By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
In the past decade, the allure of urban waterfront living has attracted affluent residents seeking a luxury lifestyle, including locales along Hudson Bay. Maxwell Place, part of the planned community of Hudson Tea, Hoboken, New Jersey, is the site of brand new condominium completed in 2006. Recent sale prices have ranged from half a million dollars to well over $2 million.
However, low elevations near the Hudson Bay in Hoboken have a long history of flooding during heavy rain typical of coastal storms. In fact, the area by the Bay has been known by locals as the “bathtub” for generations.
But that has not discouraged Toll Brothers and other developers from investing millions in new construction. Nor has the City of Hoboken withheld approval for new construction in flood prone areas.
Within a few years after Maxwell Place was completed, the City of Hoboken’s North Hudson Sewerage Authority announced plans to install new pumping stations for its sewerage treatment system. One of those pumping stations – known as H5 – would be located on 11th Street on property owned by the Maxwell Place Condo Association. The City of Hoboken proceeded to acquire easements from the Association through eminent domain.
But, as is usual in these cases, City government and property owners could not agree on a fair market value for the parcel of land that was needed for sewerage system upgrades. Hudson Sewerage Authority wanted to pay $567,000. Maxwell Place Condo Association hired an attorney to squeeze more money out of them.
NJ.com reports that a jury just awarded the Association more than $5 million.
Jury tells sewer agency to pay Hoboken condo owners $5M
By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 24, 2017 at 3:19 PM, updated January 24, 2017 at 5:07 PM
HOBOKEN — The North Hudson Sewerage Authority has been ordered to pay more than $5 million to a group of Hoboken waterfront condo owners for property used to build an underground pumping station that combats flooding on the city’s low-lying west side.
The authority’s so-called H-5 pumping station on 11th Street just west of Hudson Street went into operation last fall, and officials say it has minimized flooding in a west-central section of the city known as the “bathtub” on three rainy occasions since then, including Monday’s nor’easter.
“For the third time yesterday, our new H-5 flood pump, combined with our existing H-1 pump, kept western Hoboken dry through the kind of major storm that previously would have flooded our neighborhoods,” Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in a statement on Tuesday.
But the $12 million pumping station, paid for by the city and operated by the sewerage authority, is on private property along a block of 11th Street owned by the Maxwell Place Condominium Association, where temporary and permanent easements to build and maintain the station were obtained through the agency’s power of eminent domain. That process began in 2015.
After an appraiser valued the easement at $567,000 last April, the condo owners appealed the amount, and on Jan. 10, the owners were awarded compensation totaling $5,058,900 by a Hudson County jury weighing the appeal, according to court documents and people on both sides of the case.
I can understand why condo owners would want to be compensated, and, because Association property was taken for a public purpose, they are entitled to receive fair market value.
However, because the $5 million award is nearly 9 times higher that the Sewerage Authority had anticipated, an appeal is likely. And, yes, as taxpayers, Maxwell Place owners will technically be paying higher taxes for their own award. In reality, the cost of that $5 million award, plus additional legal costs, will be shared by all taxpayers served by North Hudson Sewerage Authority.
I cannot help but wonder if this after-the-fact eminent domain lawsuit could have been avoided when Maxwell Place was still in the planning stages. Surely, City officials knew that additional pumping stations were necessary a decade ago. Why wasn’t the easement negotiated with the landowners during the development planning process?
Perhaps the builder did not want to work above-ground portions of a sewer pumping station into the architectural design?
I wonder if early condo buyers were made aware of the soon-to-occur sewer construction project, certain to create construction noise, parking and traffic issues, inconvenience, and, worst of all, foul odors. Or did residents not find out about the major project until public notices were made in 2014?
All in all, Hoboken property owners and residents will foot the bill for this costly legal battle, a result of not-so-smart city planning.