Montclair Councilor Calls On Gov. Murphy To Support Essex Hudson Greenway

Montclair Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis called on Governor Murphy Monday to take swift action to support the proposed Essex Hudson Greenway which he classified as being on life support and in danger of being divided up and sold off in pieces. Yacobellis had previously advocated for the Greenway in his town hall meeting.

Essex Hudson Greenway Project. Photo: Essex Hudson Greenway (Instagram)

Yacobellis’ open letter to the Governor can be read here:


Dear Governor Murphy, 
Traditional vehicular infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the development and growth we’re seeing in places like Montclair and points east. I believe we must unlock other opportunities to support safe mobility and commerce. A linear walk/bike-pathed park from Jersey City to Montclair would do wonders for our town, channeling people, and by extension commerce, from population centers to our east to our downtown businesses, creating jobs and economic opportunity.

I am writing to urge you to take the lead in making the Essex-Hudson Greenway a reality. Your immediate support is critical as this project is facing a deadline which will end the possibility of bringing this essential infrastructure project to the people of New Jersey. In my view, that would be a tragedy and a colossal, missed opportunity. 

Without quick action on your part, I believe Norfolk Southern will run down the clock of this current agreement, and then swiftly move to sell the line in pieces. Indeed, it is my understanding that there are already offers on the table. What they cannot sell, will simply fall into further neglect.  In the areas along the line that already are impacted by DEP Violations, this would represent a setback in righting long standing environmental justice concerns in these underserved neighborhoods.  

As mentioned, the Greenway would create off-road connectivity through some of the most populated communities in northern New Jersey. And it would provide new, valuable park land in several underserved communities in Essex and Hudson Counties, including right here in Montclair. By providing alternate transportation options for biking and walking, the Greenway presents the perfect opportunity to aid in our state’s transition toward more sustainable transportation, reducing air pollution and helping us reach our climate goals while encouraging more exercise. With transportation making up 41% of our greenhouse gas emissions, providing safe alternative transportation options are the key to reaching the state’s goal of 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050. 

In addition to the open space and transportation benefits, this project will connect communities, including many communities of color, divided by infrastructure projects of the past especially our overburdened communities while helping mitigate damaging flooding in the region. These are precisely the things Secretary Buttigieg, Vice President Harris and President Biden are talking about when discussing infrastructure. Critical stormwater infrastructure is also envisioned for the project, which will reduce sewage overflow and alleviate environmental strain on some of the area’s most vulnerable communities; an issue all the more important as climate change spurs stronger and more frequent weather events. Many of our communities are already looking to the line as an ideal location to incorporate state-of-the-art “green infrastructure” in the project’s construction as part of the solution, helping to mitigate the challenges many communities along the line face with stormwater during heavy rains – especially the resulting overwhelm of municipal sewer systems.  

As mentioned, the project is also expected support job growth in the community and particularly in Montclair by creating easy access to our performing arts, shopping and dining hub for anyone coming off of the Greenway. Simply put, it would be a boon for visitation to Montclair. Based on similar projects in the region we expect that the direct economic impact from the construction would be about $26M, and the indirect economic benefits would add another $19M in addition to approximately 270 jobs. 

While the purchase agreement in place is the closest the project has ever come to fruition, at stake right now is the project’s long-term funding plan. Funds are currently being held at the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank) for a $155 million low-interest loan to finance the project, $65 million for purchase and $90 million for site development. 
  
Under the current funding strategy, funds generated through the Realty Transfer Fund (RTF) that had been used for land protection under the sunsetting Highlands Act, would be redirected to repay the loan for the Essex-Hudson Greenway.  If you do not indicate your willingness to move forward with the I-Bank loan by July, the funds will be reallocated to other projects and the RTF will be absorbed to the general fund essentially closing the potential. 

I urge you to do everything you can to ensure we do not lose this incredible opportunity to create the Essex Hudson Greenway and bring its numerous benefits to the citizens of Montclair and New Jersey. Your visionary support for this once-in-a-lifetime project is crucial to its success and could be legacy defining, in my view. 

Thank you,
-Peter

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I do not dispute the unique opportunity of the Essex-Hudson Greenway and its substantial regional and local benefits. The land use possibilities are diverse, as are the many competing interests.

    NJ Transit has solicited proposals for a green transportation corridor linking the Meadowlands. I am sure private developers are working Trenton to facilitate their projects. I will take Councilor Yacobellis assessment of the project being on life support at face value. I am not surprised the challenge of aligning 8 municipalities, 2 counties, various regional commissions, NJT and the State – with an Open-Space project estimated at an initial cost of $155MM.

    I’ll also accept Time is the immediate driving consideration. Time seems to be the land use weapon of choice. What happens to Montclair’s land use options as the clock ticks down?

    Councilor Yacobellis, first & foremost, represents Montclair. What contingency planning should start now that the project is on life-support? What happens to the tiny Montclair segment if the varied commercial & NJT prevail in stopping this project? What are the steps we need to be taking now if these fears become reality?

    The abandoned rail line’s underlying zoning is residential. Specifically, R-2 zoned. What does the Master Plan say, or actually does not say and needs to say? Quickly! What are the opportunities to coordinate complementary land use zone plans with our neighbor Glen Ridge?

