Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Recap of NJ Transit Meeting at Hoboken Rail Terminal 12/14/2010

Update 12/15/2010:

Last night John Leon of New Jersey transit gave the second presentation of the 1.7 acre site redevelopment plan nearest the Hoboken Train Terminal.  The key feature will be a 18 story 500,000 square foot commercial office building with improvements for the commuter experience as well as retail.

Here are some of the main points from the introduction and design walk through:
  • The NJT views the Hoboken Terminal as a key intermodal transit hub.
  • Having 5 modes of transit (train, bus, ferry, rail, taxi, bus) intersect at one location makes this location a prominent one throughout the country.
  • The NJT views this portion of the project as a community gateway.
  • It will provide office space for one world class tenant.
  • The building will be 18 stories, 500,000 square feet and utilize a green roof, refinement of massing (asymmetrical three tier stacking)  and bronze toned cladding to give it a unique architectural design.
  • NJT claims it will create 800 construction jobs and 1,740 permanent jobs.
  • NJT claims it will add $2.4 million in City property tax revenue (via commercial PILOT).
  • It will provide the following community improvements: new bus terminal, new public plaza and market place, expanded pedestrian connections, new cycling paths and storage, and enhanced PATH access.
  • Bus terminal design would include green roof mixed with wind veil in an innovative design.
  • Plan would also include open retail marketplace and sculpture garden.

This time  around, it would appear that the NJT took the feedback from the first public session and seemed to incorporate the feedback into design changes using the following key takeaway points...

Community Priorities as per Hoboken feedback to NJT:
  • Buses no longer circulating off of Hudson place. They will actually have a turning circle and go out the same way as before to observer.
  • Enhanced vehicular and pedestrian circulation.
  • Mix of commuter and destination retail.
  • Create great public spaces and amenities.
  • Greening of Hudson Place.
  • Landmark design for bus terminal.
  • Landmark design for TOD office building.
  • Sustainability focus (LEED Silver).

After the presentation I relayed my concerns to John Leon who is the key NJT contact for this proposed project. I told him that many Hoboken residents are concerned about the other 50 acres or so that are not in this plan. He assured me that no plan would be put forth and finalized until it had approval from the Mayor and City Council.

Currently the interlocal agreement is not in place and until it is Hoboken will not have the legal protection it needs to vote up or down any NJT proposal. The Mayor has stated that she will not approve any plans until such and interlocal agreement is in place.

Also worth noting that due to the short notice and holiday timing the turnout for this meeting was not as good as the last time. Those that did attend including 2nd Ward Council Candidate Tom Greaney paid very close attention and were active after the presentation asking questions of NJT officials.

Here are some talking points that I gathered from the Q and A session after the presentation. Some of these might not necessarily represent my opinion and in some case just me playing devil's advocate for the sake of discussion.

For Discussion:
  • Should NJT be in the business of real estate or retail? Shouldn't they just stick to transit?
  • Should the Hoboken Mayor and City Council give approval to any plan unless the interlocal agreement is ironed out and signed first?
  • Should Hoboken demand better train, bus, PATH, and light rail service in exchange for saying yes to such a plan?
  • What levels of infrastructure improvement should also be provided? Here are some suggestions: under ground electric, expanded sewer lines, expanded water lines, an additional pump, and better pedestrian safety features like a wider sidewalk, etc.
  • Someone suggested making the bus terminal two stories; one level for buses and the other for taxis. This would cost more but allow the street by Hudson Place to be an open pedestrian plaza.
  • Some have remarked that if you are going to do commercial development it would be best to do it near the transit hub and not uptown? Do you agree or disagree?
  • Some people think that there should be a moratorium on all new building in Hoboken. I am not saying that they are a political majority at this point but could they have a valid concern given Hoboken's geographical limitations (i.e. low sea level, high water table, built on loose soil and marshy geography). Do you think a moratorium is in order or out of line with reality?
  • Is it worth it to Hoboken to build a 500,000 square foot office tower to get some of the enhancements that NJT is promising? Shouldn't we get those improvements anyway without all the additional commercial space?
  • Or, is the giving the ok on a plan for that much office space economically necessary to make the project viable and give Hoboken what it needs in terms of fixing the problems near the terminal?
  • There are still concerns over what NJT has in store for the rest of the site and those might not go away even with an interlocal agreement. Contracts can always be amended down the line if the composition of the City Council or Mayor should change hands. What else should Hoboken do to protect their power of self-determination with respect to redevelopment?

