2014 Jun 10th

Should Developers Get Variances for 12-Story Rental Buildings in Hoboken?



There is a Hoboken zoning board meeting next Tuesday night, June 17th, to decide if a number of variances should be granted for a project proposed for 1300 Jefferson Street.

The complex would purportedly include a bowling alley.  I’m not a bowler but I do love Brooklyn Bowl (in Brooklyn & now Las Vegas) and Rock ‘n Bowl (in New Orleans.)  These venues offer live music in a fun atmosphere along with bowling lanes, superb food and beer.  Have the developers ever been to these places?  With the void created by the departure of Maxwell’s, I predict that type of music venue would be a huge success in Hoboken.  If just an ordinary bowling alley – meh.  The details on the 1300 Jefferson web site are a bit sketchy  and contain many typos (which does not fill me with confidence.)

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What really strikes me about the proposal, however are two things.  First, are these rental buildings or condos?  It is not clear from the website.  People should ask themselves, do we, as a community, want to add  additional “luxury” rental units to our housing stock?  Are rental properties more likely to contribute to the future growth and improvement of the city in a positive direction?  I find that “luxury rental” units tend to attract young singles, who share these properties with room-mates and, after a year or two, move on.  The renters tend not to see Hoboken as their “home” and they don’t typically vote here.  They have little vested interest in local affairs.  Condo owners, on the other hand, have a significant investment at stake in Hoboken.  They pay Hoboken property taxes.  In my experience, they care more about Hoboken and the direction of its future.  Would you prefer that this building be rentals or condos?

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Second, the prevailing building height on the west side of town is 6 stories.  This building is  to be 12 stories, if the developer has it his way.  The “proposed recreational” fields pictured on the diagrams are just that – merely proposed.  There is no assurance that these surrounding lots will not also become 12 story rental apartments.  Do you think Hoboken should allow 12 story apartments to be built in the part of town most subject to flooding?  What about parking?  Traffic?  Density?  What affect will 12 story buildings have on the surrounding buildings?  It is interesting that the diagrams on the 1300 Jefferson website show the building drawn in a void.  It almost looks as if the building is situated on a deserted island.  I would like to see it drawn in the context of reality.  Wouldn’t you?

Then there is the actual design of the building.  While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and taste is subjective, this architectural firm is known for designs that are avant-garde.  Do we want such disparate structures so predominantly featured in our city?  Would a more traditional design be more appropriate?  I’d like to see something classic – along the lines of 15 Central Park West.  Wishful thinking, I know, that Robert Stern would work in Hoboken.  Do you think the proposed building is attractive?  What are those trees in the windows?  Are they also merely proposed and drawn in to make the building look greener?

If you are interested in the future of Hoboken I urge you to attend the zoning meeting on next Tuesday night and make your views heard.

  1. Craig

    From the perspective of this 18 year Hoboken resident, condos are more desirable than rentals – but luxury rentals make far more money for developers, so that’s why they dominate the scene. As much as I love the thought of a bowling alley in Hoboken, I’m not sure one would be successful in a remote part of town such as the 1300 block of Jefferson. There is absolutely no foot traffic back there. It would need to have a good amount of free parking available to work – something the movie theater by the viaduct should have incoporated if it wanted to have some actual customers.

    I don’t have an issue with the scale of the project. This is a city – one with extremely limited land area. Up is the only direction left to build. I dear say anyone in town who doesn’t like hi-rise buildings may be in the wrong place. I hear they build low in the ‘burbs. Lori, you say you would like to see something like 15 CPW in Hoboken? Fine, but that building is 19 stories – a 5 story version of it would be too small to be economically feasible for a builder. So be careful what you wish for.

    As for the design of the proposal, I love its originality. What’s wrong with disparate structures being predominantly featured in our city? I do not want a city filled with look-alike structures. If I see one more new Dean Marchetto cookie-cutter box in this town, I’m going to puke.

  2. Eric

    Most importantly one must consider the load on Hoboken’s stressed infrastructure. We already have huge issues with flooding, sewers, parking and traffic. Hoboken is the 3rd most densely populated city in the US and our infrastructure is extremely outdated. (More dense than NYC; Guttenberg and West New York are 1 and 2. It’s true, look it up.) Adding density will severely worsen the problems.

    But beyond those concerns, I have personal issues with building height. It will negatively effect the quality of life for neighbors and set a precedent for allowing variances in other locations.

    Part of Hoboken’s appeal for me is the small-town neighborhood and culture. I don’t have a problem with high-rises in general, but I enjoy leaving NYC and coming home to the quaintness of Hoboken with trees and open skies. Beyond culture, the buildings would cast a much larger shadow, limiting views and taking away hours of sunlight from neighbors.

