|Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront
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Attached, please find a copy of a letter that I sent to the Mayor of Weehawken after the town meeting that was held at the high school some months back. The mayor, in fact, called me to discuss several issues in the letter and we had an informative "chat" for some thirty or forty minutes. A copy of that letter was sent to the Weehawken Reporter. During our chat, the Mayor thought the Reporter would probably not print my letter because it was "too long." Sure enough, they would not print it - a dubious coincidence. In fairness to them, they suggested I cut it down to size, i.e., 500 words or less - but, I resisted, what I had to say was too important to me to cut it down to such small a comment. I had seen several letters between townspeople that were personal in nature, of little importance to the community in general, and what consisted mostly of personal attacks against the authors; in other words it seems the Reporter is more interested in gossip then in substantive opinions of townspeople that have something to say about real issues effecting this town for years, decades or even centuries to come. It is as follows.MARK DAVID CORD
Weehawken, New Jersey
Hon. Richard F. Turner
RE: Proposed Building Site, Weehawken Waterfront VIA: Fax & 1st Class Mail
Dear Mr. Mayor:
Several months ago, a volunteer from a certain organization, knocked on my door asking if I would sign a petition against the development of our waterfront as it was then proposed. Because I did not know all the facts, I declined. I did, however, listen to what this person had to say and stated I would attempt to learn further details of the proposal in the coming week and that, if indeed, what she was stating was the truth, I would sign the petition. My attempts at looking at and studying the proposal on paper proved less then informative. Because of the lack of information available in the way of architectural plans I could not determine the scoop of the project. I started to feel guilty about not having signed the petition because of this pathetic void of public information and hoped that I would see this person again. I never did. The issue went to sleep.
But guess what? It woke again thanks to the efforts of the same (or similar) organization that informed me, through a flyer left on my same doorstep, of a Town meeting to take place Thursday evening June 10, 1999. Since the meeting was specifically in reference to the development proposal, and since the architectural plans were to be revealed for the first time, I resolved to go, and so, along with the largest group of people that I had ever witnessed at this sort of function, a group that literally filled up the auditorium of the Weehawken High School, we sat, we listened, we saw exactly what was about to befall this wonderful community. Many of us were left aghast.
It started out simply enough. We were introduced to the various players of the project: the developer, the architects, the Town Board, yourself, Honorable Mayor and, of course, the largest players of all - the towns people. As each player spoke in turn, it became clear that this project was to be gargantuan in size. The planners of the project must have sensed the audience would not take kindly to its scope, i.e., the actual sizes of the buildings, as the specific heights of the structures themselves, although alluded to earlier in the evening, were not actually given until almost two hours into the presentation; enough time to loose some of the people who had to leave, or was it, perhaps, the hope of the architects that the people would be too numb by then to take it all in by then?
When the sizes were finally revealed, there was a palpable reaction from the audience, as if it had been hit by some sort of shook wave. Numerous buildings, I remember nine being stated as the amount that would be over eight to ten stories high. Many would top almost 170 feet! Another more unsettling number given was the project would comprise a total of about 3.9 million square feet. It was suggested towards the end of this almost five hour meeting that we try to learn more about what this size and density actually meant. I can tell you this: almost 4 million square feet equals approximately two Empire State Building. Two! Just think of it, in the future when you gaze out onto the Hudson River, should this project actually take place, you will get a lot more then you bargained for when you are looking at that magnificent structure; where- it- belongs - across- the- river.
We were told by the architects in a most matter-of-fact, dispassionate (and somewhat condescending) voice that we would loose only fifty (50) percent of our views . Only fifty percent. Half! Well, I suppose half is better than nothing. We were told it could have been worse, that "our building codes allow for much higher buildings to be built." We were reminded time and again by the architects that things could have been worse. But, why do we have to loose any of our views? Can anyone really answer this question? Why do we need high rises at all in this town? I don't know. I thought keeping up with the Jones's was a thing of the past. Why does Weehawken have to outdo our neighbors in creating Monolithic Monsters. And why do these monsters have to have a penthouse occupying a floor that would only house a few individuals but would forever end the views of thousands of Weehawkenites? Talk about super ego trips. That lone resident can point to their living quarters and tell their friends "I am singularly responsible for blocking fifty percent of of the Weehawkens' residents views - now, how's that for power!"
The builders propose moving the existing ferry parking (and the ferry itself) to the northern end of our property. There are approximately 1,500 parking spaces for the ferry now. If one looked over there recently, they may have noticed that cars are now parking on the lawn areas abutting the Hudson River because, apparently, this volume of parking is not enough. Where are these cars going to go? We are told they will be hidden - disappear! Hhmm, I wonder. Add this parking to the spaces needed for the forthcoming requirements to all the residential (which, by the way, amounts to almost 1700 families) the proposed retail; the proposed office building (and one wonders why we need this in the first place, as we have had an empty office building on the southern end our our town for years now) the proposed HOTEL; and, not to mention, the proposed 300 plus bed assisted living center, and you wonder again if we are not planning a new city.
For those who have not seen the proposal, it looks something like a giant telephone receiver lying down on its edge in a north/south position. On one end is the high density residential and retail component. Looking at it from NYC, this would be the right or northern end of the "phone," let's call it the "hearing" end. In the middle, much narrower area - that part of the phone you hold, is an area slatted for about sixty low rise, i.e., two storied homes. At the most southern end is where the planners intend to build a park for our towns exclusive usage. This end of the phone, the part you "speak" into seems only a little smaller then the larger hearing end of the phone. I say we flip the phone: build the residential and retail on the south side, and the park on the northern side. In this scenario no views would be lost for most of Weehawken, the park would be infinitely more accessible, and we would look down upon a beautiful, useful and serene setting.
