Update: A spoken version of this statement by JCRPA President Sarah Burroughs can be viewed at the 10/21/2020 City Council meeting, accessed here, at 6:34:25. Their vote on Resolution 20-748, the newest Resolution to date regarding awarding another contract towards implementing the Site Safety Improvements Project, is here at 6:47:20, passing 7-1 with Councilman Lavarro dissenting.
To the Honorable Steven Fulop, Council Members, and Jersey City Residents:
It is with great disappointment and urgency that the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance (JCRPA) must write this letter. After repeatedly being pressured to concede to decisions made without our input, and refusal from representatives of the City of Jersey City to formally consider our recommendations or pursue consultation from necessary specialists, we formally request the City of Jersey City to stop and not proceed further with entering into any contract, advancing any design, or commencing construction of the City of Jersey City’s Reservoir #3 Site Safety Improvements Project.
While we agree that safety for all visitors is among the highest priorities, the process with which the project is being approached, and the proposed plans if implemented, poses great potential for irreparable damage to the site and are unacceptable.
As we have already publicly stated, the project design was originally presented to us in July as a first draft. Numerous Jersey City representatives assured us our input on the plans would be sought and incorporated, including through presentations by the project’s designers. No formal coordination ensued and no opportunities to provide our input or the general public’s input was sought. We discovered in September that in violation of the City of Jersey City’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Jersey City Parks Coalition, of which the JCRPA is a member, designs had been finalized, bid, and a contractor had been selected. The City Council then ignored our concerns about the process and design and proceeded to award the contract. At September’s City Council Meeting we were assured a public session would be held immediately; however, no public session has been scheduled.
We have since been given verbal explanations of the Proposed Plan that appear to directly contradict the actual plan copies that we have received. We have further been informed that the designs, which are incomplete and self-contradictory, will be further determined in the field. This method leaves the design decisions to the whimsy of one or two people without the opportunity for public oversight or feedback, and presents great opportunity for error and wasted funds.
Furthermore, the presentation of a plan to the public after a construction contract has been awarded does not constitute public participation and is a disingenuous and perfunctory attempt to feign public outreach. It is the City of Jersey City’s responsibility to coordinate with the public, and they have completely failed to do so. It is the City of Jersey City’s responsibility to solicit input, produce a preliminary, well-considered plan that takes that input into consideration, and to make revisions throughout the project development phase to follow the agreed-upon plan. This is not merely the way government should operate, it is required by the City’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Jersey City Parks Coalition.
While the JCRPA has a vision for an improved, accessible, and safe Jersey City Reservoir #3, we have no consistent sense of a vision from the designers of this project, nor do we have a sense of Mayor Fulop’s vision for this site. We are certain, however, that our vision embraces the preservation of the Reservoir as a natural historic space.
The JCRPA demands that the City of Jersey City refrain from advancing any and all aspects of this project unless and until these issues are properly addressed. As a first step, we request the City of Jersey City formally define its vision for the future of the Reservoir #3, including the nature of the space, describing in detail the safety issues that need to be addressed. We further request that this be drafted as a Letter of Intent to be shared with the public.
We demand that no further actions be taken on the Reservoir #3 project until these issues are rectified.
The [below] resolution detailing our concerns and proposed solutions has been unanimously passed by the Board of Directors of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance.
Very truly yours,
Sarah Burroughs, President
Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance
Resolution on the City of Jersey City Site Safety Improvements
21 October 2020
Whereas Reservoir #3 Site Safety Improvements Project, 113 Central Ave, Jersey City, New Jersey 07306, Block-4802, Lot-1, Project Number 2019-007 of the City of Jersey City Division of Architecture (‘The Proposed Plans”) plans that were bid and awarded to Cypreco Industries Inc., at the cost of $1,843,823, fail to adequately describe the design. Taken as presented, the design would obliterate all vegetation on the upper level, thereby transforming the naturalistic existing narrow path surrounded by vegetation into a wide, straight paved pathway, no growing medium would exist between the fence and the path, and the reason to utilize this area would be lost, and the overall character of the reservoir, would be permanently diminished, without any real justification for doing so; and
Whereas Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance (JCRPA) believes that Reservoir #3 is a magnificent green space that provides respite from the urban environment that lies just beyond its borders. Its unique appeal is that it is not of a manicured park comprising straight lines and sidewalks, but is more like a nature preserve in the Adirondacks. It is a hidden gem, with untamed vegetation, rocks and slopes surrounding a lake. It is essential that any Proposed Plan preserve the Reservoir’s essence. The Proposed Plan, if implemented, would obliterate much of Reservoir #3’s essence.
