HOBOKEN, N.J. — The hundreds of residents gathered in this small river city on Wednesday night insisted they were not opposed to a ferry maintenance hub in a town that was once defined by its waterfront docks and factories.
They just don’t want it next to a park and playground on a swath of land that would complete a promenade along the Hudson River.
“This is not a ‘Nimby’ issue,” said Heather Gibbons, program director for Fund for a Better Waterfront. “We’re fine with it in our backyard — just not that part of our backyard.”
The target of their collective hostility was New York Waterway’s plan to fix and fuel its commuter ferries in the center of the city’s reclaimed waterfront. The residents who filled the auditorium for a spirited public hearing arranged by the Army Corps of Engineers argued that there had to be a better place than the chosen location, which sits next to a park, playground and small beach popular with kayakers.
New York Waterway has asked the Army Corps for permission to repair the piers that jut into the river from property it bought last year as a new home base for its fleet of 30 ferries.
The Army Corps typically grants such permits, but the heavy public opposition prompted New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, Robert Menendez and Cory A. Booker, to request the public hearing. A Corps official said the hearing would help determine if granting the permit was “in the overall public interest.”
Mayor Ravinder S. Bhalla of Hoboken has been fighting the plan since he learned late last year that the ferry company had purchased the site on Sinatra Drive from Union Dry Dock & Repair Co., a ship-repair facility that was the last vestige of Hoboken’s maritime industry. Mr. Bhalla has offered to buy the site and threatened to use the city’s power of eminent domain to force a sale.
Speaking at the hearing, Mr. Bhalla said the property was the only thing standing in the way of completing a promenade along a riverfront that was once teeming with longshoreman and factories. “This would negate decades and generations of careful public planning by the residents of Hoboken,” he said of Waterway’s intentions.
Waterway’s executives have argued that the site is the only suitable location for the maintenance and refueling operation, which would relocate from neighboring Weehawken. It is near the midpoint of the 16 ferry routes it operates on the Hudson.
That argument persuaded officials with New Jersey Transit, the operator of the state’s train and bus networks, to come to the company’s aid. Just before former Gov. Chris Christie left office in January, New Jersey Transit prepared to buy the property from New York Waterway to shield it from Hoboken’s grasp. The transit agency would then lease the site back to ferry company.
A vote by the transit agency’s board unraveled on Mr. Christie’s last full day in office, leaving the matter in the hands of his successor, Gov. Philip D. Murphy. Mr. Bhalla agreed to stand down as New Jersey Transit studies alternative locations for the ferry base.
But as several speakers noted Wednesday, the transit agency has already conducted a study. In 2009, it produced a report that ranked possible relocation sites for New York Waterway. The top choice was in Hoboken, but at the southern end of the city, next to the train and ferry terminal that New Jersey Transit owns. The Union Dry Dock site was deemed the sixth-best option.
Ron Hine, executive director of Fund for a Better Waterfront, said that report “clearly refutes” the ferry company’s claim.
Neil Yoskin, a lawyer representing New York Waterway, briefly presented the company’s plan and said that the Army Corps had received more than 500 comments. There was not time to respond to them at the hearing, he said, adding that the company was in the process of responding to each comment in writing.
Two hours into the hearing, only two people had stepped up to speak in favor of the plan, both representing unions with members employed by New York Waterway. Most of the speakers warned of the hazards of dozens of diesel-fueled ferries cruising to and from the center of the city’s park-lined riverfront.
Annette Chaparro, a Democratic assemblywoman from Hoboken, told the crowd, “There was a time when industrial sites on the waterfront made sense, but that time is way past.”
Follow Patrick McGeehan on Twitter: @NYTpatrick
A version of this article appears in print on
, on Page
of the New York edition
with the headline:
Hoboken Residents Object to a Ferry Plan on a Piece of the Waterfront. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe