amended ordinance to protect viewsheds to the Hudson River. The suit also asserts that residential densities in the ordinance are void due to vagueness.
The Atir Site is situated on the Weehawken Cove just north of the Hoboken border. On the Hoboken side of the Cove, a 3-acre park is proposed as part of the federally-funded, NJDEP-managed Rebuild by Design project for Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken. During Superstorm Sandy, the Weehawken Cove was a conduit for the surge that flooded Weehawken and Hoboken back to the base of the Palisades Cliffs. A flood wall to protect upland areas from future storms is integrated into the landscape design for the park on the Hoboken side but becomes a stark wall in Weehawken with the Hartz Atir towers proposed on the river-side of this flood barrier.
Throughout the hearings, several Planning Board members, including the Mayor, complained of the inability of Weehawken residents to drive and park at Lincoln Harbor to enjoy the waterfront. This points to a failure of the municipality prior to any development to establish a public street system — the public rights-of-way — throughout the 50-acre site that would have provided on-street parking under the control of the local government. Instead, Weehawken allowed Hartz to build private streets throughout that were under its private control and were insufficient in width to accommodate on-street parking as well as the intensity of development that is now taking place. So now, the Township of Weehawken is attempting to remedy this situation through parking requirements in the amended redevelopment ordinance that Hartz is challenging in court.
In the 1980s, Hartz Mountain began developing Lincoln Harbor as a commercial site with two office buildings and a hotel. Recently, Hartz has switched to building a series of increasingly taller and bulkier residential projects. Since 2015, Hartz has built the 589-unit Estuary project, the 236-unit Harbor 1500, and the currently under construction 573-unit 800 Harbor Boulevard, located directly north of the Atir Site. The amended redevelopment ordinance would pave the way for an additional 630 residential units.
The Weehawken Cove is a unique, protected inlet of the Hudson River that is a prime candidate for ecological restoration. Also, of historic significance, Henry Hudson anchored his ship, the Half Moon, at this cove on October 2, 1609 as he traveled up the Hudson River. It is an ideal spot for recreational boating activities and the City of Hoboken has plans to construct a boathouse for the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse that will be included as part of the Rebuild by Design park.
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