Urban Sprawl Avoided!

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This was my first foray into the Hoboken quagmire of city dealings: The owners of The Jefferson Trust Bank building, near to where I live, were seeking to create an urban monstrousity.

If you aren't familiar with the Bank, it is a beautiful historic building, built in the early 19th century, made from granite and lined with copper accents. It takes up about 1/4 of a city block, on the corner of 1st Street and Clinton. The structure is about 40 feet high, perhaps two floors. Once a bank, it closed its doors in the 1980's and has been slowly ravaged by the effects of time, weather and urban blight. It was purchased by the private sector, changed hands multiple times, and the current owner sought to turn it into a mixed use condo/restaurant.

The current owner wanted to take the existing building and gut it, creating a large restaurant space in half of the building, and condos in the other half. They wanted to put the kitchens in the basement, add parking behind the structure, and add a tower to the existing building, in which they would build multiple condo units. It was a bold plan, which required multiple variances.

The owners first step, however, was to get the Hoboken Historic Preservation Council's approval. The job of the council is to review any work being done to historic buildings and make sure the integrity of the building is sustained by any construction work. For a developer, it must be a nightmare working with the council. After attending a few meetings, the council is very thorough about asking questions and making suggestions to the owner.

Again, this was my first time, and I can't say that I know how the past Councils have worked, but in the case of the Jefferson Trust, the Hoboken Historic Preservation Council should be lauded by working with the developer and listening to the public outcry from the first proposal.

The result was a compromise.

Everyone in the neighborhood would love to see the beautiful old building restored to its former glory. In a perfect world, it would have been great if the City of Hoboken could have bought the Jefferson Trust Bank Building and used it for a public purpose, like a museum. Unfortunately, it is in the hands of the private sector, who paid a lot of money to acquire it, and spent a tremendous amount of resources to lay the groundwork for its development.

The residents of the neighborhood were concerned about the restaurant generating traffic (go to Clinton and 1st during the day and see how many double parked cars are out there), parking (they planned to have valet parking, for the restaurant and the condo, for example), late night noise (with the additon of a bar, residents weren't interested in MORE people on 1st street who get out of a bar/restaurant at 3am), vermin infestation (rats which would be attracted to the trash & garbage of a commercial restaurant) and the liquor variance that the developer sought.

As a result of the public's concern, the developer compromised by changing the part of the area of the proposed restaurant into a retail store & area for the condo project. Also, the height of the tower was reduced significantly, keeping in-line with the height of the surrounding neighborhood. Gone was the valet parking, and there is a still a point of contention about the parking which we hope to resolve soon.*

The developer also detailed multiple structural enhancements, keeping in line with the historic preservation of the site. The Bank sits in a flood plain, and the developer also plans to increase the height of the entire structure (more details on this to follow, from what I understood it would be raised about 5 feet). The facade, windows, moulding and copper treatments would be restored. The sidewalk, lighting and trees would be enhanced or added.

I have to say that it was definitely a feeling like the good guys won. If it wasn't for the council and the public outcry, the developers would have steamrolled their plan towards an urban blight. The Historic Preservation Council voted 4-2 (one abstained) on the proposal.

*There is one minor issue that we are also working out with the developer & owner with regards to a common use driveway abutment between the two buildings. The developer planned to use their portion of the driveway for 14 parking spots, but we have major concerns about the infrigement of those parked cars on our driveway, since the driveway is so narrow, they would have to back into our driveway to get out of their parking spot. Details to follow, our lawyers are meeting with the developer's lawyers.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on September 26, 2007 12:14 AM.

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