On September 9, 2016, the Paterson Times published a letter from Mr. Al Abdelaziz, Chairman of the Paterson Planning Board, which touted a number of recent “successes” in bringing economic development to Paterson.
While most of these projects appear to be worthy pursuits, I was still perplexed by the fact that the letter included the “approval” of new proposed development at the failed Vistas Site in the list of recent successes. To my knowledge, development at the Vistas Site has been halted due to Greentree’s (and the Planning Board’s) failure to consult a number of entities with a vested interest in projects at the Great Falls, including the City’s Historic Preservation Commission and the National Park Service. It is also my understanding that the matter is the subject of multiparty litigation and is far from decided.
I am also unsure of the basis for declaring the approval of the Vistas Site a success, because by all indications it is not. Because of the new Vistas project, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and various other entities have questioned Paterson’s commitment to the Great Falls National Park and the restoration of Hinchliffe Stadium, and some have even wondered aloud if it might be better to commit their resources elsewhere. It is a realistic possibility that approval of the new Vistas project would sacrifice tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of federal money over the next few years if the Vistas project moves forward in its present form. Instead of a unique, urban National Park that attracts tourists and business to Paterson, we could end up with an exclusive gated community in the middle of the same old cash-strapped First Ward.
Worse still, the new Vistas could have the same result as the old Vistas, leaving behind more abandoned buildings and urban blight in the event that the City loses vital partnerships at the Great Falls.
Anyone who goes to the Vista’s site is instantly impressed by its extensive views of not only the Downtown Paterson Historic District, but of a distant New York City that is plainly visible on a clear day. It is the perfect location for walking trails, park benches, picnic tables, and a multitude of recreational activities. At the same time, these features make it a prime location for high-end condominiums and gated communities, which is precisely what Greentree is attempting to do.
Greentree admitted in hearings before the City’s Historic Preservation Commission that their current plans would bar the general public from having access to the scenic overlook, which would permanently deprive present and future Paterson residents of access to the viewshed. Instead of using the Vistas tract to enhance the National Park, one of Paterson’s important resources, it will benefit only a handful of people who can purchase access to the viewshed.
There has been little comment on how the new Vistas project would impact the future of Hinchliffe Stadium. Only a small strip of land separates Hinchliffe from the Vistas site. Does the City intend to put the stadium on a collision course with these would-be new neighbors over noise and traffic? Are they looking to limit Hinchliffe’s ability to host a wide range of events? These questions linger in addition to the fact that developing this parcel for residential use will deprive Hinchliffe of one of the only available means for improving access to the stadium. We are not only risking the loss of property with choice access to the Great Falls, but risking damage to the effort to restore a National Historic Landmark that an overwhelming amount of Paterson residents want to see restored.
These questions are not an attack on the Planning Board, but they have not responded to emails requesting clarification, and these statements give an air of validity to a project that may in fact lack valid approvals and must be questioned publicly. Residents are entitled to know the facts and circumstances behind the alleged approval of the new Vistas project, as well as a statement on why it is best for the city. Tens if not hundreds of millions in federal dollars are at stake, and this creates a larger need for transparency and accountability. Paterson’s residents deserve to know whether the possibility of permanent damage to the City’s relationship with the National Park Service has been considered. They deserve to know how this fits into the big picture. They deserve to know whether the new Vistas project will jeopardize the restoration of Hinchliffe Stadium if the stadium is crowded by residential units.
While Paterson may be starved for tax revenue, it is against the City’s interest to be penny wise and dollar foolish. The City has a valuable opportunity to tap into what is being offered by the National Park Service and its partners. We can use this momentum and water the grassroots of responsible redevelopment, or we can just turn blindly turn assets over to moneyed interests in exchange for rateables. The time for City Government to formulate a plan for leading Paterson into the future is now. We cannot let it happen in bits and pieces that do not fit together to form the big picture.
David R. Cubby, Esq.