    A fundamental fact of the E-H Greenway is that the Montclair segment is not essential to it’s trail goal. It can not be directly connected to Pine St. Montclair has only a verbal commitment from the Mountainside hospital corporation for a 10’ wide easement from Sherman St.

    Ego and territorialism aside, the logical & direct entryway to Montclair is actually at Baldwin Street, in Glen Ridge. The Pine Street commercial area and Montclair’s CBD are better served economically, with better multi-modal access, lower gentrification pressures and environmentally higher gains from a Baldwin Street gateway.

    Lastly, the Montclair’s 1.66 acre land segment prorate cost is $750K. Prorated redevelopment cost would be another $600K. $1.35MM total. The Council just authorized the purchase of 57 Park St, the drive-in next to Town Hall, at .45 acres, for $1.35MM.

    If the E-HG blows up, we better have all our ducks in a row for our contingency plan. Remember the Montclair Connection process?

  2. “…this was supposed to be an Essex and Hudson County joint project and for reasons too complicated to get into in an email now, that didn’t work out.Councilor Yacobellis

    Too complicated for you or too complicated for your constituents? If this is going to get complicated, I am not sure people want to get sucked into the morass this Summer. It’s one thing to tell me which way to jump, but I live in Montclair.

    Considering these new developments 🙂 From Essex To The Hudson Greenway would be my suggested renaming of the project.

  3. I couldn’t decide where I really fell on the entire segment. The OSI and the local sponsors missteps undercut the support for the project. They followed a “divide & conquer & then aggregate” strategy. Challenging for even the most skilled. We’re not looking at the most skilled.

    Has anyone heard of The Embankment? The Bergen Arches? The Morris Canal Greenway? The Hackensack Riverwalk?
    Myself? Never knew.

    Forget New York. Forget the East Coast Greenway. You should have been selling the network here in NJ. Now we have screwed this up and need the Governor to bail us out. Hopefully he will. Make it a State “thing”. Gee, interesting idea.

    Bu

  4. How do we fix this? A very slim chance. Would require:

    1.) New leadership and sitting some current key stakeholders on the bench.
    Let’s bench NJ Transit, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) and the MPO. The latter two are missing in action (note to Senators Booker & Melendez). Let’s also reimagine OSI’s role 🙂

    It seems like just yesterday NJT proposed cutting a swath through the Pine Street neighborhood because the Boonton line was obsolete and redundant. Now NJT wants to cherry pick a prime portion for….? Yes, a new train line! And NJT could have bought back then the Boonton line section they were leasing from Conrail for $7MM versus the $65MM cost today.

    In their defense, money was tight and, big picture, is there really any difference in dedicating more land use to transportation to one mode versus another? I thought we were suppose to be reallocating the land use to grow alternate modes. This is no different than adding a lane or two to I-280. But, wait, you say. We are following the Rule of 3 here: transportation, recreation, & environment. We can invoke recreation and the environment. Actually, you can’t
    There is no Rule of 3 in NJ Land Use. And Jersey City definitely doesn’t play that game…as you are finding out.

    2.) Scale the project back to just Essex County. The plan was A Bridge (actually 2) Too Far. Stop at the Passaic River. Send all the multi-modal people to Newark as the other terminus. All JC has is commerce and a better river view.

    The 9 remaining bridges cost about $4MM (1994 dollars) to repair. Let’s say they cost $12MM today.

    You can still try to apply your Rule of 3, but recommend you pick one as the primary land use and the other two as positive impacts. That’s me, of course. I’m a contrarian. You? You use the same approach.

    3.) In all likelihood, the project’s demise is done & dusted. However, a Federal thumb on the scale is required for a second chance, at a smaller scope project…and it takes JC out of the equation.

    Oh, well. That was ten years wasted.

  5. I have not spent any quality time posting about the curb appeal of the E-HG segment. My end points will be Baldwin St (Glen Ridge) and Pine Street (Mtc). Overall, it is literally like buying a house on a dead-end street in with bad neighbors: two quite substantial (4 ½-5 ½ floor parking decks in the early 1980’s, interstate facing style adorned with 3 very common surface parking lots. One of which likes to push its snow accumulations – and any neighboring vegetation – onto the RoW. Clean-ip on RoW 3! Yes, there are 4 houses. A kind description would be they are of a vernacular design. Let’s put it this way – when we historically designated the area, they did not make the cut as contributing structures. OK, so the $155MM is mostly for Hudson County work. We get to see to backside of two, multi story, 24/7 parking decks. And, that leads me to my last point.

    I, and many others, were told on March 31st by all the glad-handing stakeholders that the priority is acquiring the property and the cost exposure was $65MM. We were also told by the collective brave new world folks it was too early in the process to talk about the build out/redevelopment/mgmt./etc. In fact, to this day, the web site still says this same line. Yes Frank, NJBWC had built up the constituency to seize the day.

    In less than 90 days this goes into the proverbial death spiral. For those from across the river unaccustomed to working with NJ government entities of any kind, 90 day is the equivalent of a NY minute. So, how does a project with so much promise we’re expected to drink the Kool-Aid then go onto life support. And we are all suppose to call our Governor and blame him?

Comments are closed.