Below is a slideshow of some of the highlights and slides of the second
presentation by NJT for their rail yards redevelopment plan in South Hoboken:

Click read more below for previous updates (extensive): 

Reminder 12/13/2010: NJ Transit has called a second meeting for tomorrow on the Rail Yard Redevelopment Plan at Hoboken Rail Terminal, Tuesday December 14th  at 7pm. Question: Will NJ Transit really try to work with Hoboken i.e. agree to let Hoboken have the final decision making powers in the redevelopment site via the City Council or will they just try to get the state powers like Senator Paul Sarlo and Bob Menendez to call the main shots? This question will not be answered at this next meeting but if NJT is not careful they may very well tip their hat as to their true intentions. Keep in mind I am not opposed to development at this area. I am just concerned about the scale of things and the commercial viability of this and any other redevelopment projects.

Here is some recent Hoboken Journal history aggregated for your viewing pleasure on this transformational initiative:

Update 12/10/2010: Here is the latest from the Administration on the NJ Transit Redevelopment plan. A public meeting is upcoming next Tuesday December 14, 2010.


The City of Hoboken is working to move forward with the redevelopment of the Hoboken Terminal and is providing the public with a status update and background on four parallel initiatives regarding this site:

NJT Bus Terminal in Hoboken, NJ

1. NJ Transit’s request to have a 1.8 acre portion redeveloped as a first phase in order to make improvements to the terminal and bring in a major commercial business.

Update: NJ Transit has scheduled a second public meeting for this Tuesday, December 14th at 7pm at the Hoboken Terminal. NJ Transit intends to provide the public with an update on their proposed plans based on feedback received at the first public meeting in September.

2. Enacting an interlocal agreement between NJ Transit and the City of Hoboken to establish the process for proceeding with the redevelopment of the site in order to follow the New Jersey Redevelopment and Housing Law.

Update: The City sent a draft agreement to NJ Transit in August which was been reviewed by the Attorney General and NJ Transit. NJ Transit agreed to provide the City with feedback on the agreement by noon on Friday, December 10, 2010. The City’s redevelopment attorneys will review the feedback at that time.

3. Selecting a redevelopment planner for the City to prepare the redevelopment plan for the entire 52-acre Hoboken Terminal Redevelopment Area and begin the visioning for this area.

Update: In late September, the City received 11 submissions in response to a Request for Qualifications for a planner for the Hoboken Terminal and Rail Yards Redevelopment Plan. A review team was formed consisting of the Zoning, Planning and Economic Development subcommittee, the Community Development Director, a member of the City’s sustainability green team, and a member of the Hoboken Rail Yard Task Force that was formed in coordination with the Quality of Life Coalition. The team met in October to evaluate the submittals and the list of firms was narrowed down based on the criteria being considered. The redevelopment attorney conducted a technical review of the submittals, and in November, the review team further narrowed the list down to four firms to interview. The review team will hold interviews at the end of December and is expected to make a recommendation based on those interviews.

4. NJ Transit Studio Class for Rutgers University and Hunter College graduate planning students.

Update: In addition to the redevelopment planner, the City will be coordinating with the NJ Transit Studio Class. This studio class, starting in January and going through April, is geared toward improving the transportation modes at the Hoboken Terminal. Both the City of Hoboken and NJ Transit are eager to improve and rationalize access to Hoboken Terminal, given both the needs of each transportation mode and economic development initiatives citywide. This studio will afford students real world experience by exploring, researching and recommending improvements from transportation, land use, and urban design perspectives. The goal is to give NJ Transit and the City a unique opportunity to make the Terminal not only an efficient transportation facility but also a great public place that is fully integrated into the fabric of Downtown Hoboken. Issues to be addressed include bus operations, pedestrian flow, bicycle access and storage, ferry terminal and Warrington Plaza operations and potential commercial uses, taxi drop off and waiting, van/shuttle drop off and waiting, private vehicle drop off and waiting, urban design issues, economic development issues, and signage for the terminal and wayfinding. This studio class will include a public input component and will coordinate with the redevelopment planner’s efforts.


Update 9/28/2010: Last night NJ transit introduced their plan that covers 5% of the 52 acre redevelopment area of the NJT Rail yards area. The introduction was presented as a conceptual plan with an introduction from The Mayor of Hoboken Dawn Zimmer and Senior Director John Leon of NJT. The finale was a presentation of the high level architectural plan.

