In Advance Of Tonight’s Council Meeting, Hoboken Mayor Bhalla Provides Update On DPW Garage To Council

Mayor Bhalla Provides Update to City Council on Public Works Facility and Community Amenities  

Community Meeting and Engagement Session on Proposed Public Works Facility Announced 

                                                                                                                              Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla today provided an update to the Hoboken City Council regarding the proposed public works facility to be located in Hoboken’s North End. The facility is proposed to include a new headquarters for the Hoboken Police Department and Hoboken Fire Department, a community center, and an uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library. Specific functions of the building will be determined as part of a robust community engagement process.  

The update to the City Council includes the following:

  • The need to relocate the City’s Public Works Garage by November 2024 due to the Monarch settlement, which prevents two 11-story towers from being constructed along the waterfront and provides the city with two public parks 
  • The public works facility’s special requirements and needs to continue to operate efficiently in the future 
  • The properties evaluated, and why 1501 Adams Street is an ideal location for a modern public works facility, community center, and public safety headquarters  
  • An update on the dilapidated structures of the Hoboken Police and Fire Department, which is projected to cost taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency upgrades and repairs over the next decade 

The City will host a virtual community meeting on Wednesday, March 16, at 7 p.m.  to discuss current facility constraints and needs, and the proposed concepts for the 1501 Adams Street site to gather public feedback and envision community amenities.

To register for the meeting, go to https://bit.ly/3vTYFRO.   

Below is the memo from Mayor Bhalla to the Hoboken City Council in full.  

 

Dear Members of the Hoboken City Council,

Please accept this letter as our recap of the process we have collectively undertaken to implement the recent “Monarch” settlement; a settlement that replaces two 11-story buildings with two new City parks. Pivotal to that settlement is the relocation of our public works garage by November 4, 2024.  As described below, the search for a new home for public works has led us to 1501 Adams Street.  In a City with limited sites for such a light industrial use, this site is ideal.  Acquiring this site also presents us with a once-in-a-century opportunity to solve the City’s need to modernize its public facilities; improve, expand, and develop much needed community space; and avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs to bring aging buildings into the current century and provide our public safety employees and environmental services department with the tools they need to successfully operate. 

As I am sure you remember, the fight to protect the “Monarch Site” lasted over a decade culminating in a settlement that enjoyed the overwhelming support of the residents of Hoboken and 8 of the 9 members of the City Council (with 1 abstention).  Per such agreement: 

  • The City of Hoboken acquired the Monarch Site and 1.45 acres of land at 800 Monroe for the purpose of developing two parks. 
  • The developer acquired 256 Observer Highway (currently the site of the City’s dilapidated public works garage). 
  • The City agreed to vacate 256 Observer Highway by November 4, 2024. 
  • The developer paid the City $3.5 million to plan for a modern public works facility at a new site and a public park at the former Monarch Site. 
We approved and executed this settlement agreement knowing that the City had to find a new location for our public works operations.  The process began during settlement negotiations with an analysis of our space needs and identification of potential sites.   

At no taxpayer expense, the City contracted HDR, an engineering firm that specializes in public works facilities, to create a needs assessment based on our current operations and projections for the next twenty years.  In July 2020, HDR identified that approximately 95,000 SF is required to adequately house and operate our public works department with approximately 56,000 SF to be located on the ground floor.

Our team began evaluating all available property in the City, with support from outside Counsel at McManimon, Scotland & Baumann (MSB).  This undertaking initially identified the North Lot, adjacent to the new Northwest Park; a 30,000 SF property owned by the City.  Initially this was considered as a potential location for a temporary public works facility, but after conversations with the neighbors, the Ward Councilman, and the Council as a whole, we recognized that not only did this site not meet the needs of the City’s operations, but it was not the right fit for the neighborhood. 

At the request of City Council, we next moved on to identifying a site in the North End Rehabilitation Area.  This was deemed an ideal fit because existing blocks of land are large enough to accommodate the City’s needs, and current uses such as the NHSA facility, PSEG substation, and Academy Bus operations are likely to be longer term uses that would not conflict with the light industrial nature of a DPW facility.   

Our first meeting was with the property owner at 1500 Clinton, Bijou Properties.  Bijou owns an 80,000 SF lot that would offer the City enough ground floor space to properly operate a public works facility, if allotted the full footprint.  After several rounds of conversations, we developed a plan that included some of our public works needs with 36,000 SF on the ground floor and enabled Bijou to develop their site with 456 units of residential above the public works garage.  This plan was presented to and rejected by the City Council in April 2021 for a litany of reasons.  Most notably, members of the Council felt the plan was not aesthetically appealing, did not include sufficient setbacks from 15th Street, eliminated the linear park, and required the City to enter into a long-term ground floor lease, while still paying to build DPW facility. 

