Image 1: North End Redevelopment Plan: massing illustration.
Image 2: North End Redevelopment Plan: rendering of building along 15th Street looking east.
Image 3: North End Redevelopment Plan: illustrative site plan.
Image 4: Hoboken: Loss Map of 1804.
Ron Hine | February 1, 2021
The development of Hoboken began in 1804 when Col. John Stevens hired an engineer, Charles Loss, to come up with a plan. The Loss Map of 1804 established Hoboken’s traditional street grid. A typical block measures 425 feet long and 200 feet wide. Blocks were divided into lots typically 100 feet deep and 25 feet wide for private development. This original plan has shaped the development of Hoboken over the past two centuries, defining its character as an urban village built at a human scale. The 1804 plan included Hoboken’s first public parks, Church Square Park and Hudson Square (later renamed Stevens Park), both clearly delineated by the streets that surround them.
One of the saving graces of Hoboken’s North End is that the original, traditional urban street grid remains intact. Thus, future development will take place on typical Hoboken-size blocks. But a colossal failure of the City’s recently unveiled North End Redevelopment Plan is its open space plan. The plan claims to be providing three and a half acres of public open space. Most of this land will be private, not public. The only open space clearly delimited within the street grid is the 15th Street Light Rail Plaza.
Especially problematic is the open area that extends through the interior of four blocks between 14th and 15th Streets. The backs of private buildings abut the land making them, in effect, the backyards of private buildings. Private control of this property will likely invite ingenious ways for the owners to thwart its public use.
Historically, local government attempts to create “public” space on private land have led to a string of failures. In the 1980s, when seeking approvals from the planning board, a developer agreed to provide a small public park at the corner of Newark and Garden Streets. This space is fenced off with a locked gate. Attempts over the years to make this area open and accessible to the public have failed.
The State of New Jersey requires developers along the Hudson River to build a 30-foot public walkway at the water’s edge. However, the municipal governments of Jersey City, Weehawken, West New York, North Bergen and Edgewater failed to extend their public streets to the waterfront. As a result, the walkway is often difficult to access and is situated with backyards alongside it, creating a built-in conflict and diminishing the intended public nature of this space.
The Shelter Bay Club erected a fence to keep out the public despite granting an easement to the NJDEP for the 30 foot public walkway.
Back in the 1990s in Edgewater, several vacant units at the Shelter Bay Club were vandalized. In response, the owners put up a fence blocking off the 30-foot public walk. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Projection (NJDEP) took the Shelter Bay Club to court. It took years of litigation before the courts ruled in the NJDEP’s favor and forced the owners to remove the fence.
At Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken, the state-required walkway traverses the interior of the Riva Pointe pier. At the entrance there are steep steps and an imposing gated entrance. It is a rare event for the public to use this “public” walkway or even recognize that it exists.