• The Union Dry Dock: The Facts + What You Should Know

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    With the summer months almost upon us, many of us find our attention wandering to those weekend days hanging out on Hoboken’s waterfront — the same waterfront that’s been dominating headlines for much of the winter because of a controversial sitch between the City of Hoboken, NJ Transit, and New York Waterway over the Union Dry Dock {we’ll call it UDD for short}. What is such a big deal about this property? Who are all these groups? And why are thousands of Hoboken citizens getting involved in this fight? To break it down for you, we’ll go through the timeline, the major players, and what’s at stake so you can have a better understanding of what’s going on {similar to our mayoral election series}:

    hoboken waterfront

    The Players

    Union Dry Dock:

    A 3-acre property that is the only piece of Hoboken’s waterfront that is not open-space property. No longer in use, UDD previously was used as a barge repair facility.

    New York Waterway:

    If you’ve taken a ferry from Hoboken into Manhattan then you know NY Waterway — a large ferry and excursion fleet in the NY Harbor founded in 1986 by Arthur E. Imperatore, Sr.

    • – Armand Pohan (Imperatore Sr.’s Stepson), NY Waterway Chairman
    • – Arthur Imperatore’s (Imperatore, Sr.’s son), Executive Vice President {+ potential internet troll, Exhibit A}

    Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla:

    The Mayor of Hoboken, elected in November 2017 but took office on January 1, 2018. Mayor Bhalla is an advocate for open space, which was a crucial piece of his campaign.

    Former Mayor Dawn Zimmer:

    The former Mayor of Hoboken, who served from 2009 until January 1, 2018.

    Hoboken City Council:

    The law-making body of the City of Hoboken. It is comprised of three At-Large members elected to represent the entire City and six members elected to represent one of our City’s six wards.

    New Jersey Transit:

    Think trains, buses, and light rail. 2,221 buses, 1,231 trains and 21 light rail vehicles to be exact. This is a state government agency.

    Governor Phil Murphy:

    The Governor of the State of New Jersey, elected in November 2017 but took office on January 16, 2018.

    The Story:

    The saga began in fall of 2017, when the City of Hoboken discovered that Union Dry Dock property was up for sale. This property is the last remaining part of Hoboken’s waterfront that is not open space. The City and many local environmental and open-space advocacy groups have been waiting to acquire this parcel of land to complete a 30-year plan for a contiguous waterfront here in Hoboken, as it is the last piece of the waterfront that is not open space.

    Upon making this discovery, then-Mayor Dawn Zimmer allegedy sat down with a representative of Union Dry Dock to inquire about purchasing the property. When that request was denied, she decided to acquire the property by Eminent Domain. Haven’t heard of Eminent Domain since your high school government days? In a nutshell: Eminent Domain is the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. But the government MUST provide just compensation {aka a fair market value} for the property.

    Although this power resides with the Mayor, it has to okayed by the City Council, which is done by a vote at a City Council meeting. Mayor Zimmer asked the Hoboken City Council to do this, and it was originally put up on October 4 but postponed until November 13, 2017.

    READ: Hilton Hotel Planned for The Hoboken Waterfront

    The Hiccup in the Plan:

    However, in those five weeks till showtime, the property was sold to New York Waterway for the purposes of creating a ferry refueling and repair station. Just two days later, on November 15, NJ Transit informed the City that they were interested in purchasing the property from NY Waterway and then leasing it back to them. {This isn’t the first time this has been suggested by the two companies; it was proposed in 2012 but didn’t go through}. For the City of Hoboken, this was no bueno because the City is unable to use Eminent Domain against them, as NJ Transit is a government agency. {Eminent Domain cannot be used on government property}.

    The Motive

    So, why does NY Waterway want the property/to move from their current facility?

    Rewind back to 15 years — NY Waterway used to own the property that they’re currently using in Weehawken, but in 2003/2004 decided to sell it, and rent it back from the new owners. According to Chairman Pohan, their lease is up. He says that they have been “looking” for an available property for 15 years, but can’t seem to find one, and unless they do soon, ferry service will cease to exist for their estimated 30,000 commuters.