Around this same time, staff met with Charles Poggi, the owner of the property at 1501 Adams Street.  This was the site of Poggi Press until it ceased operations a decade ago after damage from Superstorm Sandy.  Previously, in February 2021, we had engaged Mr. Poggi with the goal of utilizing his property as a temporary site for our public works operations. Mr. Poggi expressed interest in leasing the City space for a temporary garage if the City would consider future residential redevelopment of his property. After taking multiple tours of the site, both parties acknowledged that temporary operations were not possible in that location, and further, that the City could not agree to any future redevelopment as part of a temporary lease.   

Meanwhile, as it became clear that the Bijou site would not work, the City began discussions with Academy Bus in June 2021. Academy operates bus services across the tristate area and owns multiple parcels of land in the North End for bus parking and maintenance.  We appraised their property north of 15th Street and, together with our Counsel from MSB, toured their property.  The State Department of Transportation requires that Academy site their operations within six miles of the Lincoln Tunnel to maintain unfettered access to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  Academy has been seeking other sites within that proximity for nearly a decade and has not identified any viable parcels that meet their needs. We understood that there is not a suitable location for Academy to move their operations without a major disruption to the regional transportation system, nor is there an opportunity to share space on Academy property without extraordinary expense, delay, and logistical phasing challenges.

Throughout this process we also maintained a dialogue with Mr. Poggi and his team with the goal of negotiating for a permanent public works facility on his blighted property.  Mr. Poggi first introduced the developer Lennar as the prospective purchaser of his land and at a meeting with the City and our Counsel from MSB in June 2021. We shared our required needs for a public works facility and Lennar planned to return in about two weeks with a proposal that included the City’s public works needs in the base of the building and residential uses above.  The day before we were supposed to receive the proposal, Lennar shared with our Counsel from MSB that they had been released by Mr. Poggi and they would not be sharing any proposal with the City. 

Based on these earlier documented conversations, the Bijou and Academy sites were determined not feasible and the Poggi site represented our only viable North End location for our public works facility.  Among other benefits, it did not have any significant ongoing businesses on site that would be disrupted by the City’s purchase.  As you may recall, members of the Administration met with the Hoboken City Council in Closed Session on September 1, 2021 to brief the City Council on the Administration’s plan to acquire Poggi’s property. Based on the Council’s near unanimous support to purchase the property at 1501 Adams, the Administration swiftly began taking steps on how to effectuate our shared goal while completing our due diligence on a possible public/private development on the Poggi site.  On October 6, 2021 the City Council authorized the preparation of a condemnation appraisal for the Poggi property. 

Nonetheless, Mr. Poggi and his attorney continued their dialogue with the City and held a meeting with the City in October 2021 where Advance Realty was introduced as the prospective purchaser of the site.  The City once again shared our space needs assessment from HDR and after a few weeks, Advance returned with a plan that included three 17-story residential towers (total of 580 residential units) built on top of a 90,000 SF public works facility (50,000 SF on the ground floor). While they proposed a park, it was elevated and sandwiched in between two residential towers. Through residential density and a 30-year PILOT agreement, the City would eventually retain ownership of the public works portion of the building as a condominium unit.  The City, however, would be required to pay for the construction of its public works portion of the building for an estimated $22.5 million (subject to final actual costs). 

This proposal was rejected by the City because it did not adequately accommodate the City’s public works needs due to the compromised first floor footprint of the City’s allocated space and the height, size, and density of the entire project.  In short, the proposal included such a massive amount of overdevelopment that would be substantially out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood, and was unacceptable to me. 

In a last-ditch effort to continue to develop the property for residential use, Poggi’s developer proposed a 14-story building that included 254 residential units. In this iteration, which included no public open space, the allocated footprint for the City was still deemed insufficient for the public works garage.  This proposal was also rejected because it required the City to purchase its portion of the land for what would likely be well over $10 million dollars and pay for the cost to build the public works garage.  The redeveloper also still required a PILOT.  Accordingly, this too was deemed to be an unacceptable outcome for the City particularly because purchasing all of the block, as opposed to a portion, was articulated to us at a closed session of the City Council in September 2021 and viewed by me and our staff as a superior alternative for the residents of the City.

After fully understanding the offers that were made to the City by Mr. Poggi and his representatives, it was clear that their expectations were far too high and what the City was getting in return simply wasn’t enough.  With our due diligence completed and the expected continued support of the City Council following the closed session meeting, we turned our attention to completing the Poggi appraisal. 

