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“Save the Hudson River Palisades Act”
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Kelly: Well-intentioned bill may be too late
Sunday, June 24, 2012
By MIKE KELLY RECORD COLUMNIST
SOME LAWS are meant to protect us. Some are just too late, despite all the best intentions. |Such is the problem with a piece of legislation that was dutifully embraced by the state Senate committee that monitors New Jersey’s wounded environment. This bill is meant to stop the bleeding on what many environmental activists consider a massive scar – the disturbing pace of development that threatens the majestic Palisades cliffs.
But this bill will be little more than a Band-Aid.
That’s not how its sponsor sees it. State Sen. Brian Stack, who also happens to be the mayor of Union City, was rightly responding to the cries of his constituents when he introduced the “Save the Hudson River Palisades Act.”
Residents of Union City and other towns looked at the cliffs and feared that developers were cutting into the rock too much. So why not set up some legislative safeguards?
“The Hudson River Palisades have been defaced by development in recent years,” Stack said in a statement. “We will never be able to restore them to their natural state, or to re-establish the stability and security of the cliff slopes, but we can act to prevent further deterioration of the structure.”
This is how representative government is supposed to work. An elected official sees a problem and then crafts a piece of legislation or endorses a policy program to solve it.
Stack’s bill seems to do just that. It lays down guidelines for how real estate developers and contractors can build apartments, shopping malls, offices or
other projects from the New York-New Jersey border in Alpine and along the Hudson through Fort Lee, Edgewater, North Bergen and even including pieces of Jersey City.
Most importantly, perhaps, the bill specifically prohibits builders from cutting into the slope of the Palisades cliffs or their base for most projects. In the case of exemptions for what the bill says are some public works projects and others involving water pipes or electrical, telephone and gas lines, the bill requires that developers consult with the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
So what’s wrong here?
Let’s begin by consulting the calendar – and then opening our eyes.
Little open space
Today, there is almost no open space left above or below the Palisades. There could be room for new projects if developers were able to purchase some older buildings and then tear them down to put up new projects. But the essential problem is that the Palisades have been targeted for massive development in just the last 20 years, mostly in Fort Lee, Edgewater and North Bergen.
Those new projects are not likely to be torn down, especially if new developers would be held in check by Stack’s new law.
Which brings us to the basic problem of this law – namely, that it is a generation too late.
If this bill had been introduced in the late 1970s or even the 1980s, it would have had a substantial impact, especially in Fort Lee, Edgewater and North Bergen. But development in those towns exploded during the 1980s, as real estate investors scooped up almost every available swatch of land.
The result has been a mosh-pit of apartment buildings, shopping malls and town houses – many of them expensive and offering scenic views of the Hudson River and Manhattan.
But the cost to the Palisades has been enormous. In several cases, developers have shaved back the cliffs, then installed unsightly wire mesh or coated the rocks to prevent boulders from rolling into the living rooms of million-dollar condominiums. That kind of surreal scene raises two obvious questions: If you need steel nets to catch falling boulders, why cut back the cliffs? And why build so close to the cliffs in the first place?
The answer is also obvious: Land along the Hudson is enormously valuable. Customers have proven they are willing to pay high prices for condominiums there. You can hardly blame developers for wanting to grab as much space as possible, even if that means cutting back the cliffs or building perilously close to the base and drop zone of boulders the size of tractor trailers.
With little guidance from the state, developers simply came up with their own solution – steel nets and glue-like coating for loose rocks.
As a stop-gap measure, the nets and coating seem to work. But as an artistic triumph or a monument to a natural wonder, these nets and synthetic coatings are the equivalent of replacing a violin with a banjo in the New York Symphony.
As if that isn’t bad enough, consider the avalanche of criticism last week of North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who also happens to be a state senator.
“This ill-conceived bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever encountered,” Sacco said. “It would halt nearly all development and take away the property rights of homeowners between Kennedy Boulevard and Tonnelle Avenue from Jersey City through North Hudson.”
Is Sacco taking public speaking lessons from Governor Christie? What’s with the venom?
Sacco went on to describe the proposal for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to oversee land-use decisions as “an enormous government overreach” that would “hurt taxpayers, kill jobs, take away local control and would be disastrous to the economy of the region.”
He ended with this rhetorical coup de grace: “This ridiculous bill has no chance of being enacted.”
Stack shot back with a few stones of his own.
“It’s Sacco who has obviously destroyed the Palisades,” Stack said. “North Bergen is the poster child for the destruction of the cliffs.”
Stack said “hundreds of people” in Sacco’s legislative district who “are outraged by what’s going on have contacted me. This is about the people.”
One of those people, Peggy Wong of North Bergen, has organized the Coalition to Preserve the Palisades Cliffs. But she concedes she is fighting an uphill battle.
“A lot has been damaged,” she says.
Much of that damage occurred while Sacco was in charge of North Bergen. The township has scheduled a series of hearings over the coming months to assess several projects. Don’t count on too many restrictions for developers.
It’s too bad North Bergen does not have Stack’s legislation to look to for guidance. But that bill has yet to be voted on by the entire legislature and then signed into law by Christie.
This will take time.
But time has mostly passed by for the cliffs.
It may be too late.
http://www.northjersey.com/columnists ... elly_062412.html?page=all
Posted on: 2012/6/24 21:50