150 Weehawken residents attend a meeting on waterfront development.
On December 9th, 1998 there was an open public meeting, sponsored by the Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The topic of the meeting was the development on the Weehawken Waterfront proposed by Roseland Development. The church was packed with 150 concerned citizens. There was standing room only.
The meeting featured a slide show and lecture by Craig Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker is an architect and professor of urban planning at NYU. He has extensive experience in waterfront development. He was the consultant to Hoboken's Coalition for a Better Waterfront. With active grass roots involvement in Hoboken, the citizens of Hoboken were able to shape the nature and scope of the development on the waterfront. The ultimate outcome of their pro-active involvement was a large public park on the piers and a public waterfront. This was a grass roots campaign that started in 1990. Eight years later the park is under construction and becoming a reality. Note that these development proposals can take a long time to shape to the benefit of the public.
The Hoboken Park includes a beautiful walking promenade along the Hudson River. Without the active involvement of the citizens of Hoboken, the developer, the Applied companies (owned by Joseph Barry) would have given no amenities to the public.
In Weehawken, we face a similar situation with the developer, Roseland Property.
The purpose of the Dec. 9th meeting was to raise our knowledge of waterfront development and Mr. Whitaker certainly enlightened many of us about the subtleties and complexities of urban design and planning.
Mr. Whitaker presented a slide show in which he showed examples of good and bad waterfront design. We learned that the design and planning of the waterfront can have a dramatic effect on the look and feel of the waterfront. Does the waterfront feel inviting to the public? Does it feel like a friendly public place? We learned that simply because the law says the waterfront is a public space, does not guarantee that the waterfront looks and feels like public space in practice.
One of the fundamental rules we learned is that there has to be a means of separating public space from private space. One of the major problems we face in Hudson and Bergen County with many of the current developments on the Hudson River is that the developer has not separated public space from private space.
The most glaring and outrageous example of this public/private non-separation is the "public" walkway at Shelter Bay condominiums in Edgewater, New Jersey. Technically, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has deemed that there must be a public walkway on front on the Hudson River Waterfront in front of the Shelter Bay condominiums.
However, the design of this community has a fundamental flaw. The backyards of the private condominium owners are directly adjacent to the public walkway. The condominium owners objected to having visitors walking along their backyards. The owners of the Shelter Bay condominiums were successful in fencing off the walkway and excluding public access. This is precisely the same design that Weehawken faces in Roseland's development of phase 1. The backyards of the condominiums will be right on the waterfront. The walkway, even if remains open to the public, will not feel like a public space. There must be a separation between public and private space. The most effective way to do this is to put a public roadway between the two.
After the slide show there was a rather lively question answer period in which citizens could ask Craig Whitaker questions.
In attendance at the meeting was Rosemary Lavignaio, our Councilmember from the 2nd ward and Mark Gould the head of the Weehawken planning board.
Some of the points raised were: Who has the ultimate say in the way the development is designed? The Township of Weehawken does. However, our Mayor Turner, seems to be trying to convince us otherwise, that the city is completely powerless to shape the scope and nature of the development. The city has the right to plot streets and change the zoning code. There is no willingness on Mayor Turner's part to change the zoning code. There is no willingness by Mayor Turner to defend the concerns of the citizens. Why is the Mayor being so difficult? Why is the Mayor not responding to his constituents?
There is a subcommittee of the Weehawken planning board that Mayor Turner created. The purpose of the subcommittee was to address the concerns of the citizens about the Roseland application. The subcommittee consists of Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Mark Gould Chairman Weehawken Planning Board, Carl Goldberg Vice President of Roseland Property, Rosemary Lavignaio 2nd Ward Councilmember, and Weehawken Residents, Til Globig, Ruth Elsasser and Bruce Sherman. For some reason unbeknownst to us, the members of the subcommittee have been sworn to secrecy. Why are these meetings subject to secrecy? This is a public, repeat, public process.