Map of the Area affected by initial plan- only covers about 5% of total redevelopment area

The presentation had a long introduction by John Leon justifying the economic benefits of the project in terms of state and local breakdowns projected. The plan had some nice features in terms of improving the bus terminal, providing a marketplace, and improving some of the open space outside the terminal that seemed appealing. I don't know if it was just me but the punchline was the final slide that showed the one commercial building as a company HQ (company unspecified) that would be built at around 500,000 square feet.

Representatives from NJ Transit said the commercial building would be 17 stories. The W Hotel is 26 stories.

It seemed that NJT wanted to show the size of the building at the end in order to avoid negative feedback. Officials at the Q and A booths later confirmed it to be 17 stories. I just felt that a better rendering of the building would have left some Hoboken residents a little less skeptical.

There was no mention of the infrastructure improvements that the NJT plan would provide. A commercial building could be good for Hoboken but concerns over the size were voiced by some residents in attendance. Dawn Zimmer also mentioned in her introduction that she understands residents would have concerns over the plan when 95% of the rest of the plans for the redevelopment area have yet to be presented. The Mayor also mentioned that there will be follow up community meetings before any plans are finalized.

For more detail check out the Flickr slideshow of the presentation along with the video of the presentation in several parts below:

NJ Transit Hoboken Railyard Meeting Photos and Slides from presentation 9-27-2010:

Introduction of Plan by John Leon and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer:

NJT Rail Yards - John Leon Gives Overview Part 1 of 2 9/27/2010:

NJT Rail Yards - John Leon Gives Overview Part 2 of 2 9/27/2010:

NJT Rail Yards - Architect goes over plan Part 1 of 2 9/27/2010:

NJT Rail Yards - Architect goes over plan Part 2 of 2 9/27/2010:

Update 9/27/2010: Reminder- Meeting is at 7 PM tonight at the Hoboken Train Station waiting room.

Original Post 9/23/2010: Here is a press release from the Hoboken Rail Yards Task Force on the upcoming NJT railyards project meeting ....

Hoboken Rail Yards Task Force Encourages Community To Attend Mayor’s Forum on NJ Transit’s Proposed Property Development Plan

Hoboken, NJ – Sept. 22, 2010 – On Monday, Sept. 27, from 7-9 pm, Mayor Zimmer will host a meeting in the historic Hoboken train station waiting room for the community and City Council members to see NJ Transit’s latest development proposal for a small portion of its 52-acre property on Hoboken’s southern border.

The Hoboken Rail Yards Task Force, a group of concerned community members who are working together to help ensure an open and community-based approach to developing this important piece of land, encourages everyone to turn out at this event. “It’s important for residents to show New Jersey Transit that we care what happens at this historic site and gateway to our city,” says task force member Diana Davis.

The rail yards along the southern edge of Hoboken have served as a highly efficient transportation zone for more than a century. The terminal itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. New Jersey Transit and FX FOWLE, a planning company hired by the previous city administration, presented a plan in September 2008 that was roundly criticized by many citizens. “The plan was a wake-up call for many local voters, who viewed overdevelopment as one of the issues of the 2009 political debate,” says task force member Terry Pranses. While the Mayor’s administration has undertaken initial steps for community-based planning for this by soliciting proposals from leading urban planning firms, NJT appears to have developed a plan, at least for a small portion of the site.

Depiction of  FXFOWLE's Final Proposal and the largeness of its scale - for reference only
“The Rail Yards represent 8 percent of the city’s territory and serve as a key entrance point to the city from the east, south and west,” says Pranses. “They will set a tone for Hoboken’s quality of life. The Rail Yards could be Hoboken’s next great neighborhood, or an alien zone that changes the city forever.”

We strongly urge citizens to attend this important meeting and to view, along with Mayor Zimmer, New Jersey Transit’s proposed plan for a portion of the Rail Yards.

About the Hoboken Rail Yards Task Force:

The Task Force was formed in the wake of the third public meeting held by the City to present the NJ Transit Rail Yards redevelopment plan, when it was made clear that the designated planners, FXFOWLE, had incorporated none of the feedback expressed by members of the community at the previous two meetings. The group advocates development of the rail yards in a scale and manner that complements the larger community it will be joining. New development at this crucial site will impact Hoboken for many generations. For more information, contact Diana Davis at 201-927-8395.

Here are a few more depictions of the now defunct FXFWOLE plan for reference only:
Depiction of the prior FXFOWLE plan from Observer Highway- Holy Infrastructure needs Batman!

Very tall office towers depicted in prior FXFOWLE plan- out of scale with Hoboken to many including a 9-0 vote against by the City Council.