Holding off on 'NoHo': Hudson Reporter, Hoboken NJ, 7/1/07

State Supreme Court decision on eminent domain stalls redevelopment hearing

By Madeline Friedman

The Hoboken Planning Board postponed a special meeting on a northern Hoboken development study Thursday, in order to make sure it complies with a recent State Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain.

"Eminent domain" is the process by which a government forces a landowner to sell his property to the government for a public use - and it has become controversial in recent years because governments were taking land and reusing it to turn into malls and other more profitable properties.

While it is acceptable for cities to redevelop "blighted," or damaged, properties for the benefit of the community, the recent State Supreme Court decision further specifies the conditions that municipalities must prove in order to seize land for redevelopment.

Hoboken Director of Community Development Fred Bado said the Planning Board wants to take another look at the "NoHo" (northern Hoboken) study, completed in May, to make sure it complies with the court precedent before holding a public hearing on it.

By designating an area a redevelopment zone, the city can set specific zoning requirements and then seek developers who will comply with the plan. Before seeking developers, the Planning Board and City Council must sign off on the requirements, in much the way they have done with the "Northwest Redevelopment Area" in the 1990s. The formerly industrial northwest area now includes housing and a Shop-Rite supermarket. "NoHo" is the name that has been designated to the properties north of the northern Light Rail tracks and up to the city's border between Hoboken and Weehawken at 18th Street. The area is mostly vacant, industrial property, according to Bado.

Council requested study 12 months ago
In June 2006, the Hoboken City Council passed a resolution requesting that the Planning Board investigate whether the designated area qualifies as an "area in need of development" in accordance with the New Jersey Local Housing and Redevelopment law.

The study, completed in May of this year, has determined that it does.

Now, the Planning Board must hold a public hearing in order to approve the study's conclusions. Bado said that he expects the meeting to be rescheduled for later this month, after the study is reviewed. "[The authors of the study] might make some changes. They might not. But they have to say that they looked at it," Bado explained.

The study examined 5.52 acres, on 47 lots, located along six blocks of the northernmost section of the city. Eight separate entities, some governmental and some private, own the 47 properties. According to the study, one of those owners is NJ Transit.

The authors describe the area's boundaries as the following: "The eastern boundary is Willow Avenue from Hoboken's 17th Street north to the city's boundary with Weehawken; the northern boundary is an irregular line from a point on Willow Avenue to and along Eighteenth Street in Weehawken; the western boundary is the cliffs of the Palisades and Union City; and the southern boundary is the south side of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail property."

The light rail and the disrepair of nearby streets hinder direct road access to NoHo from Hoboken, the study says. Principal access is from Eighteenth Street, in "The Shades" residential area of Weehawken. The current version of the study can be read on the city's website.

Residents have questions
Hoboken's 2004 Master Plan, a document describing the development goals for the city for the next 20 years, requests that the zoning for NoHo be changed from industrial to residential. It states that the city should work with Weehawken "to determine an appropriate zone consistent with the low-density residential character of "The Shades" which is a residential section of Weehawken near 19th Street.

Last week's meeting was the second Planning Board meeting on the subject to have been cancelled, to the dismay of some residents who wanted to speak out.

Business owner and uptown resident Jeff Laylon said that he had been looking forward to the hearing because he wanted to learn more about the city's plan. Laylon is a steering committee member for the Uptown Green Coalition, LLC, a group that monitors uptown development and was formed last February.

"I'm just not really sure what their plan is," said Laylon, who owns Cornerstone Pets on Ninth Street and lives in the Shipyard development. "I don't feel the public has been educated for what the city's plan is for north Hoboken in general."

He said that several of his group's 60-or-so members had planned on attending the hearing and added that it was not only the members of his coalition that follow the city's development plans.

"I think everyone's concerned with development and what goes where," he said.

Laylon added that he hopes that if the area is designated for redevelopment, some of it will be saved for parks and open space.

The court decision
The N.J. Supreme Court decision Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. vs. Borough of Paulsboro, handed down approximately two weeks ago, narrows the definition of the word "blight" in relation to the New Jersey Constitution and the Local Redevelopment Housing Law.

The Constitution's "blighted areas clause" authorizes municipalities to engage in redevelopment of areas that have fallen into disuse and disrepair if they determine that these conditions are detrimental to the municipality. This, in turn, means that they may seize private property that they designate as being "in need of redevelopment" for public purpose and public use. But the ruling says that the definition may only apply to areas that "as a whole, are stagnant and unproductive because of issues of title, diversity of ownership, or other similar conditions."

Bado said he believes the city's study is thorough enough to proceed without having to start over, but it will be reviewed nonetheless.

"It's important they take into consideration the ruling in case someone goes to court to challenge it," he said.

May be held in late July

A new date has not yet been set for the hearing, but Bado expects it to be in late July. After the Planning Board hears the results and public comment on the issue, it will be sent to the City Council.

The council must then approve a resolution accepting the conclusions. The Planning Board then hires a firm to come up with a redevelopment plan.

Hudson Reporter, Hoboken NJ: http://www.hudsonreporter.com