I hope you all have been enjoying the summer. The past few weeks have been very busy in Hoboken, so I wanted to take a moment to update you on some important issues in our city.
A EUROPEAN MARKET AT HOBOKEN TERMINAL
Since I first ran for elected office four years ago, I’ve shared with all of you my vision and plan for Hoboken Terminal, one that creates a world class market experience much like Chelsea Market in New York City or Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. As Chairman of the Council’s development subcommittee, I am so proud we’ve finally advanced a historic rehabilitation and redevelopment plan that embraces this cornerstone concept and creates an indoor/outdoor marketplace at our terminal.
Tens of thousands of people travel through Hoboken Terminal everyday and I have long believed that this building presents an incredible opportunity to re-energize our transportation hub and provide a better experience for commuters, residents and visitors alike. Forward thinking adaptive reuses like this create opportunities for small businesses to thrive and entice makers and creators to invest in our community, bringing cultural and creative cache back to Hoboken.
The market concept is incorporated in the designated developer’s revised Hoboken Yard Redevelopment plan to create a world class transit-oriented development, provide economic development opportunities to the city and create new jobs, including both union construction jobs and permanent jobs. The plan also conforms to the city’s ongoing Rebuild by Design sustainability initiative and will be built alongside new flood walls alongside Observer Highway intended to protect the city from major storm events.
I’m thankful Mayor Bhalla has put politics aside to work with NJ TRANSIT, LCOR and local stakeholders who have shared my vision for our terminal. I’m looking forward to continuing our push to finally make this long sought after priority of mine a reality. Big ideas like this are why I got involved in local government and I’m energized and excited to see this game changing activation move forward over the coming years.
MONARCH SETTLMENT AND A DOWNTOWN
PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
Last week, the City Council approved a tentative agreement inked by the mayor to relocate a residential development away for our Northern waterfront to Southern Hoboken at the site of the public works garage on Observer Highway, between Willow Street and Park Avenue.
The reason that the City needed to negotiate this is because we are one step away from losing a multi-year court battle that started when the previous administration and then-Councilman Bhalla decided to change zoning laws prohibiting waterfront development after the development application was already filed. There is no more appropriate description of the circumstances leading to this unfortunate outcome than by the Appellate Court Judge himself:"If there is a lesson to be learned from this case, it is the rule of law is paramount and cannot be sidestepped to avoid deciding unpopular land use applications."In practical terms, this means the Zimmer and Bhalla Administrations have wasted over one million taxpayer dollars fighting a case in court that the judge said should have been resolved by the City, as required by state law.
So a deal needed to be reached.
As part of the agreement, the developers will transfer their development rights to the Department of Public Works (DPW) garage on Observer Highway and fit within an existing redevelopment plan approved by a previous City Council. In return, the developers will deed the waterfront parcel to the City and build a new, enclosed DPW garage at the current location. This project will have a direct impact on my neighborhood, but I do believe this is the right decision that has the potential to significantly benefit the First Ward directly. So with that said, there is more we can do to make this project better, which is why I haveproposed adding a new live music and arts center to the redevelopment plan.The same developer is currently building a similar construction in Montclair, proving innovative mixed-use building can successfully reidentify a community as a cultural hub for arts and dining.
Much like I did with the Hilton Hotel project, I will continue to fight for overdue investments in our downtown community - advancing long overdue improvements in our city’s infrastructure. I’m looking forward to working with the administration to see that this project is done responsibly with the best interests of my neighbors in mind.
UNION DRY DOCK
Union Dry Dock is the waterfront-industrial space on Sinatra Drive acquired two years ago by NY Waterway for use as a ferry refueling facility. This use is incongruous with our City’s goal to build a connected waterfront, something I have long advocated for. Ironically, six years ago, then-Mayor Zimmer and then-Council President Bhalla had the opportunity to buy the parcel of land and decided not to do so. It wasn’t until after NY Waterway bought the property from Union Dry Dock and announced plans for a refueling station that both the previous and current administrations decided to make public space on our waterfront a priority.
For us to protect our waterfront as this critical juncture, Mayor Bhalla asked the City Council to proceed with eminent domain proceedings, which I supported. With that being said, we are stepping into unknown territory, and we still don’t know how much this will ultimately cost taxpayers.
Specifically, the city has estimated the Union Dry Dock site is valued at $13.5 million. The court, however, is the final decider to rule how much the property is worth, meaning a judge could value the parcel significantly highly because there is no comparable property on the Hudson River. That would put us on the hook to pay more in acquisition costs on top of being responsible for paying to relocate NY Waterway to a new space, despite our history of disagreeing on alternate sites. All of this is before we pay for environmental remediation and construction costs.
I don't think the eminent domain authorization translates into a good financial policy, but this may be our last opportunity to put together the final pieces of a fully public waterfront. Had we not taken immediate action, I do believe this would be a decision we come to regret. I spoke to the Associated Press last week about Union Dry Dock, you can read that article here.
KEEPING POLITICS OUT OF CITY HALL
The past two years we’ve watched as this administration repeatedly misuses our emergency alert system with messages that only serve to advance political agendas. Politics should never be running out of City Hall or influencing the decisions being made for our city. Hoboken’s dated ethics laws do not prevent public officials from abusing taxpayer funded resources -- like computers, telephones and Nixle -- for personal benefit.
That’s why I am proud that the ethics ordinance sponsored by myself and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher was adopted on a 6-2 vote at last week’s City Council meeting. This is a comprehensive policy that will prevent city employees from performing political activities during business hours using taxpayer funded resources.
Hoboken residents deserve to know that city employees are spending their time doing the peoples’ work, not advancing their own political interests. Instead of supporting common sense reform, the mayor and his supporters continue to respond with cheap political attacks to avoid answering to the issues at hand.
Unsurprisingly, my opponent is running for City Council while working full time in the mayor’s office as his political aide. The potential to misuse taxpayer resources is too great and Hoboken deserves better. Now, it’s up Mayor Bhalla to do what is right and begin holding everyone accountable who abuses their position, including those who may work in his office.
FOOD KIOSKS COMING TO PIER A
Over the past decade, kiosks on Pier A have continued to deteriorate without ever having been properly utilized. I was proud to write and pass legislation to incentivise small businesses by activating kiosks to bring food, music and daily entertainment to our waterfront. This initiative will allow Hoboken-based mom and pop shops to increase their visibility, revitalize open space and expand the permitted uses for existing kiosks.
Businesses eligible to participate will be required to pay their employees at least $2 more an hour above the minimum wage, sponsor public art and live music performances and open shop year-round to maximize community benefit.
As a densely populated midsize city, activating underutilized space needs to be a priority for local government and my kiosk ordinance accomplishes exactly that. We’re investing in the arts, helping get Hoboken residents back to work with new jobs and attracting new business. I know I’d love to see holiday markets pop up in our neighborhood, let me know what businesses you would like to see pop up!
Check out why The Jersey Journal editorial board supports our push as we lead the way on economic innovation in Hudson County.
NEW eSCOOTER CONTRACTS
Though I was an early proponent of an eScooter program, the City has still struggled to properly address growing safety and enforcement concerns because of a rushed roll-out by the mayor. Since the program began, I have been pushing the administration to identify ways to make the program better and keep our streets safe for everyone. Last month, myself and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher called on Mayor Bhalla to immediately begin negotiating contracts with the current vendors and I am pleased to say the mayor has responded to our calls for action.
At last week’s City Council meeting, we approved two new contracts that will allow the city to collect an additional $.35 per ride taken in Hoboken. The additional revenue we generate through the program will help us invest in the resources we need to better enforce safety laws, promote rider education and make critical transportation infrastructure upgrades.
For us to bring a long term and sustainable eScooter program to Hoboken, it’s important for us to put the safety of our residents above all else and I believe these contracts are a step in the right direction. We still have much to do to address concerns of the program, but I look forward to hearing your feedback and working with the administration to decide the best ways to proceed from here.
Our campaign to keep bringing new energy and new ideas to our local government is in full swing ahead of my November 5 re-election to City Council, and as always I am so grateful for your friendship. I have spent the past several weeks reflecting on my first four years on the City Council, and my five years as a zoning commissioner before that and I am reminded that I cannot do this alone.
If you would like to get involved and continue the great work we are doing together for Hoboken and the First Ward, please reach out to me. If you’d like to donate to our grassroots campaign, you can do that here.
P.S. This past Sunday was the first day of Sinatra Summer Streets, an initiative I proudly supported to maximize public space for recreation in our community by closing Sinatra Drive to vehicles. I had a great morning with my family and was so happy to see them already enjoying it! Our next Sinatra Summer Streets will be on August 25 and I’m looking forward to growing this program in the years ahead.