BY STEPHANIE AKIN
HACKENSACK — Developers are already showing interest in a recently adopted city plan designed to spark a downtown building boom and return the city to its heyday as Bergen County’s retail and cultural center, city officials said Friday.
Three developers have met with city officials in the past eight weeks to discuss tentative ideas, City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono said. Several others have made telephone inquiries about opportunities created by the city’s downtown revitalization plan, which eased zoning, parking and other restrictions in a 39 city block-area known as the city’s Main Street corridor.
“We’re delivering the message that we’re very receptive to developing,” Lo Iacono said. “We’re open for business.”
City officials would not reveal the names of the interested developers, and those Lo Iacono contacted for this story declined to talk with a reporter for fear of exposing their plans to competitors, he said.
But all of them want to build the type of mixed-use residential and commercial projects the city — like many communities with blighted urban areas — are trying to attract, said Francis Reiner, a planner with DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights who is a consultant on the project.
“This really brings Hackensack to the attention of all those types of developers that have previously been going to other communities,” he said.
Reimer and others who worked on the project said the city already has several characteristics that would draw developers, including dozens of preserved historical buildings of various architectural styles, government buildings, a major hospital and easy access to highways and public transportation.
But previous urban renewal projects have been hampered by antiquated zoning, designed at a time when Americans were abandoning downtown areas for the suburbs and wanted separation between retail areas and residential neighborhoods.
The 63-page Downtown Rehabilitation Plan attempts to bring requirements for new developers into line with the contemporary taste for downtown areas where people can live, work, shop and find entertainment, mainly by removing restrictions on residential developments with ground floor retail and office space.
The proposal envisions buildings as high as 14 stories, side-walk restaurants and carefully maintained storefronts – which would adhere to a series of aesthetic requirements.
Those changes will be followed by a study on how to improve parking in the city, an attempt to secure the $3 million in financing needed to start the first of three phases to repair the city’s antiquated sewer system, and a streamlined approval process meant to allow developers to reduce up-front expenses.
The parking study, considered a crucial step in the process, is due this week, Lo Iacono said. City officials are also considering a suggestion in the plan to convert one-way streets in the designated area — including Main Street and State Street — to two-way, which is thought to be more attractive to shoppers and businesses.
Several commercial developers asked to weigh in on the plan Wednesday said they have been watching it with interest, but they were still skeptical.
“In theory, it’s a great thing for Hackensack,” said Thomas Reilly, managing director of the real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle in Parsippany. “But will the economy allow it to happen?”
He said the city may need to provide tax breaks and other incentives to jump-start development, measures Lo Iacono said city officials will consider for the right project.
Jon Hansen, chairman of The Hampshire Cos., a Morristown-based real estate investment company, said the parking changes will be crucial.
“Without the parking, there will always be a high percentage of vacancy,” he said. “If you attract the residential and provide parking, the retail community will revitalize.”
David Sanzari, who said his family-owned company, Alfred Sanzari enterprises, owns more than $60 million worth of property in downtown Hackensack, said he has no doubt the plan will work.
“The hardest thing is to get these things started, who goes first,” he said. “Once that happens, developers will come in, property values will skyrocket and we will be well on our way.”
By Katie Eder
After months of planning and efforts to gain public approval, the Hackensack City Council passed Wednesday a Main Street Rehabilitation Plan to spur economic development and infrastructure improvements along the city’s 39-block Main Street corridor.
“There’s an awful lot of elation now that the plan has been approved, but this is not something that will happen overnight,” said Stephen Lo Iacono, Hackensack’s city manager. “The biggest thing we have to do now is reach out to the development community to make developers (aware) of what’s going on. We need to get the message out there that we’re a much more developer-friendly community than we have been in the past.”
Lo Iacono said four developers in the region already have contacted the city for more information on the projects, which involve bringing new businesses and residences into vacant space and improving roadways, sidewalks and storefronts.
“I don’t think we’ll make any efforts to reach out nationwide, because we have a wealth of developers in this area, and some located here in Hackensack fit the bill to do this development,” Lo Iacono said. “A local developer may be more appropriate, because we’re not looking to change the identity or integrity of the city. We still want to be recognizable as Hackensack.”
While Lo Iacono said a “good part of the zoning regulation problems with design standards” that had halted development projects in the past have been streamlined in the plan, he said procedural issues with the permitting process could still block developers from getting on board with rehabilitation efforts.
“Currently, a developer who wants to do substantial development has to spend an awful lot of money in order to make an application and to get in front of the zoning board. Developers often did all that and then were denied, and that has a chilling effect on someone coming in and wanting to do a project,” Lo Iacono said. “It’s hard for someone to have spent a ton of money and then not see something from it. We’re now in the process of trying to change those requirements to make it easier for developers to get in front of the board and present a concept.”