Having returned to the conclusion endorsed by the City Council in September 2021, and again in October 2021, to acquire the entire City block we quickly recognized that we should expand our vision beyond just the DPW.  Such a path seemed particularly prudent based upon the limited time we had to develop the new DPW facility and our desire to prevent a narrow focus on the DPW garage from limiting other (current or future) possibilities for this site.  In short, we believed it would be a failure of leadership to not take advantage of this almost unprecedented, and perhaps never again available, opportunity to have a blank canvas to develop a holistic approach to our entire municipal operations for generations to come.  As the Mayor and City Council responsible for 60,419 residents, countless visitors, and hundreds of business owners, we are all elected to keep our community safe, our streets clean, and our front-line workers supported.  Expanding our vision for this site is the inevitable conclusion we reached based upon this irrefutable responsibility. 

With the support of the City Council, on December 15, 2021, we entered into a contract with Nastasi Architects to begin the schematic and planning process for a possible multifaceted municipal facility at 1501 Adams Street.  Immediately, the Nastasi team met with leaders of the Hoboken Police, Fire, and OEM as well as the staff of the current public works facility.  In addition, the Nastasi team took tours of all City facilities to understand the needs and the current deficiencies.  From those meetings, initial plans were developed and presented to the Infrastructure Subcommittee. 

At the February 2, 2022 City Council meeting, a closed session was held to present these plans and further progress on advancing our shared goal, and the City Council approved a second contract with Nastasi Architects for design of the proposed municipal facility.  This contract passed   with 7 votes in favor, 0 votes against, and 2 abstentions.  With this major hurdle behind us, the next step in the process is to acquire the property in a timely fashion to keep the City on the required timeline to occupy a new DPW facility come November 4, 2024.

We are at a critical juncture in this process and I want to make certain that the entire City Council has all their questions answered so we can continue on this journey together.  We spend millions of dollars every single year on our current, dilapidated facilities.  Our taxpayers deserve a better bang for their buck and our Public Safety and Environmental Services employees deserve a safe place to work so they can effectively do their jobs and proudly serve our city. It is abundantly clear that we are long past due to build a modern police and fire headquarters given the current conditions of both facilities. Instead of the tens of millions of dollars that we are projected to spend just to keep these dilapidated facilities in operation over the next decade, this taxpayer money would be much better suited to build one, new and modern facility, as opposed to other alternatives such as building new, separate police and fire headquarters at their current locations, or keeping the status quo. 

This new facility won’t just create a better long-term location for our public safety officers and a modern municipal garage. We also intend to include a new community center to supplement the aging Multi-Service Center, adding much-needed space for our recreation programs for children and adults, as well as a new uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library. Our recreation and library capacity are severely limited.  We simply cannot accommodate the demands of our growing population, particularly in North Hoboken.  This is why the Poggi site is ideal for locating these popular community amenities; amenities that will be developed following a robust, transparent, and public process that will seek maximum community input. To that end, we will host a virtual public community meeting on Wednesday, March, 16, at 7 p.m. to discuss our current facility constraints and needs, and the proposed concepts for the 1501 Adams Street site to gather public feedback and envision community uses. We are committed to incorporating community amenities that reflect the needs and desires of our residents. 

Of course, I am well aware that this will be an expensive endeavor.  It is visionary and ambitious.  But we are not without resources.  Because the project will benefit citizens decades from now, we can spread the cost out for decades as well.   Because the project will render existing tax-exempt City facilities superfluous, we can sell those properties and create ratables to off-set costs.   And, because this site is in a redevelopment area, we can use redevelopment laws to offset construction costs or debt service to further reduce the impact on our taxpayers.   In short, we will work together to minimize the impact of this City defining public project on the Hoboken Taxpayer.   

I hope this information has been helpful in giving each of you a succinct recap of how we arrived at this pivotal moment.  I recognize this letter is dense, but setting the record is critical to providing everyone with confidence in our diligence and conclusions. The urgency we face to relocate our DPW facility is real and well worth the price – two new parks.  We were able to acquire the uptown Monarch site to help complete the decades-long dream of a contiguous, publicly accessible waterfront, and 800 Monroe for the purpose of another resiliency park because of this process. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire these two properties, and one that I’m glad we were able to take full advantage of.  

The current opportunity is equally game changing for us.  For this reason, I ask that you support our good faith offer to Mr. Poggi and provide us with the money to secure such land while we plan our next steps for this site and our City. 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office and I would be more than happy to further explain the necessity to move this forward. 

Sincerely, 

Ravi S. Bhalla 
Mayor 

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