Hoboken’s Council Takes a Step Towards Acquiring Union Dry Dock

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union dry dock
Image via City of Hoboken

Despite some politically-charged statements courtesy of an election season, Hoboken’s City Council voted last week to move ahead on acquiring one of the last industrial relics along the waterfront for the purpose of creating more open space.

The land, at 901 Sinatra Drive, is just over three acres and currently houses the Union Dry Dock, representing the last of many shipyards that once dotted Hoboken’s landscape. In June, Fund for a Better Waterfront advocated for acquiring the land and turning it into a park facility.

Then last week, outgoing Mayor Dawn Zimmer sent a letter to City Council members stating that lawyers for Union Dry Dock told the city via their own letter that their client would not be entering into negotiations for the sale of the property. Zimmer then urged the City Council to invoke its power of eminent domain to kickstart the proceedings.

The mayor then sent several tweets last Tuesday saying that she met with Union Dry Dock on September 16th, and representatives told her that they were “winding down their business” and added that the site is no longer feasible for a dry dock due to the size of modern vessels. The disclosure appeared to be in response to Fund for a Better Waterfront and a few City Council members coming out against the eminent domain idea, which left many wondering if the resolution would even be voted on at all.

Despite all the drama, Hoboken’s Council gave initial support last week for acquiring the property via sale or eminent domain. They voted 8-1 in support of the resolution on 1st reading, with only Councilman Michael Russo dissenting. Every Councilmember currently running for either re-election or for mayor voted in favor, although final approval of the resolution won’t be decided on until after Election Day.

In a separate vote, the Council authorized taking up the Union Dry Dock ordinance on 2nd reading at their November 13th meeting, which will take place after the municipal elections. If the resolution passes on 2nd reading, it would give the city the power to potentially condemn or eminent domain the Union Dry Dock property if initial purchase negotiations with the owner aren’t fruitful.

Eminent domain gives the government power to purchase land for fair market value via court proceedings, but can sometimes be used as a tool to start private negotiations before that happens. The city has used eminent domain twice in recent years, with mixed success. The just-opened Southwest Park was acquired via eminent domain and while the city did get a better deal in terms of the price they paid, the legal proceedings took years to work out.

On a positive note, the former BASF property currently home to the Northwest Pop-Up Park was also subject to an eminent domain Council ordinance, and those negotiations led to a fairly quick agreement to purchase the land. What ends up happening with the Union Dry Dock remains to be seen, but it looks like the Council will be voting on the ordinance’s final approval during their second meeting in November.

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