    {Side note: this did not sit well with the City Council, who made the argument that it wasn’t Hoboken’s responsibility to bail out a company who has failed to make a contingency plan for over a decade and a half. Also – the City of Bayonne has expressed interest in hosting the facility — an option New York Waterway appears uninterested in exploring}.

    Okay, back to 2018. In January it looked like NJ Transit might actually succeed in buying UDD, but a combined effort from then-Governor-Elect Murphy, Mayor Bhalla, and a MLK Day protest from Hoboken residents managed to prevent that from happening.

    The March Offer:

    Since then, the City of Hoboken reauthorized Eminent Domain power for the Mayor and conducted a study to determine the value of UDD. On Friday, March 23rd, Mayor Bhalla made an offer of $11.63 Million to New York Waterway, with a 14-day window. If New York Waterway did not accept the “friendly” offer, then the City would move forward with Eminent Domain proceedings. {His full statement can be read here}.

    Six days after this offer letter was sent out, NJ Transit announced it was having a meeting to vote on the purchase of UDD. {Oy, back to this again!} This announcement came the day before a major holiday weekend {Good Friday and Passover} and during a week when many families were away for Spring Break.

    After an intense few days, Mayor Bhalla came to an agreement with Governor Murphy – if Hoboken suspended Eminent Domain proceedings, NJ Transit would cancel the meeting, and the Governor’s office would bring all parties together to work together to find a solution that works for local communities and commuters alike. Mayor Bhallla suspended Eminent Domain on Monday, April 2 and NJ Transit did indeed cancel their meeting two days later.

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    Some FAQs you may have:

    Where do Hoboken residents stand?

    Overwhelmingly in favor of an open-space park. {In January, the City of Hoboken issued a survey to which 2,447 people responded, almost 92% of whom said it’s a priority to have a complete publicly-accessible waterfront park system}.

    Where is the money coming from? Will this raise my taxes?

    Hoboken has an Open Space Trust Fund, created in 2008 specifically for this type of event. The Trust Fund can be used to acquire or develop land to be used for recreation and conservation purposes. It’s funded each year by a small portion of municipal taxes, plus any donations, or additional money that the City Council or Mayor want to put there. So according to City Hall, this will not raise taxes.

    What should we be worried about?

    There are pros and cons to both sides of the situation, no matter how you look at. Here’s the breakdown:

    1. Failure for a Contiguous Waterfront:

    For the past 30 years, the city has been implementing a plan to turn the entire waterfront into a public, open space, park. This is the last remaining piece. {You can read all about the history of this plan here}.

    2. Potential Loss of Ferry Service:

    According to Chairman Pohan, without a new site, NY Waterway will be unable to provide ferry service once their lease is up and will impact commuters greatly.

    3. Environmental Impacts:

    According to the font, Hoboken’s leading advocacy group for a contiguous waterfront, the environmental impacts are estimated to be quite large, both on land and in the water.

    If you’re interested in getting more involved {on either side}, here are five ways to do so – depending on your position:

    1. Join a rally this upcoming Friday, April 20 at 6pm at Maxwell Place in response to NY Waterway {this is hosted by the Mayor}.
    2. Follow or reach out to the Fund for a Better Waterfront.
    3. Sign up for alerts from the City here.
    4.        Get in touch with NY Waterway here.
    5. Reach out to the Mayor’s office directly here or your City Council Member here.

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    Written by:

    Rachel Hodes, is a life long New Jerseyean, who is happy to be back across the river after a few years in NYC. She enjoys yoga, anything with chocolate, and making her way through Reese Witherspoon's Book List. Rachel lives in Hoboken with her fiance Jason Freeman. In 2017, she ran for office and was elected to the Hoboken Democratic Committee, where she also serves as the Recording Secretary. She works at a NYC non-profit focused on philanthropy and innovation.