    And if variances are given here, then it will empower developers to request them everywhere else. This is already coming to a head in my neighborhood. On 7th and 8th streets developers are requesting to build 14 story and taller buildings that will directly block my NYC views and cast a shadow on my building during the entire morning hours (and totally block the evening sun for the opposite buildings).

    I’m all for progress and development. It will be great to have new homes and attractions in our small town. But developers are looking to maximize profits using the ruse of benefiting the town and people. They purchased this land with the value of a 6 story building. Granting them 6 additional stories will more than double their profit without any benefit returned to the city for that added value.

  3. bz

    I’m in commercial real estate information industry. The word on street is that developers can get rental building development loans A LOT easier than getting a condo development loan now a days. This is why in recent years most commercial-financing-aided developers (small to medium size) all produce rentals, and rentals only. I suspect that this is the same case. Once the developer stabilize their cash flow, the market continue to rise, and the city allow certain % of rentals to be converted to condo, they will do the conversion in a heartbeat as we’ve seen the trend in 2004-5.

    As for the design, it looks like that the developer is trying to appeal younger crowd, your typical Hoboken renters. Naturally.

    Bowling facility is a nice try, but it’s not exactly what Hoboken renters or condo owners’ must-to-have item.

  4. Gilby

    I’ve heard the same thing about how much easier it is to get a loan for rentals than condos so these are probably rentals. Changing them over to condos if they are built as rentals is a slow process, over 3 years, so I’d prefer they be one or the other and just stay that way. If the developers can’t get funding, tough. I love the idea of a bowling alley, but none of the rest of it and since no developer would deliver just a bowling alley, my preferences are unrealistic. I’m told that the music venue idea was very popular, but replace Maxwell’s? Not possible. I’m also not a fan of the design, no I don’t want to see another Marchetto design, but even more than that, I don’t want to see anymore of the ridiculous Red Bridge buildings…talk about out of character with Hoboken! Has anyone seen that stupid thing on Willow around the corner from the shoe repair shop? Those guys should be barred from doing anything else in Hoboken ever again!

    As to the flooding and infrastructure, I agree with Eric. We have to be very careful in the short term until some headway is made on resiliency. Anything close to another Sandy might have a deleterious impact on RE prices and I don’t want to see that. Let’s get some of our resiliency plans in the pipeline first.

  5. eric

    i agree with all of the comments made but lets be honest, hoboken needs amenities and this area has nothing there…yes it requires variances but to say if you let this one project have it means that everyone will then ask for variances and get them is ridiculous. no one is going to build at this property otherwise…let start moving hoboken forward. also we should do something similar to jersey city, where they required developers to build a park with water sprinklers for public access and they were then required to maintain the property.

  6. E

    On the contrary, it is usual and expected for large developments to request variances. I have attended numerous zoning and planning board meetings and witnessed it myself.

    The land was purchased with the implied value of a 6-story development. It would not have been purchased had it been unprofitable to build. Granting an additional 6 stories is gifting the developer double the profit. Variances are supposed to be given to incentivize development of undesirable land. I think it’s fair to say that you don’t need any incentive in Hoboken considering the overflowing demand and rocketing prices.

    Developers are interested only in maximizing their profit, in contrast to their claims about community. The amenities and parks promised are sweeteners intended only to persuade and pass a vote. Once they get their benefit, the (non-revenue-generating) promises fade and the result is a far cry from the illustrations.

    Take the ShopRite “park” as one example (and I love ShopRite), which was a concession of the developer. It is a small unkempt area between the street and a large parking lot. Or take the “park” on 8th and Jackson next to the restaurant. It’s barely a patch of grass with a bench. I have not seen anyone enjoying either amenity. Both these examples look like afterthoughts and extensions of the sidewalk. Neither provided any benefit to the community. This is why I would not give the developers the benefit of the doubt.

  7. Jason A.

    I have not seen Peter Shapiro’s name associated with this project and that is who owns the Brooklyn Bowl chain. He is unlikely to build one of his Bowl’s in such a location since his newest outpost is in London.

    As to the height of this complex, with their location right next to the viaduct and only industrial buildings behind them, they may have a better chance to build a twelve-story building than what is being proposed at the Monroe center.

  8. Lori

    The proposed bowling alley has NOTHING to do with Brooklyn Bowl – I wish it did but it doesn’t. It’s just a bowling alley. It may have music. I have been told that no one affiliated with the developer has ever even been to Brooklyn Bowl, which is disappointing to say the least.

    Height – there may be a viaduct and industrial buildings behind them (for now) but there are residential 6 story buildings on the other sides.

    Trust me, the push is going to be for height variances on every lot in the back of town. It’s all about the moola.

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