Whereas JCRPA recognizes and agrees on the need to improve the safety of the site and provide for a more accessible and improved site; and
Whereas regarding the historic nature of this facility, and its inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the vagueness, inaccuracies of the Proposed Plans, the lack of adequate evaluation of the effect of this public undertaking on a historic property and failure to fully and adequately assess the potential effects of the project on the historic aspects of the site, consider and recommend possible alternatives to the Proposed Plans or mitigation for those effects, render the Proposed Project in violation of Title 7:4-1 (a) 2. and 3. Department of Environmental Projection, and Chapter 268 and Procedures for Project Authorization; the vagueness of the plans also does not allow for SHPO to accurately and adequately evaluate the Proposed Plans; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans clearly represent an encroachment upon an existing State and National Register Historic Place, and therefore require a full and comprehensive evaluation for historic resources, not limited to the site’s archaeological features but also to its other unique historic features; and
Whereas JCRPA has repeatedly sought answers from the City of Jersey City and has received inadequate or no response to their questions and concerns about the design; and the City of Jersey City has developed and proceeded with a design prior to and without the solicitation of public input, and has held no meetings to describe and discuss the design, but instead has opted to obfuscate information, and bid and award a poorly developed design package; and
Whereas JCRPA strongly objects to the absence of public input and consultation with both the JCRPA and the general public throughout the design planning, design, bid and award process, and has promulgated conflicting or possibly inaccurate information; and
Whereas In response to the JCRPA’s statement of serious concern about the straight line depiction of the path system on the Proposed Plans, and the dimensional discrepancies, Jersey City has stated that although the Proposed Plans show straight line paths, and obliteration of all plant material, the actual design will be determined in the field by the project architect, an archaeologist, and a contractor. This is a wholly unacceptable solution. Neither an archaeologist nor a contractor is a capable designer; this design “process” makes the plans unknowable to the public; and contractors and archaeologists are neither legally authorized nor professionally trained to design a park. Contractors in a design-bid-build scenario legally bid on the Proposed Plans; contractors base their bids on the most economically expedient and advantageous (to the contractor) way to construct the Proposed Plans. Any deviation is likely to result in extra cost. Archaeologists have no training in design, and it is wholly inappropriate for an archaeologist to be determining a design without adequate review and public knowledge. Moreover, it is inappropriate for a single landscape architect design professional to be determining the ultimate design of any park alone without any oversight, and in particular in a State and National Register site; and
Whereas the contract drawings have discrepancies where dimensions of the plans do not match sections or details; therefore it is impossible to comprehend the actual design by reviewing the project contract documents; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans appear to have been designed without the benefit of a survey of existing conditions including the existing layout, grades, and plant material, therefore the plans do not take into account the existing sensitivity of the site and it is impossible to analyze the precise design, although the design as shown obliterates much of the site character; and
Whereas due to the nature of the site and the extreme variations in grades, it is inappropriate to design the grading of the site in the field. The contractor would need to shoot elevations of the park and determine designs in the field. Those solutions would not be subject to review, and may not be aesthetically or practically acceptable; however, in the field, the pressure to complete the job will be intense. It is appropriate to know those elevations up front, prior to the design being completed, and for that knowledge to inform the development of the design. It is irresponsible to proceed in any other way when dealing with a public park; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans show the new paths as six to nine feet wide (in addition to the shoulders and other newly paved areas). These widths may only be achievable in some locations by extending the width of the trail beyond the edge of the steep embankment, or may be outright impossible; it would also likely result in the disturbance of the historic resources located therein. As the Proposed Plans appear to have been designed without a topographical or site survey that depicts the existing location of the path and the edge of the “cliff” or embankment, it is impossible to assess the actual effect on the landscape, and on historic and archaeological resources.
