Monday, February 22, 2016

The Cotter and the damage done

You know the routine, if you retire from a city job in Jersey City or anywhere in New Jersey, people say glowing things about you despite what your real record might be. They don't want to really tell you about the job you did for the last 20+ years for fear of hurting feelings.

That friends is why there's a Jersey City Desk.

City Planning (You know, the Cocoa Puffs people) boss Bob Cotter is stepping down after a long career that stretched over 11 mayors. Never once irritated a mayor enough to get fired in all his city "planning"? Sounds like a yes man to us. However, we're not here to make this personal (If that were the case we'd look into political donations).

First though let's take a look, a serious and tough look at the city Cotter has built in his image, with his ideas and planning. We're of the mind, as are courts in America, that if you sign off on something or push it through and the plan or action goes sideways, YOU are on the hook. Case in point, if you're the bartender that serves a person that one or two last drinks, they go get in an accident YOU and the bar will be sued as legally you're both responsible. Johnny thoroughly believes in holding people accountable is his own business dealings. If you tip the domino, you're the reason for the mess at the end. We'll be getting more into that later.

While Cotter reminisced in the Jersey Journal, listening to acolytes sing his praises, nothing got done in The Heights during his "reign." Greenville? What did you do for all those years in Greenville, Bob? The one new tall skyscraper in Journal Square, one after that area has been ignored and abused for decades. Seems to us NOBODY should be spiking a boss of City Planning football looking at the neglect of JS for the last 30 years. So while Cotter was more than happy of his chunder job downtown, he spoke nothing of three huge areas that make up Jersey City. His silence on over half the city that looks like he basically annexed them to Newark speaks VOLUMES. Bob Cotter failed just about every area in Jersey City on some huge level, these areas were done in by an apparent lack of interest. Great leadership technique, no?

Now, let's cut right to the chase and get to Cotter's biggest and most complete failure, the downtown and especially The PAD. Those who dealt with Bob Cotter in the PAD always mention his supreme arrogance and smug attitude dealing with taxpayers who lived in the neighborhoods Cotter insisted on ruining. Example:

Though the developers bowed to local demands by promising a theater and public plaza, Toll Brothers has the legal right to back out of those obligations if the three residential towers they build prove unsuccessful. And while payments are promised in place of affordable housing, the neighborhood association is worried that the city won’t use the money solely to make the area livable.

They can just back out on their own word. Thanks Bob and city council. Just let the developers run rampant (we're getting to that) and run over the people, that's your specialty. As we can see Cotter wasn't much of a guy to look out for the people of the city, just business interests. Read the quotes in Terrence T. McDonald's article, Developers Developers Developers. It was like Steve Ballmer moved to Jersey City all of a sudden.

Cotter and his "City Planning" group were the ones who failed to even send in the paperwork to designate PAD as a historical district. Why? Nobody's ever gotten a straight answer. Seems Cotter, wrongly now as we know, thought he knew better. He didn't think anything was going to come out of The PAD unless he allowed Toll Brothers, Lloyd Goldman, Shuster, KRE and Silverman to go nuts and get sweet unsustainable deals. This IS on you partly Bob, see above. You let the developers run rampant and city council gave out ridiculous 20 and 30 year abatements. By serving the developers drinks you ARE responsible for what comes next. At the time of the decision to basically hand over The PAD to monied interests the PADNA President at the time of the back-stabbing had this to say:

“When you already have a neighborhood with character, with things that distinguish one city from another,” says architect and former PADNA president Jill Edelman, “that is what gives them richness, that is what makes them valuable. If a portion of one city makes it look like another, there’s no reason to choose one over another.”

Of course, and in the end Cotter couldn't resist his own ideas on spot zoning:

“Our argument was that the redevelopment plan was working, new buildings were being developed, and hundreds of people are living here,” she adds. “You shouldn’t upend [the neighborhood] with spot zoning.”

