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.

Nine years of costly litigation comes to an end providing yet another windfall gain for Shipyard Associates

by Ron Hine | May 20, 2020

The July 1990 referendum dramatically changed the course of Hoboken’s waterfront development. Voters defeated a Port Authority/City of Hoboken development agreement for the Hoboken South Waterfront. Subsequently, a group of us, local residents, formed the nonprofit Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW). FBW’s mission, working with professional planners, architects, landscape architects and engineers, was to create a plan for the entire Hoboken waterfront.

We drew our line in the sand at Sinatra Drive. On the river-side, it would be public. Upland to the west, there would be new blocks for private development. For the past 30 years, we have fought many battles to preserve the potential for making the waterfront park to the east of Sinatra Drive continuous and fully connected, and unobstructed by private development. The extended public street grid ensured that front doors of new buildings, many with ground floor shops and restaurants, faced the street and public riverfront park.

Thirty years ago, Hoboken was deeply divided over how its waterfront should be developed. But today, most understand the value that the public riverfront park adds to Hoboken. On warm sunny days, people flock to the waterfront to enjoy the vast open space that stretches over the Hudson River ending with extraordinary views of the Manhattan skyline. Hoboken’s South Waterfront with the award-winning Pier A Park, its walkway lined with rows of London Plane trees and its protected bicycle pathway provide a model for how waterfronts can be successfully developed.

Michael and David Barry, through Applied Companies and Shipyard Associates, own three major developments at the Hoboken waterfront: the W Hotel, 333 River Street and the Shipyard. Over the years, as Hoboken’s waterfront park has taken shape, the value of these projects has appreciated immeasurably. It is the plan and vision for the Hoboken waterfront with a continuous, public park that has directly benefited waterfront properties as well as buildings throughout Hoboken.

Nevertheless, Shipyard Associates has sought to thwart the completion of the proposed waterfront park and diminish the public nature of the waterfront at the Shipyard development. In 2000, Shipyard proposed to build a gated, 120-unit townhouse development on the North Pier (north of 15th Street Pier). FBW launched a campaign to stop this project that ultimately defeated the proposal. In 2011, Shipyard proposed to build the Monarch project, two residential towers on a pier jutting northward into the Weehawken Cove.

The Monarch Towers has been the subject of nine years of litigation. FBW, the City of Hoboken and neighborhood residents have fought against this residential development on a site where Shipyard Associates had originally agreed to provide open space. Remarkably, the courts have ruled in favor of the Shipyard Associates time and time again, allowing the developers to be released from their obligations under their 1995 Hoboken Planning Board approval and corresponding developer agreement to create open space on Block G, the final parcel in the 1160-unit Shipyard project. The litigation was finally concluded on May 5, 2020, when the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in favor of the developer in the final case before the courts.

In January 2018, when Mayor Ravi Bhalla took office, negotiations to settle this protracted legal battle resumed. A tentative settlement was reached this past year, with the City and Shipyard agreeing to swap development rights at the Monarch parcel for the municipal garage site on Observer Highway. This deal would ensure that the Monarch pier be preserved as public open space in perpetuity. After the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, the City of Hoboken issued a statement that the settlement negotiations were continuing and expected to be concluded as originally proposed.

In the 1970s, Applied Companies got its start when the City of Hoboken granted the company a virtual monopoly to its owners, Joseph Barry and his father Walter, in developing low-income Section 8 Housing in town. The federal Section 8 program proved to be highly lucrative to developers with its combination of rent subsidies and real estate tax breaks. Applied renovated hundreds of Hoboken’s five-story walk-ups to eventually become the city’s largest landlord and a potent political force.

Applied went on to develop two City-owned properties, Hudson Square North and Hudson Square South, and then The Union Club at 600 Hudson, before taking on their projects at the Hoboken waterfront. Joe Barry further expanded his political influence when he became the owner and publisher of the Hoboken/Hudson Reporter newspaper chain in 1983.

In the 1990s, Shipyard Associates obtained millions in federal grants and loans to subsidize the private, upscale Shipyard development. In 2001, Joseph Barry pleaded guilty to bribing the Hudson County Executive to secure these government funds. He was sentenced to 25 months in jail and handed over the reigns of Applied Companies/Shipyard Associates to his sons David and Michael Barry.