By Ron Hine | FBW | May 29, 2018

In celebration of Community Planning Month, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association (NJ-APA) announced its 2013 Great Places in New Jersey. NJ-APA designated two public spaces: Hoboken’s South Waterfront and Cooper River Park in Camden County recognizing these sites as “testaments to forward-thinking planning.”

The forward-thinking planning in Hoboken, however, came not from City Hall but from a grass-roots effort that fought the powers that be. The 1990 City of Hoboken/Port Authority plan for Hoboken’s South Waterfront proposed a 1.1 million square foot office tower on Pier A and 500,000 square feet of residential development on Pier C. This mammoth project enjoyed the unanimous support of local elected officials.

A small opposition group formed in early 1990. They submitted petitions to place the agreement between the City and Port Authority on the ballot. When the City Clerk rejected the petitions, the case went to court. The Appellate Court and New Jersey Supreme Court both upheld the public’s right to decide this critical issue based on the state’s Initiative and Referendum statute. The vote was then scheduled for July 10, 1990.

The opposition argued that the project was out-of-scale with Hoboken and would wall the community off from its waterfront. The proponents made a persuasive argument that if approved, the development would lower everyone’s taxes.

People headed to the polls in unprecedented numbers for this special election. The results stunned the political establishment. By a handful of votes, the City-Port Authority agreement was defeated. Subsequently, the nonprofit Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) was formed to develop its own plan for the entire Hoboken waterfront.

After hiring architect/planner Craig Whitaker, FBW developed a plan calling for a continuous public waterfront park for the city’s entire 1½ mile stretch of riverfront. After voters again defeated the City/Port Authority proposal in a 2nd referendum in 1992, the City agreed to work with opponents of the project to come up with a new redevelopment plan.

Pier A Park at Hoboken’s South Waterfront, originally slated for a 1.1 million square foot office tower.

By 1995, the Hoboken City Council under the leadership of then Mayor Anthony Russo adopted a redevelopment plan that accepted most all of the principles advocated in FBW’s waterfront plan. This included a public park for all land on the riverside of Sinatra Drive, including the 5-acre Pier A Park and Pier C Park today recognized by NJ-APA as one of the 2013 Great Public Spaces.

Pier A Park has received two other awards, one from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the other from the Waterfront Center. In 2010, the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy bestowed its Design Award to FBW, and landscape architects Cassandra Wilday and Henry Arnold for the design of Pier A Park and the riverfront promenade from the Hoboken Terminal to Fourth Street in Hoboken.

Related links

NJ-APA 2013 Great Places in NJ
Plan for the Hoboken Waterfont
Fund for a Better Waterfront History
FBW video featuring Craig Whitaker
Roots Over the River
Col. Stevens’ plan for Hoboken
FBW Waterfront Plan Featured