Whereas the Proposed Plans contain a typical cross section that fails to consider its effect on the resultant grades along the “inside” of the trail system. The proposed widening of the paths would, in some locations, extend beyond the existing slope edge and and would necessitate construction of a structure to support that pathway width, i.e. retaining walls. tAny new retaining wall would introduce new visual and construction impacts, the need to stabilize affected slopes, barriers would be needed along the inside to provide safety ; and
Whereas JCRPA questions and objects to the proposed ill-informed decision (without consultation with the JCRPA, among others) to locate the perimeter fence two feet from the coping stone, for the following reasons: 1) it would result in the unnecessary loss of two feet of preserve area all along the park perimeter, particularly problematic in narrow areas of the upper path; 2) it would result in the creation of an inaccessible and thereby unmaintainable area between the fence and the face of the outer wall, where trash would collect and weeds grow, and which would create an extreme danger for any maintenance personnel to access, 3) it would introduce in an attractive nuisance safety hazard where vandals and other persons may walk along the edge at night, which the fence is being partially proposed to deter. The location of the proposed safety fence should be directly adjacent to the coping stone (if not directly in the coping stone, if permitted in consideration of the historic value of the coping stone and wall) and a fence of this nature should not pose any threat to the structural stability of such a massive element as the historic stone wall; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans do not include any substantial provisions to identify and protect desirable plant material, to identify undesirable plant material, nor a plan to restore the landscape, but leave no buffer whatever between the upper trail and the perimeter fence, rendering it an unattractive and undesirable area to visit; in fact the Proposed Plans no room for planting due to factors described above regarding lack of planting medium or seasonal planning; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans include low level lighting which would attract usage of the park in the evening which is neither permitted nor desired; moreover the lights being proposed are not security lights but are pathway lights and their design and placement is inconsistent with the naturalistic feeling of the park; in general, it is inadvisable to provide lighting in a park that is not to be used at night and the provision of lights would encourage night use, regardless of whether it is allowable; and
Whereas the Proposed Plans depict a straight line path system throughout, which fails to recognize or enhance the naturalistic character of the trail system that is the aesthetic essence of the site. The existing path system varies in width, but ranges from two to three feet with some limited wider areas, with dense vegetation on either side that creates a sense of enclosure, adventure, nature, wonder, and anticipation of what may lie ahead. All of this would be obliterated if the Proposed Plans were implemented as depicted; and
Whereas the site is characterized by dramatic grade differences, through which a series of trails runs, access between the upper and lower level trails may be desirable. Because of the extreme changes in elevations and the need to provide appropriately accessible routes, determining the site’s grading in the field would be difficult, and would likely result in major design changes being made at the last minute. Field design also precludes meaningful input from both the public and SHPO and adequate assessment of the effect of the plans on historic resources and would likely result in contract extras.
Natural Resources Deficiencies
Whereas the Proposed Plans were designed without consideration or deference to the tremendous negative effect and impact on vegetation and wildlife. This should be considered and inform the design process, and no plans are included to identify, avoid, or mitigate those impacts; and
Whereas the effect of the Proposed Project on the natural resources of the site (wildlife and plants) was not considered. The effect of the introduction of the proposed light fixtures on nocturnal wildlife, which was not considered and would require the expertise of a wildlife biologist to properly assess; none was consulted; and
Whereas the proposed plans fail to consider the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), and American Resources and Accommodations (ARA) requirements for natural sites and trails, which provide provisions for slopes and grades, and the proposed plans have failed, in that regard, to consider a reasonable universal accessibility plan for the site that does not destroy the existing features that make the site unique. The proposed switchbacks are not shown in enough detail to depict lengths and grades of ramps, dimensions and locations of landings, detailing of the ramps themselves, construction detailing, and visual appearance of the rubble. The final appearance of this area (Jefferson Avenue entrance area) is important to the ultimate visual quality of this section of the Reservoir #3 site and it is important to clearly prescribe the desired visual quality in order to protect the unique quality of this area and to preserve its interpretive historical value; and no effort to consult with a universal trail accessibility specialist was made; therefore
Resolved JCRPA demands that the City of Jersey City immediately refrain from proceeding with any and all actions in furtherance of the construction of the Proposed Plans until such time as the issues described above have been adequately and appropriately addressed to the satisfaction of the JCRPA, NJDEP and SHPO;
Resolved JCRPA demands New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the State Historic Preservation Officer re-review these plans in their entirety and engage in proper and adequate consideration and review of plans, as well as consultation with the public in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to Chapter 268 and Procedures for Project Authorization;
Resolved JCRPA demands and deserves the respect of formal responses to these and other questions;
Resolved : JCRPA would support a plan that improves the Jersey City Reservoir #3 if the above issues are addressed satisfactorily