HISTORIC OR DOOMED? The Sixth Street Embankment is a
series of sandstone and granite blocks spanning Sixth Street from Marin
Boulevard to Brunswick Street in downtown Jersey City.
EMBANKMENT ADVOCATE – Stephen Gucciardo, president of
the Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Stem Embankment Coalition, spoke at the
February 9 City Council meeting on February 9.
LAWYER SPEAKS – Dan Horgan, attorney of the owner of
the Sixth Street Embankment, addressed the Jersey City City Council on February
A developer who wants to
build housing and parkland at the site of an old railroad embankment will have
his application to demolish the embankment heard by the city’s Historic
Preservation Commission on March 2.
However, Steve Hyman, the developer,
has been touting an alternative plan that allows him to preserve most of the
embankment and still build a residential tower on a portion of the property. He
has said that if the city endorses his newer plan, he may not need to demolish
the entire railroad structure.
The Sixth Street Embankment is a series of
sandstone and granite blocks spanning Sixth Street downtown from Marin Boulevard
to Brunswick Street, over which a section of the Pennsylvania Railroad freight
line ran from 1902 until the late 1970s.
Hyman acquired the property in
2005 from Conrail for $3 million. At first, he wanted to demolish the embankment
and build two-family homes. After protests from community activists, he came up
with a new plan to leave 75 percent of the 5.6-acre, six-block structure as open
space, and for the remaining 25 percent to contain housing.
city has not yet approved the new plan.
The application for the
demolition was supposed to be heard by the city’s Historic Preservation
Commission on Feb. 9, but the meeting was cancelled the same day and has been
rescheduled for March 2.
Local park activists have pushed for the
Embankment to be completely preserved, and possibly used for parks, recreation,
and maybe a light rail extension. Mayor Jerramiah Healy has endorsed the
Complicating the issue are questions about
whether the railroad’s sale of the property to Hyman in 2005 was done according
to the rules of the Surface Transportation and Safety Board (STB), which say
that a railroad must offer its property for public use before selling it to a
Recently, the City Council passed a resolution to support
pending state legislation to regulate future sales of railroad property to
private developers. City officials also have met behind closed doors with the
attorney retained to monitor the Embankment issue on the federal level on behalf
of the city and the Embankment Coalition. Sell to city
The council’s resolution at its Feb. 11 meeting endorsed
pending state legislation crafted by state Assemblyman (and former City Council
President) L. Harvey Smith requiring railroad companies to negotiate “in good
faith” with local governments first before they sell the rights to railroad
lines they no longer operate to private entities.
The federal Surface
Transportation Board (STB) ruled in August 2007 that Conrail should have gotten
authorization from the STB to legally abandon the Embankment and offer it to
public entities before it was sold to Hyman. This came out of a petition filed
with the STB in January 2006 by the City of Jersey City, the Rails to Trails
Conservancy, the Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Stem Embankment Coalition
(Coalition), and then-State Assemblyman Louis M. Manzo to determine if Conrail
went through the proper procedures in abandoning the Embankment before selling
The STB’s ruling would theoretically void the land sale to
Hyman, but Conrail is still fighting the decision by filing exemptions with the
STB to not have to go through the abandonment process.
council meeting, some members of the public supported the new resolution, and
others opposed it.
Members of the Harsimus Stem Embankment Coalition,
which since 1998 have advocated preservation and recreational use of the
Embankment, exhorted the council to vote in favor of the
“This will ensure that a railroad will not make unreasonable
demands on local government while offering sweetheart deals to a developer,”
said Maureen Crowley, founder of the coalition.
However, lawyers for
Hyman tried to convince the council not to endorse the legislation, saying it
would hurt negotiations with the city to drop their current litigation
contesting the STB decision and to allow for their development to go
“We don’t need a statute to say the words ‘good faith’ [because]
good faith has been exercised on every level with the Sixth Street Embankment
and its disposition,” Hyman’s attorney, Carmine Alampi, told the
But the City Council, not easily swayed, voted 8-0 in favor of
During the meeting, several council members said they
would to like to see the Embankment issue resolved as soon as
City Councilman Michael Sottolano said the legal costs are “too
expensive” and that too much time is being spent on the
matter.Meeting with attorney
On Feb. 9, the City
Council went into a closed caucus with railroad law attorney Charles Montange,
who is monitoring the Embankment issue on the federal level.
told the Jersey City Reporter
before the closed caucus that he was
planning to update the council on a recent STB decision. On Jan. 26, the STB
denied two requests from Conrail to waive certain requirements they would have
had to face related to selling the Embankment.
Dan Horgan, one of Hyman’s
attorneys, issued a letter of protest at the Feb. 11 council meeting against the
closed-door session with Montagne, saying the meeting with Montagne, along with
the resolution endorsing the state legislation, would hinder efforts to resolve
the Embankment issue.
Instead, City Councilman Bill Gaughan brushed off
the letter, noting that Montagne has worked for the city and the Embankment
Coalition for nearly three years and it had never been a problem
before.Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at mailto:rkaulessar.