To Cotter the only way to make anything work in The PAD was let developers own it. Not much thinking or planning going on when you simply defer to developers 24/7. He didn't look long term at the mess PADNA was become with horrid towers PADNA sued to keep out and Cotter went on record supporting. The PAD has thrived in spite of Cotter's decisions. The base of The PAD, 150 and 140 Bay St have anchored the neighborhoods and thrived despite Cotter's love of The One and The Morgan type deals that make developers rich. In fact, one of Cotter's last acts as director might have been one of his department's biggest fuck-alls. From the Jersey City Desk just last July:

There is an old abandoned warehouse at the corner of Second St. and Warren. Public Storage, a company we're all familiar with if you've ever taken a train or driven down a highway and seen their statement-colored units, bought the warehouse on Warren and are in the process of converting it. Bob Cotter's City "Planning" gave them the go ahead with the variances necessary, then city council gave the final OK. Trouble is City "Planning" didn't read the PADNA redev plan apparently and they've had a hand in writing it. See our City "planners", all hopped up on chocolaty cereal no doubt, missed the part where according to the PADNA website:

The J.C. Planning Department has been sued by two other Jersey City self storage space businesses (Keepers and Liberty) stating that is illegal for Public Storage to be a storage space operator in our neighborhood – it is to house an arts-related gallery and work/live lofts as written into PAD Redevelopment Plan.

It continues: Keepers and Liberty Self-Storage feel that the variances Planning and Zoning approved are illegal and then later approved by city council – And they won; city planning department lost.

So the folks at 150 Bay St. (ie Keepers and Liberty) won the case in court because City "Planning" wasn't paying attention. Know what this does? It opens up a lawsuit against the city by Public Storage who have sunk an awful lot of time and cash into the rehab already. City Council said go and they went.

Oh, there's more. Johnny knows this is long but this IS Cotter's permanent record and he will be getting a final grade at the end, we must be thorough.

So, Cotter said the PAD couldn't exist and succeed without all the developers getting all the money (even though they already were). Did Cotter then PLAN and do something smart like staging who would start developing something and then one year later someone else might start in, kind of like the Toyota Production System of just-in-time manufacturing. This way the streets can stay somewhat clear, sidewalks remain open and citizens don't face an extra hurdle to quality of living put there by City Planning. What PADNA residents got via Mr. Cotter and other city officials is the Oklahoma Land Rush. All the developers showed up at once. Residents lost parking and sidewalks and safe access to their own streets unnecessarily. That's on Cotter. His plans and how they play out do come back to him. See above at the generous bartender analogy.

Bob Cotter was one of the worst city officials JC had. Arrogance when mixed with a failed PAD plan along with what seemed like no plan for half the city is no way forward. Jersey City has a real chance here to remake City Planning in a sensible MODERN way, not an "any and all developers make money based-system." Cotter set The PAD back, possibly forever, pandering to developers and has now saddled them with ugly tall buildings (Remember the TOLL Brothers VP who said in no way could he defend the design of The Morgan), packed with renters who will do nothing but add to the infrastructure costs all while paying ZERO in property taxes. IS this smart city planning in today's day and age? Another "City Planning" failure. Bringing in thousands of hipsters when the infrastructure underground is still the same pipes and sewers Cotter used to rail against in the PAD as being a drawback is beyond shortsighted.

Where are all the parks we've created? New parks? Greenspaces? Oh, developers, right. The lack of park space is a huge failure and an embarrassment. No wonder Candice Osborne openly clapped at the PADNA meeting when the announcement of Cotter's retirement was made last week. Those who know downtown well know the truth.

Johnny doesn't really care if this article hurts feelings. He doesn't. Cotter didn't give a shit about a lot of Jersey City residents so we're merely replying in kind. We are going to surprise you now with our last word.

Our last word on Mr. Cotter's career as Jersey City Planning boss is going to go to JC Mayor Steve Fulop (Johnny, wait, do you know what you're doing here?). Yes, Johnny would like to share with you, Jersey City, the words of councilman Steven Fulop (remember him?). In 2011 an article in which both Fulop and Cotter were quoted is still floating around out there. The article dealt with all the usual back room chickanery and dirty deals in opening a business when it came to the zoning boards AND city planning. What did Mr. Fulop have to say about Mr. Cotter's ideas and actions then? WOW, and suck on this for eternity Bob:

 "“I think that there are people that have thought about investing dollars in Jersey City and because of our reputation of the difficulty in opening a small business, they’ve opted to go elsewhere,” said Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop, who represents the downtown area. “The good things that are going on here: it’s happening despite government not because of government.”

Bob Cotter receives a C- grade for his time as Director of City Planning in Jersey City and one last box of Cocoa Puffs for the road. The waterfront openness and setting an area for restaurants to grow was/is smart, past that...

Now, hopefully Jersey City can bring in someone with new ideas that actually work and aren't beholden to those with big pocketbooks. Still to be chosen by Steve Fulop mind you but the lobbying effort has already begun to do the smart thing and go outside the city.

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