HOBOKEN RAIL YARD: Key Questions Remain Over Revised Redevelopment Plan
Since 2014, Hoboken Rail Yard has had a redevelopment plan in place. However, a whole lot has changed since then, and questions remain about the viability of current redevelopment plan.
Concern over proposed amendments—primarily traffic and parking, the environmental impacts of the buildings, and future development—has Hoboken residents familiar with the project asking decision makers to take these issues into consideration, with a potential vote on the future of the City’s gateway coming as early as December 4.
“It’s a different plan,” says Terry Pranses of the Responsible Development Task Force, which has been involved with the Hoboken Rail Yard Redevelopment process long long before the 2014 plan came into place. “Not only is the plan different, but there are completely different personnel involved,” notes Pranses, commenting on administrative changes within the City of Hoboken, NJ Transit, the State of New Jersey, and even LCOR—the developer running the project.
What has turned much of the project on its ear is the implementation of Rebuild By Design’s plans to fortify Hoboken against the recurrence of devastation seen following 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. The installation of a flood wall along the rail yard zone has necessitated LCOR to alter its own plans for the redevelopment—some say significantly.
“Site One was initially a tapered, wedge shape reaching 200 ft—not meant to be taller than the clock tower,” says Pranses. “Now at 300 feet, it’s wider, bulkier, and 50% higher—now taller than the W Hotel (currently the Waterfront’s highest building).”
The Responsible Development Task Force feels step-backs are needed between the 5th and 7th floor levels on the north (Hudson Place) and west (Hudson St) to mirror lower building heights on those side. “That would keep the building from being a monolith that goes straight up from the ground,” says Prances, who claims LCOR has yet to present renderings of Site One to the public.
Site Two, on the south side of Observer Highway between Washington & Bloomfield Sts, would hold a 330-ft tower—the tallest building in Hoboken. “We didn’t like it then, don’t like it now” says Pranses, “but it’s in the railyard as opposed to the rest of Hoboken, so conceptually it is a different space.”
However, the footprint of the building is decreased due to the barrier wall. According to LCOR, that now requires the building to go residential rather than commercial.
Pranses asks, “Will we be locked in with more residents—is residential the best use?” The Responsible Development Task Force also questions the necessity of putting parking allocation for what would now be residents, in one of the busiest mass transit hubs in New Jersey.
Site Three, further west along Observer Highway, was initially supposed to be residential but would now be commercial. That raises eyebrows, as putting commercial further from Hoboken Terminal seems counter-intuitive.
“This site is a half-mile from the PATH stairs and buses, and a bit further from the trains, light rail and ferry; 0.5 miles is considered the outer limit for a pedestrian commute in a transit-based development,” notes Pranses.
If the commercial side doesn’t work out, the site would likely flip to residential—putting additional strain on a very tight sliver of Hoboken. A traffic study was conducted to explore the impact of all this to that area.
The anxiety among those familiar with the project has spiked due to the timeframe under which the City Council’s decision may now be made. On November 6, the day after the City’s municipal election, the new plan was given a first reading in the Council meeting—much to the surprise of task force members and councilmembers alike.
Sponsors of that reading were Councilmembers Mike Russo and Mike DeFusco. DeFusco has since stated that he has secured a plan that guarantees a European-style market will be built during the first phase of construction at the train terminal. Meanwhile, Councilwoman Vanessa Falco says she will be introducing an amendment that will designate 20% of all new residential units constructed as part of the project as affordable housing units.
“Over the past four years, I have brought all stakeholders together to actualize a plan that will bring a world-class market to Hoboken Terminal,” said DeFusco in a statement. “Transforming underutilized space at Warrington Plaza will bring innovative new businesses into Hoboken and improve the overall commuting experience for tens of thousands of people everyday. I’m proud that we have made concrete progress to advance this plan to create new jobs, tax revenues and opportunities to push our city forward.”
Regarding the affordable housing, Falco said, “This is the largest redevelopment plan in our city’s history and it is critical new projects like this bring their fair share of affordable housing units to Hoboken. My priority as a Council representative has always been to address the affordability crisis we are facing and a commitment like this sets the tone for all future development agreements. I’m confident after transparent community conversations, we as a local government will soon adopt a plan that properly rehabilitates and invests in the neighborhood surrounding our terminal.”
“Mayor Bhalla appreciates and agrees with the City Council’s request for additional public input regarding the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan amendments, which reduces the area to be developed from approximately 2 million square feet down to approximately 1 million square feet,” said Hoboken City Spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri. “He is hopeful that the final product voted on by the Council, which is the redevelopment entity of the City, will provide for the revitalization of the New Jersey Transit Terminal while also maintaining the charm and character of Hoboken.”
Monday, November 25, representatives from New Jersey Transit, LCOR, and select professional services firms will be available to have conversations in small group settings with residents regarding the proposed changes to the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan. The open house/information session will be held in the waiting room at Hoboken Terminal from 6:00 until 8:00 pm. All members of the public are invited to join.