Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher requests feedback on Stevens re-zoning

Official release:

Dear friends and neighbors:
This is one of those times where not only do I want your input, but I need it.  This year is the beginning of a big, long-awaited effort to make zoning updates and upgrades in Hoboken.  I will send out a more detailed description of what this means and how it works at a later date.  
But first up:  re-zoning of the Steven’s campus. 
There are a number of changes being proposed that I have summarized below, but they mainly involve bringing more of their students onto campus and allowing for future growth in their enrollment.  Both of which are great causes, but also require increased density on campus (and collateral effect in town), and moreover increased height which is always a sensitive topic in our town.  
Tomorrow night I will be potentially voting on the second reading (so final vote) for the ordinance that will codify (make legal) all of the proposed changes.  This ordinance already reflects the input and approval of Mayor Bhalla.  My choices in voting will be:
  • Yes
  • No
  • Suggest modifications and re-introduce as 1st reading with 2nd reading at the 8/1 meeting
The reason Stevens is up first is that the City (Mayor, Administration and Council) are trying to work closely together with Stevens on its 10-year operating plan which kicks off this fall with construction of a new, two-tower student center and housing complex.  But Stevens can only move forward with this plan if this ordinance gets approved in time.  If Stevens cannot start this fall, their plan gets pushed an entire school year.  It is slightly dated, but you can read an earlier version of their 10 yr plan HERE (most of the assumptions still apply) which gives some good information about Stevens and their vision. 
So I would like your thoughts on whether you support the proposed changes, or not.   
High-level summary of the proposed zoning changes (boundary, bulk and uses):
Current zoning (I am focusing only on major items).
  • R-1(E) – Residential Higher Education (click here to read detail).  
  • The area encompasses the entire campus excluding their waterfront property, and then both sides of Castle Point between 8th and 9th, and the east side only of Castle Point between 9th and 10th.  
  • Effectively, the campus currently has two sub-areas that are delineated by proximity to surrounding neighborhoods with the only difference being allowable height in those areas:
    • 200ft from Hudson, 5th and 8th Sts. – 40’ or 4 stories can be built with 50% lot coverage
    • All other areas – 100’ or 10 stories can be built with 50% lot coverage
  • Most traditional education uses are permitted, others are conditional (requiring board approval) 
Proposed zoning (reflecting changes in red)
  • The area would be reduced to exclude all of Castle Point (so existing zoning for those areas remains until changed).
  • The campus would now have three zones – 
    • TRANSITION
      • Includes most of the prior area that was 200ft from Hudson, 8th and 5th streets.  
      • Any building in this area must blend in with the surrounding residential areas.
      • Lot coverage increases to 70% from 50%. 
      • No change in bldg. height
    • CORE
      • Everything else but the Edge zone (listed next).  
      • Buildings here can have a broader design.  
      • Lot coverage can go as high as 70% (from 50%), with green infrastructure.
      • Bldg height – no change in stories, 20 ft increase to 120 ft.
    • EDGE
      • New, area along the eastern edge of the campus facing the water (think Howe Center and Babbio, going south to 5th St.)
      • Buildings here need to be oriented to the water and provide view corridors.
        • Lot coverage can go as high as 70% (from 50%), with green infrastructure.
        • Bldg height 
          • 1st proposed building can have 2 towers that are 225 foot from grade (ground).  This is approximate 285 feet higher than Sinatra Drive.  And about 20ish feet lower than the W.  NOTE: This height has already been reduced after discussions between Stevens and Mayor Bhalla.  And, the Administration claims that they have agreed with Stevens that the two towers will differ in height, with one being about 2 stories lower, but that is not reflected in the ordinance.
          • All other buildings can be 200 feet high from grade – a 100ft increase.  Nothing currently planned but can probably accommodate at least two more buildings. 
The ordinance also has considerable, additional requirements pertaining to use and approvals necessary for any material changes in existing footprint – effectively giving the city a seat at the table in many future development discussions.  
Thoughts on what this achieves for Hoboken:
Consolidates Students on Campus
  • Pros for Hoboken: less students in the rest of Hoboken taking less shuttles to campus.  
  • Cons for Hoboken: less students as neighbors off campus/less diversity.  Increases density in Hoboken because housing taking up currently by students who may not have cars, will now be marketed to individuals more apt to have cars.  Takes students out of the city where they spend money at many of our restaurants and stores.
Allows Stevens to Grow
  • Pros for Hoboken:  More students, more professors and administrators, more people supporting our local businesses.  Stevens has been a great partner to Hoboken and is part of our history.  They provide considerable STEM programming for our local schools and give annual scholarships and we hope and expect this to continue and expand.  
  • Cons for Hoboken:  Providing for increased density without a full understanding of the traffic, circulation and parking impact to Hoboken.
Taller Buildings 
  • Pros for Hoboken:  Potential for architecturally interesting buildings for our skyline.  The height sets a good precedent for other developments (if you are supportive of height).
  • Cons for Hoboken: The height sets a bad precedent for other developments (if you are height sensitive).  
Waterfront Plans Not Included
  • Pros for Hoboken:  Can have robust conversations with Stevens at a later date to best protect/use our waterfront.
  • Cons for Hoboken:  Once zoning is approved for the rest of the campus, not much left to trade. 
For what it is worth, I am a HUGE fan of Stevens.  Under the leadership of their current President, Nariman Farvardin Stevens has achieved many recent successes including a significantly improved relationship with the City of Hoboken.  You can read in their 10 yr. plan beginning on page 14 the myriad connections they have with Hoboken and I just hope we will see these expand.  They are recognized as a top institution within the Academic world and in March of this year, the American Council on Education gave Stevens its “Award for Institutional Transformation,” which recognizes institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period.  These successes have translated into increased applications, high post college placement north of 95%, and some of the highest starting salaries for graduates in the country.  
That being said, I am an even bigger fan of Hoboken.   I personally fall into the height-sensitive camp.  I am concerned about the height of the buildings in the Edge Zone, the additional density this will bring to Hoboken and whether or not Hoboken is getting enough back for these accommodations to Stevens.  But I represent the residents of the 2nd Ward and Hoboken when I vote, and sometimes my views are not consistent with yours.  
So on this one, I would like your help to make sure I am representing our community best.  
Thank you in advance for your feedback.
TiffanieFisher
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
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