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Hoboken Environment Committee Inc. v. German Seaman''s Mission of New York

Decided: July 12, 1978.


Kentz, J.s.c.


This case involves an attempt to restrain the demolition of an historical site located in Hoboken, New Jersey. Plaintiff Hoboken Environment Committee, Inc. (Committee) is a group of residents and taxpayers of Hoboken dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the historical, cultural and aesthetic assets of Hoboken. Plaintiff Helen Manogue is a resident and citizen of Hoboken and is the chairperson of the Committee. Defendant German Seaman's Mission of New York (Mission), a nonprofit corporation, is the owner of the premises in question located at 60-64 Hudson Street in Hoboken which are known as the German Seaman's Mission (Mission building). Defendant Singer's Supermarkets, Inc. (Singer) is the purchaser under contract of the Mission property.

The Mission building dates from 1907 and has a history of serving at various periods as a lodge and shelter for German seamen, as quarters for American soldiers and as a United States customs house. This building forms an integral part of the multi-ethnic heritage and history of Hoboken. It stands as a relic of the era in which Hoboken was a thriving seaport and a large German-American community.

Architecturally and historically, the Mission building is among the most prominent structures remaining from the past waterfront development in Hoboken. According to the testimony of Thomas M. Wells, an architect, the building is an example of Greek-revival design and is in good structural condition, with much of the original ornament and finishing in good or readily salvageable condition.

Defendants are currently seeking to demolish the Mission building. Plaintiffs wish to halt this on the ground

that demolition of this building would have a permanent adverse effect on plans for the restoration of the Erie-Lackawanna terminal located within direct sight of the Mission building*fn1 and for restoration and development of an historic district in the southern portion of Hoboken.

Plaintiffs appeared before this court on May 3, 1978 seeking a temporary restraining order enjoining the demolition of the Mission building pending the happening of certain events. In particular, there was pending in the Hoboken City Council a bill to create a Hoboken Historic District Commission, including the mechanics that which would limit destruction of buildings with historic and cultural significance, such as the Mission building. Additionally, an application had been filed and was pending before the Division of Parks, Forestry and Recreation of the State Department of Environmental Protection for designation of the Mission building as an official historical site to be listed in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places pursuant to N.J.S.A. 13:1B-15.128. Upon designation of a building as an historic site, public monies are available for the acquisition, restoration, preservation and maintenance of the building.

At the hearing on plaintiffs' application for a temporary restraining order*fn2 defendants informed the court that on May 3, 1978 the City of Hoboken had issued to the Mission

a permit to demolish the Mission building.*fn3 However, in order to enable the court to deliberate and investigate this case fully, a temporary restraining order enjoining demolition was issued to maintain the status quo. Peters v. Public Service Corp. , 132 N.J. Eq. 500, 511 (Ch. 1942), aff'd per curiam 133 N.J. Eq. 283 (E. & A. 1943); see Fraxam Amusement Corp. v. Skouras Theater Corp. , 113 N.J. Eq. 509, 511 (Ch. 1933).

Subsequently, defendants filed a motion returnable on the return date of the order to show cause seeking judgment on the pleadings, dismissal of the complaint and vacation of the temporary restraints. The issue of whether plaintiffs had standing to bring this action was argued on the return date but the court reserved decision on that question pending a further hearing on the application for preliminary restraints. On May 30, 1978 and June 6, 1978 this court heard further testimony and argument and again reserved decision in order that counsel could submit additional briefs.

Three laws are invoked for the basis of standing: N.J.S.A. 13:1B-15.128 et seq., N.J.S.A. 2A:35A-4 (Environmental Rights Act) and a Hoboken ordinance entitled "An Ordinance Establishing a Historic District Commission of the City of Hoboken, Providing for the Membership and Powers Thereof and Providing for the

Creation of Historic Districts Within the City of Hoboken" (Hoboken ordinance).

N.J.S.A. 2A:35A-4 permits

Although this statute grants liberal standing because "every person has a substantial interest in minimizing this condition" of polluting and impairing the environment, N.J.S.A. 2A:35A-2, it is clearly limited to destruction or harm to the natural environment as opposed to the destruction of historical buildings. Plaintiffs' reliance upon this statute is obviously misplaced.

Prior to considering any other basis for standing, certain additional facts must be noted. On May 4, 1978 the Mission building was approved by the State Review Committee for Historic Sites for listing on the State Register of Historic Places pursuant to N.J.S.A. 13:1B-15.129. Simultaneously it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Furthermore, the Hoboken ordinance was passed on June 21, 1978.

Neither N.J.S.A. 13:1B-15.128 et seq. nor the Hoboken ordinance specifies who may enforce these laws. Both, however, set forth certain limitations on the use of historic sites. N.J.S.A. 13:1B-15.131 prohibits

The Hoboken ordinance which creates an historic district that encompasses the Mission building ...

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