Our architectural guide went on to extol the virtues of the retail shops and scenic drives that would enhance our area. Indeed, as she thoughtfully guided us around the circular route that now passes outside the ferry's entrance my imagination started to take hold. I thought "how wonderful this will be, I can drive along the waterway and gaze out on the Hudson, stop my car and shop in these new stores." An imaginary horn woke me up. The imaginary guy behind me became really irritated because I had stopped in the street as there was no place to park - even momentarily - to take in this wonderful vision, besides, I was on my way home and knew if I stopped too long, I would never get a parking space in "Upper Weehawken" as it is now referred to, so I proceeded along this scenic route. Turns out, though, the drive only lasted about a minute, about the time it really takes to drive this circular route. Walking it would be better, but then there is that parking problem again. Once more, reality stepped in and slapped me in the face. It certainly seemed longer when our guide took us around.
It's hard to believe the we "Uppers" will shop down below. Aside from the parking problem, would anyone care to get into their car (you could walk down, but getting back up is a problem - especially with bundles and such) face the inevitable traffic, try to find a parking space that the developers tell us will be "hidden" in the four corners of the project, and attempt to shop, then return topside and look for a parking spot all over again? Maybe, but I believe the reality is that shopping will remain an upper thing. These retail stores will mostly serve to service those families that will reside below, and that's fine, let us just understand that.
I really would like to use the new park though. But, being on the southern end of town and being built over the Lincoln Tunnel, it might be really hard to get to, especially at certain times of the day, so I bet I will end up going to one of our beautiful parks "upside" and remember what it was like to gaze across the Hudson and see the view. Remembering too, the bus loads of people that came to see what we had, and remember how proud I was when I would point out certain aspects of the Hudson and other sites to these guests that would, by then, be only a memory.
But wait, I am told I will have "view corridors." What's that? Well, turns out, they are east to west, or west to east, if you like, streets - where nothing will be built. Corridors where I am told I will be able to see the Hudson fully and without interruptions - for a full sixty feet of width! One, even wider. You can see similar corridors like these if you just look across the Hudson at New York City. More accurately referred to in the once popular song "Autumn In New York" as "Canyons of Steel," ours will be canyons of cement. I really can't see much through these at all though, can you? And worse yet, if I turn my gaze just slightly from the perpendicular, say I want to see something just off to the right or left of these "corridors," I will be treated to view of a bunch of rooftops as these corridors will slip away into oblivion by just the turn of the head. We were told these rooftops may have some plantings on them, but I'll bet they won't cover up those rooftop air-conditioners, air ducts, aerials, satellite dishes and whatever other things go on roofs these days. Besides, who will tend these gardens anyway?
We are urged, indeed told to develop our waterfront. What's the rush. The waterfront and it's views are not going anywhere soon. The only place it's going is away - if we build hastily. If we are going to build let's take our time. This project should be in the planning stage for years - as most plans are. We were talking about how in six months the developers completely revised their first plan, and I agree with you Mr. Mayor - a step in the right direction, however, six months is lighting speed for a plan of this magnitude. Six years seems better in terms of studying and revising such an undertaking. Perhaps Weehawken should be a shining example of a town that refuses to conform to expansion for expansion sake, a town that recognizes its inherent and divine gift we have been given. We must not become immune to what we, the people of Weehawken, are exposed to on a daily basis. There will always be another shopping center; another residential development; another office building. Let us not, in haste, or in greed, take away what is arguably the grandest view on earth for just another development.
I have traveled extensively in the Southwest. I have seen views that make you weep from their beauty - that make a non believer, believe. Anyone who has seen the Grand Canyon knows what I am talking about; the Grand Tetons; Yosemite Valley; Yellowstone Park; the Rocky Mountains; Sequoia National Forest; these are all divine given - you couldn't make any one of them if you tried. But, you could destroy each and every one of them - irreversibly.
Turns out (of all things) Weehawken's gifts rank right up there with the rest of these treasures. And, that is exactly what they are - Divine treasures. Do we really want to destroy fifty percent of them? Do we really want to fill half the Grand Canyon with cement? Do we really want to cut the peaks of the Grand Tetons to half their size? Do we want to slaughter half the animals and plug half the geysers in Yellowstone Park, or remove half of Yosemite Valley to create what - half a valley? I don't think so. I ask you again: Do we the people really want this? to destroy - for all time, fifty percent of ours views - our precious gift?
I am not against development of the waterfront. I am, however, against certain aspects of development such as high rises where they don't belong, and the Weehawken Waterfront is a place they most assuredly do not belong. I am against over development, and seems we are adding a city, not a reasonable extension of our community. I am against being sold a bill of goods that have not carefully been checked out and I do not believe the good people of our town have enough information about this project that seems to be coming at us a lightning speed, nor enough time to weigh its far reaching consequences. I say, let us slow down a bit. Let's go back to the drawing board for awhile and if we decide to develop, then let us develop in a more carefully reasoned and thoughtful manner.
To the women that asked for my signature, please, consider your petition signed.
Mark David Cord
cc Weehawken Reporter