In a statement, city planner Francis Reiner said before the plan was enacted, a statewide “movement towards mixed-use urban environments … (wasn’t) feasible in Hackensack.”
“Hackensack is now well positioned to capitalize on the movements that revitalized Morristown, Hoboken, and other similar urban areas into thriving metropolises,” Reiner said. “With its access to mass transit, major thoroughfares and employers like Bergen County and the Hackensack University Medical Center, I think we will see real progress on Main Street that will benefit the entire city.”
By S.P. Sullivan
HACKENSACK — The city council approved an ambitious rehabilitation plan Wednesday evening that city officials say will streamline development downtown.
“After a lengthy public approval process and many long days working to put together a plan that best positions Hackensack to thrive, I am confident that we will now start to see progress in revitalizing our downtown with new residential, dining, and commercial options,” Mayor Jorge Meneses said in a statement following the vote.
The vote put into place significant changes to the city’s zoning procedures, including specific guidelines for the materials and uses the zoning board will green light.
In an interview with NJ.com in May, Francis Reiner of the Hasbrouck Heights-based DMR Architects, which drafted the plan, outlined the changes. He said the plan’s main focus was shifting the citi’s ordinances from single-use zoning toward multi-use, allowing residences to exist above first-floor businesses.
“We have to change the tools and the mechanisms to allow that kind of development to occur,” Reiner said. “This plan does that.”
BY ABBOTT KOLOFF
HACKENSACK — Business owners talked Thursday evening about a revitalized downtown lined with five-story residential buildings, a two-way Main Street and more outdoor eating if the City Council approves a proposed zoning change later this month.
The third annual Upper Main Alliance business expo drew almost 200 people to the Bergen Community College building on Main Street, where Jerry Lombardo, the organization’s chairman, unveiled posters with some of the leading proposals for revitalizing the city’s downtown.
The council is expected to vote on June 27 on zoning changes that would make the proposals possible.
Lombardo told the crowd that he envisions a day when there will be “several thousand units of housing” in the Main Street area. “Tonight, my heart is racing,” he said.
The Planning Board last month recommended making zoning changes to allow residential buildings with ground-floor retail and office space on Main Street, an area where residential buildings are largely barred under the city’s current zoning code.
The proposed zoning would allow five-story buildings along Main Street and 14-story buildings for some large-scale projects, said Francis Reiner of DMR, a Hasbrouck Heights-based redevelopment consultant hired by the city. He said 14-story buildings already are allowed in the area but developers won’t build them, or much of anything else, because of parking requirements and restrictions on residential buildings.
Mixed-use zoning, allowing residential buildings with first-floor retail, has been the blueprint for redevelopment of other downtowns, he said. The new rules also would reduce the number of parking spaces that businesses are required to provide.
The master plan was amended in 2006 to allow the area’s zoning to be changed, Reiner said. Last year, the city designated a 163-acre, 39 block area along the Main Street corridor as an area in need of rehabilitation.
Thursday’s exposition included dozens of booths manned by local business owners, a Hackensack police officer on a Segway to promote new downtown patrols, an acoustic band and cheerleaders who did back flips.
Corrado Belgiovine, of the Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group, said the zoning changes would create an atmosphere similar to Hoboken, Jersey City and Englewood. “It can happen here,” he said.
Lucy Wildrick, of Street-Works Development in White Plains, N.Y., said her company is interested in building in the area but told city officials that zoning changes would be needed. She said she also would press for Main Street to be converted from one-way to two ways to make it easier for people to get around.
“We believe that’s important,” she said. “Two ways makes it more user friendly.”
She said she envisions Main Street being developed in sections, with office buildings near the Superior Court building that include some apartments, and more residential buildings farther north.
Reiner said the city would create a technical review committee, as many other towns have done, to discuss ideas with developers before they apply for permits.
By Jerry Lombardo, Upper Main Street Alliance
The plan for revitalization of Hackensack’s Main Street corridor can be expected to spur investment and new development opportunities in our downtown, while creating new taxable properties. New residential, dining and retail options with active public plazas and sidewalks also can be expected.
By updating our zoning, new, 21st-century, mixed-use development would create an urban atmosphere that we see in places like Morristown, Hoboken and Ridgewood. The procedure for approval to build would be streamlined so developers contemplating investing in Hackensack would not be deterred by an archaic permit-approval process.
This plan changes how we do business.
As chairman of the Upper Main Alliance, I know firsthand how important it is for our city government to be on the same page as business and property owners. I hope everyone will embrace what the rehabilitation plan is trying to accomplish: attract new residents, new customers and economic development to Hackensack. Everyone has something to gain from a revitalized downtown.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”