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By Mayor Jorge Meneses

This past week, the Hackensack City Council began debating a new plan for revitalizing our downtown. This draft Rehabilitation Plan has been the product of a collaborative effort with key stakeholders in our community including our City Manager, the Upper Main Alliance Special Improvement District (UMASID), and various redevelopment professionals with national experience in revitalizing cities across the country.

Our goal is to reestablish our community as the social, cultural, and economic center of Bergen County. This plan opens new economic and development opportunities for Hackensack that will move our community into the 21st century by creating a livable, walkable, and sustainable downtown district. We hope it can act as the blueprint for a new, vibrant downtown district benefitting all of Hackensack’s residents.

Through this collaborative effort that brought key stakeholders around one table, we have put together a document that lays out a vision for our downtown. This vision will attract new investment, strengthen the position of existing business and property owners, and develop public/private partnerships improving our infrastructure and public spaces.

Our Steering Committee of city officials, members of the UMASID, and redevelopment professionals met on a weekly basis over the past year working on the rehabilitation document, putting together a plan that can kick-start the revitalization of our downtown. Our collaborative effort spawned a robust discussion and debate on what Hackensack needs to protect and leverage its public assets, and what the private sector needs to make these mixed-use projects a reality. We were able to strike the proper balance that satisfies the interests of all involved – the public and private sectors alike – which will help trigger progress towards making these new projects a reality.

Since the Governing Body created a clearly defined downtown district made up of a series of interconnected, mixed-use neighborhoods, we can now develop an environment with new public spaces, retail options, and civic facilities. Additionally, we can begin the to take the steps needed to upgrade our aging infrastructure, protect and improve our public parks, and promote the rich history of Hackensack.

Further, our goal is to improve the efficiency and capacity of our existing street network, connecting rail and bus transit in a more accessible manner, and minimizing vehicular dependency. We want to build on our strong foundation in Hackensack and make it a better place to live, work, shop, and dine.

The City of Hackensack has key assets we need to better utilize and a zoning approval process that hinders progress. The Rehabilitation Plan is the first step in streamlining our zoning laws and repositioning Hackensack to capitalize on investment opportunities that were lost in the past because of bureaucratic red tape. Now we can move forward with smart growth development making the best use of key assets like the Bergen County Complex, Bergen County Community College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Hackensack University Medical Center. Not to mention the various mass transit and public throughways running through our city.

We are going to promote this redevelopment of our downtown with several tools and mechanisms. Three primary mixed-use “catalyst” areas within the newly defined Rehabilitation Area will present opportunities for residential, office, cultural, and civic uses. Furthermore, we will use the same mechanisms and tools to help move forward this revitalization strategy. Any financing or funding mechanism we adopt as a governing body will be done in a transparent, deliberate, and accountable manner. By developing a long-term strategy through this Rehabilitation Plan, we will be able to better address infrastructure, streetscape, parking, and open space issues. Important priorities we would need to tackle regardless. By working under the umbrella of this Rehabilitation Plan, we can better incentivize development and in some case offset the public cost.

Now that the plan has been referred to the Hackensack Planning Board, they will hold two meetings on the Rehabilitation Plan. Once the public hearings are completed over the next two months, the document will be referred back to the Hackensack City Council for final approval that requires two meetings. Once approved, we can begin the process of reaching out to developers, business owners, and community stakeholders to implement this new strategy for our downtown. We aren’t going to take for granted this important public review process. Public scrutiny is a vital part of the democratic process. But we are confident of the merits of this proposal and know once the details are scrutinized, that the public will support the vision and goals of this plan.

This plan is the first step towards bringing Hackensack back as the center of Bergen County. Our regional advantages can be tapped to improve our city and attract new investment that will create new job opportunities and improve our quality of life. We can strengthen our existing business community, upgrade our aging infrastructure, and create a dynamic public/private partnership.

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May 28, 2012 News

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The Record
By Councilwoman Karen Sasso

Over the past 18 months, I have been working with a dedicated group of professional
urban planners, business and property owners, the Upper Main Street Alliance and
Hackensack officials on a long-term strategy to revitalize our Main Street corridor.
Attacking the problem with every stakeholder at the table allowed us to create a finished
product that addresses issues we believed hindered development projects in the past.

A few things became clear. First, our approval process is outdated. As we await the
implementation of the rehabilitation plan, we are taking the vital next step of
streamlining this process to make it less burdensome and to cut bureaucratic red tape.

Second, our current zoning is archaic and stifles mixed-use development. By updating
our zoning laws, we are trying to create an urban area that stresses pedestrian activity
and communal areas, much like what you would see on the streets of New Brunswick,
Hoboken, Ridgewood or Morristown. This means residential developments with
storefronts on the first floor, outdoor eating venues and public plazas. In studying
successful business districts in other communities in New Jersey and across the nation,
this is the model that has thrived, and we hope to see in Hackensack.

The rehabilitation plan will improve business for property owners already in Hackensack
and increase our property values. More pedestrian activity means more potential
customers. New residential development means more people to eat at our restaurants
and shop at our stores.

Most important, we can expand our tax base to provide vital municipal services and keep
property taxes stable. I hope residents and business owners in Hackensack will support
this important initiative

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May 23, 2012 News

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NJ.com
By S.P. Sullivan

HACKENSACK — City Manager Steve Lo Iacono remembers the Hackensack of his childhood, when the city was a center of commerce. A destination.

“Historically, it was the center of Bergen County,” Lo Iacono told NJ.com recently, adding that the presence of hospitals, several major highways and rail lines and the central offices of county government made the city a destination. “Those factors haven’t changed.”

What has changed is the rise of automobile commuting, which sent city-dwellers all over America into the suburbs over the course of a few decades. Hackensack isn’t alone in its struggle to draw people back to its downtown, and now officials here are trying to implement the recommendations of a lofty “downtown rehabilitation plan” that it commissioned from the Hasbrouck Heights-based DMR Architects.

The focus of the study was an ambitious overhaul of zoning laws in a “rehabilitation area” of 389 existing properties across 39 city blocks, spanning a total 164 acres. It recently received unanimous approval from the city’s planning board, and public hearings are slated for June.

Project Manager Francis Reiner says there was another subtle force that sent businesses and residents away from the urban center: Municipalities all over began enforcing single-use zoning laws, relegating one section of a city to commerce and another to residential space. He said peeling back those restrictions, allowing living space above first-floor storefronts, creates a vibrant downtown.

“We have to change the tools and the mechanisms to allow that kind of development to occur,” Reiner said. “This plan does that.”

Lo Iacono says the plan looks to build on the the city’s strengths — its diversity, easy access to public transportation among them — while respecting the architectural and historical character of the city.

“We’re not looking to have someone bulldoze Main Street from the Court House to Sears and put up skyscrapers,” he said.

The proposal, spelled out in a lengthy report issued by DMR Architects in April, calls for a streamlined permitting process that will help developers seeking approval of downtown construction projects cut more quickly through red tape. But they also take a bold stance on what the city will and won’t permit, spelling out in black and white the kind of structures they want — and what they don’t.

“A developer doesn’t know if brick or stucco or vinyl is something the city wants or doesn’t want,” Reiner said of the current planning and zoning processes. “He’s got to spend a lot of money making a presentation that might not go anywhere. These standards come out and say it.”
Vinyl siding, for example, is a no-go for store fronts. As are plastics, “simulated materials,” smoked or tinted glass and acrylic materials. In their place it recommends materials like wood, metal, glass and brick — an emphasis is placed on “durable materials.”
While the requirements and recommendations may be prescriptive, Reiner contends that they only spell out in writing what a zoning board would tell a developer later on in the process.

“It’s not overly prescribed,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of flexibility in the plan.”

Ultimately, he said, “We want active first-floor uses. That’s what makes a city great.”

As examples, Reiner points to nearby cities like Morristown, New Brunswick, Hoboken and Jersey City, all of which have achieved downtown revitalization to varying degrees. Meanwhile in Fort Lee, the borough is currently wrestling with how to go at a similarly ambitious $1 billion mixed-use project just south of the George Washington Bridge.

Because so much of the plan relies on private investment in development, it’s hard to gauge the ultimate cost of the undertaking, but Lo Iacono points to the praise the plan received from Hackensack-based developer David Sanzari at the April 18 city council meeting where it was unveiled, an endorsement that he said “spoke volumes.”

“We know there are a lot of developers that want these types of projects,” Lo Iacono said, while acknowledging that they’ll have to overcome “long-held beliefs of how people look at the city.”
But the plan also recommends changes to the city streets themselves, including converting the one-ways like Court Street and Bergen Street to two-way roads, and a widening of pedestrian sidewalks, which will require significant public investment.

Lo Iacono said implementation of the plan “will probably force our hand” on a $1.2 million overhaul of the city’s storm water sewer system, which is over a hundred years old and frequently overflows into the Hackensack River during storms.

“It needs to be done anyway,” he said. “We know we need to do it.”

The possibility of major development projects being undertaken at the same time as a major renovation of the Bergen County Justice Complex doesn’t seem to faze the city manager, either. He points out that the construction will be focused downtown, and that major thoroughfares like River, Passaic and Essex streets won’t be impacted. Too much construction, he says, doesn’t rank among his concerns.
“I hope I have those problems,” he said.

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May 15, 2012 News

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THE RECORD
BY STEPHANIE AKIN

HACKENSACK — An ambitious plan to spark downtown revitalization has received unanimous approval from the Planning Board, the second of several procedural steps before the city can take action.

Mayor Jorge Meneses called the approval an important step for the plan, a zoning overhaul that officials say will lay the foundation for a new urban center within a decade. He also urged residents and business owners to participate as the plan moves through the legislative process.

“We are ushering in a new era for Hackensack that will spur investment, creates jobs, raise our property values, and in the long-term lower the tax burden on our residents,” Meneses said in a statement. “It is important that we hear from the diverse voices in our community so we can all come together and get this plan into action.”

The plan marks the latest attempt to rehabilitate Main Street once the commercial heart of Bergen County.

Comprising 163 acres, 39 blocks and 389 properties centered on the Main Street corridor, the proposal envisions improved infrastructure, roads and sidewalks, as well as new businesses, residences and open space.

The document will return to the City Council for an official hearing in June, City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono said.

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May 14, 2012 News

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Another important step in revitalizing Hackensack’s Main Street corridor

HACKENSACK, NEW JERSEY – Hackensack Mayor Jorge Meneses released the following statement on the Planning Board’s consideration of the Main Street Rehabilitation Plan:

“Last night’s Planning Board meeting was another important step in moving this plan forward, putting a new process in place to revitalize Hackensack’s Main Street Corridor.  We are confident that over the next two months residents, business owners, and property owners alike will see the benefits of this plan for our community.  Our work over the course of the past year puts forth a comprhensive plan – pulling ideas and suggestions from public and private stakeholders – that gives Hackensack a vision for moving forward in both the long and short terms.

“Public input and scrutiny is an important part of this process, as we all need to work together in the coming months to best position Hackensack to capitalize on the regional advantages in our city.  By updating our zoning laws and streamlining the process for those who wish to invest in our city, we hope to transform Hackensack into a modern urban environment with new retail, residential, dining, and civic options.  At one time our Main Street corridor was the center of social, economic, and cultural happenings in Bergen County.  We hope this plan will bring us back to those more prosperous times.

“As this plan continues to work itself through the legislative process, the entire City Council encourages residents to become involved and informed about the positive aspects and opportunities this document presents.  We are ushering in a new era for Hackensack that will spur new investment, creates jobs, raise our property values, and in the long-term lower the tax burden on our residents.  It is important that we hear from the diverse voices in our community so we can all come together and get this plan into action.”

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May 10, 2012 Press Release

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HACKENSACK CHRONICLE
BY MARK J. BONAMO

HACKENSACK — A new plan geared toward the revitalization of Hackensack’s downtown was unveiled at the April 18 City Council meeting, The effort to bring the city’s Main Street corridor back to its former commercial strength includes zoning changes to spur economic and residential growth.

The rehabilitation plan focuses on a designated 163 acres, 39 city blocks and 389 properties centered on Main Street and the surrounding area, remembered as a commercial and entertainment Mecca in the 1940s and 50s. The proposal incorporates a mix of new housing and businesses along with open space. Enhanced infrastructure, including improved roads and sidewalks, are also part of the plan.

Planner Francis Reiner of DMR Architects laid out the plan before the council and approximately 40 residents and business people, displaying slides with scenes of the city to come.

“New zoning is intended to support and strengthen existing businesses and property owners while allowing new opportunities for mixed-use projects,” Reiner said. “Great downtowns require active streets, which require mixed residential and commercial uses.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution supporting the plan. Members of the community also spoke out in support of the proposal.

“This plan does not contemplate [the use of] any eminent domain, or the taking of any property, bur rather seeks to harness the power of the marketplace to rebuild our downtown,” said Jerry Lombardo, chairman of the city’s Upper Main Street Alliance. “It utilizes solid urban planning techniques, forward-thinking zoning, and transit-oriented solutions, all of which are now being used successfully in other parts of the country. The objective of the plan is to stimulate the economic engine now lying dormant in our downtown.”

David Sanzari, president of Alfred Sanzari Enterprises, also expressed his backing for the plan, remembering other downtown redevelopment plans that never got off the ground.

“This is the first time I’ve seen something come this far,” Sanzari said.

Albert Dib, executive director of the Upper Main Street Alliance, explained why he felt this plan has a real chance to succeed where others have failed.

“This is different because you have the weight of the business community behind it, a fully engaged governing body, and the right team of professionals,” Dib said. “When you put those elements together, along with a significant community outreach program to get residents involved, you have the right mix.”

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May 4, 2012 News