NOT SO FAST! Judge overturns city's chosen developer for 'Northwest Green'

Not so fast!

Judge overturns city's chosen developer for 'Northwest Green'
Hoboken Reporter

Now that a Superior Court judge said the city acted too hastily in choosing one developer for their proposed "Northwest Green" redevelopment area in town, what's next?

In March of 2005, Mayor David Roberts and a development company called Ursa/Tarragon announced their plan to extend the Northwest Redevelopment Area, starting at Ninth Street and going north along the light rail tracks. The entire eight-block area would encompass around 11.6 acres, with as much as 5.5 acres of open space and recreation.

But several activist groups said there is not enough open space, especially active recreation space, and they blasted the city's choice of developer.

Ursa/Tarragon already owns much of the land in the area. But activists want the city to look at competitive plans from other developers, to potentially get the most public benefit. They have also expressed concerns that Ursa and Tarragon have been generous contributors to Mayor David Roberts' campaigns, which could taint the process.

Two weeks ago, a judge said the city moved too soon in choosing Ursa/Tarragon.

Not following procedure

Normally, there are three steps in the redevelopment process. The first is a designation of a blighted area that is "in need of redevelopment." The second is the establishment of a redevelopment plan, where the city, as the redevelopment agency, decides what would be the best use for the property. And the final step is the designation of a developer to build in the redevelopment area.

Many community activists were upset because in March of 2005, the City Council passed a resolution that created a "memorandum of understanding" which gave Ursa Development and New York-based Tarragon Realty Investors Inc. exclusive three-year rights to negotiate with the city if a redevelopment area is created.

The Planning Board is currently conducting a redevelopment study for the area.

The activists, as well as some members of the City Council minority at the time, thought it was odd that the city would give a developer exclusive negotiating rights before the property is even blighted and the redevelopment agency discusses publicly what it wants for the area.

Judge voids exclusivity

On Jan. 13, Superior Court Judge Barbara Curran overturned the "memorandum of understanding" and said that the agreement between the city and Ursa/Tarragon was "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful because the City of Hoboken and/or the Hoboken Redevelopment Authority failed to comply with the requirements of the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law."

The lawsuit was brought about by Leah Healy, a local lawyer and expert in redevelopment law. Healy, who is also a principal in, a group that lobbies for new park and open space, said Wednesday that because redevelopment law gives the city so much power, it is imperative that the city follow the steps laid out in the state's redevelopment law (see sidebar).

She said that when a developer is designated before the area is deemed blighted, the process becomes developer driven. When that happens, the community won't reap as much benefit as possible from the project.

In this case, she said, the city will give the developer a huge benefit by up-zoning the property from industrial to zoning that allows high-rise residential buildings.

By opening the process to other developers, and by soliciting the public's input, the city can better control this process.

The developer's position

Mike Sciarra, a principal at Ursa development, said Friday afternoon that redevelopment law is complicated that that they respectfully disagrees with the judge's ruling and plan to appeal. He added that they are still committed to the community center, which is already under construction. He said the project as a whole will have great benefits for the community.

Ursa/Tarragon has argued that the city's master plan for zoning calls for the discontinuance of industrial uses in this area and for the introduction of residential uses supported by public recreational and open space. They said the land would cost too much for the city to try and condemn and purchase on its own.

Also Ursa/Tarragon already owns most of the land. According to the developer, the area consists of four separate parcels, three of which are already owned by Tarragon Ursa and the fourth currently in negotiation for purchase. They add that the Tarragon Ursa concept plan includes 4.5 acres of green space made up of a green circuit linking bike paths with walking paths on the outer edge of the zone, four distinct park plazas linked along the "green circuit" as envisioned by the master plan, including age specific play areas, bike paths, tree-lined dog runs, shade structures, lawn areas and a green amphitheater.

Also, the Tarragon Ursa concept plan also includes the donation of a community center consisting of a two-story, 26,879 square-foot community recreation center which will house a gymnasium, exercise rooms, dance studios, computer and recording rooms, an art studio, indoor spaces for social gatherings, administrative offices, shower and locker rooms, and a 25-yard pool and separate children's pool which will open out onto a 20,000 square-foot outdoor pool deck. The community center, which is already under construction, is adjacent to the proposed redevelopment area.

Ursa officials add that the community center and pool carries an estimated donated value to the City of Hoboken of $10 million, including the cost of the land.

Only through a public-private partnership and redevelopment plan could the city reap those benefits, the developers have argued.

Might not make a difference

Recently, Fred Bado, the city's community development director, said the city will continue with the mayor's plan for that area of town, including open space and residential units.

"[The city] has requested that the Planning Board do a study of the area to see if it qualifies as an area in need of redevelopment," Bado said. "Once the study is done, they will work on a redevelopment plan."

He added that he thinks the redevelopment plan "will be consistent in what [Ursa/ Tarragon] had proposed there in terms of open space and parks and development."

Bado also said that the court's ruling just pushes off the designation of the developer to a later date. But Healy said she hopes that is not the case, and that she would like the city to use this opportunity to open a competitive process with ample public input.


What is a redevelopment area?

One of the most important and complicated development issues to hit Hoboken is the concept of redevelopment. Redevelopment is a zoning term that means there is an area within the municipality that is not being used to its full potential. Designating it a redevelopment site can mean special zoning. It can also mean allowing tax abatements.

The specifics are covered in the New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. It's a process that puts a significant amount of power in the purview of the city's governing body, which in Hoboken's case is the City Council.

There are many advantages to creating a redevelopment zone. The most obvious is that it can be an effective tool to get someone to quickly build a taxable project on an undesirable piece of property.

But there are other advantages. Redevelopment allows the city to assemble property in an area. Instead of going door-to door and trying to pursue private landowners ts to develop in a certain manner, the city can create in a contiguous area a single development vision.

But many believe there are some negative aspects to redevelopment. Sometimes the impact of the zoning changes is not fully captured by the municipality. This means the city might allow a developer to build higher or more densely, but doesn't always reap enough public benefit.

There are also those who believe the powers of redevelopment are overused, especially in a thriving area such as Hoboken. 

Comments (0)

New comments are currently disabled.

Email to Friend

Fill in the form below to send this article to a friend:

Email to Friend
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
* Friend's Name:
* Friend's Email:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image
* Message: