Save the Skyline... Stop the Wheel

Lane J. Biviano, Esq., Rutherford, New Jersey
Written for

The Meadowlands Xanadu project has had a number of false starts during this decade. No one, including local state legislators, state agencies and the public are fully aware of the current agenda. Nevertheless, the Xanadu developers have recently completed a rather unsightly (by any standard) structure, which has been identified as an indoor ski slope. Its current use is to block out the lower portion of the buildings, which make up the Manhattan skyline, from 59th to 45th Street, from the vantage point of Rutherford and the adjacent communities.
On July 20, 2007, the Record published an article addressing plans for the continued development of the Xanadu project at a NJSEA Board meeting. Colony Capital Acquisitions, the successor to the Mills Corp., presented a rendering of their future plans. This rendering, according to the Record article, included "New information about a 33-story 'Ferris wheel cousin' with gondolas holding as many as 20 people apiece." Since that time I have attempted to learn which agency or body authorized the developer(s) to draft plans for the proposed Ferris Wheel and the extent of that authorization.
According to NJSEA representatives, the Ferris Wheel will be 120 feet vertically higher than the ski slope. I have been unable to obtain a copy of the rendering and any related documents, which were presented at that Board meeting. The NJSEA, who have responded promptly to my other OPRA requests, do not have a copy of either the rendering or the related documents.
One of my OPRA applications to the NJSEA requested a listing and a copy of each resolution which authorized any firm, including Colony Capital Acquisitions, to prepare plans or other documents which included a Ferris Wheel for the Xanadu project along with any documents which reference a Ferris Wheel from January 2004 to the present. The Mills Corp. had depicted a Ferris Wheel in its 2004 Master Plan submission. NJSEA counsel promptly responded that only the 2004 Master Plan and the July 19, 2007 meeting minutes referenced any Ferris Wheel. The only resolution authoring Colony Capital Acquisitions to take any action was the 2006 resolution to transfer control from Mills Corp to Colony Capital Acquisitions.
NJSEA advised DCA would be handling any approval for a Ferris Wheel. DCA, acknowledging same, advised the Ferris Wheel has been an "on again, off again" project over the past several years. DCA, further, advised no plans have been submitted for approval. During the interim on August 16, 2007, I faxed a letter to the Governor via the Chief of Staff's office addressing my concerns, enclosing a copy of the Record article. My letter requested in pertinent part: " to learn the parameters of the developer(s) authorization and by whom or by what agency and the manner that such individual or agency (e.g. a resolution) which granted for preparation of the Ferris Wheel plans".
On August 31st, I faxed a follow-up letter. A few weeks ago, DCA responded on behalf of the Governor. DCA, without addressing any of my concerns, stated the sole responsibility for the Xanadu project rested with the NJSEA. State Senator Paul Sarlo represents the legislative district, which includes the Xanadu project. Moreover, the Senator's office advised the Governor's office had taken charge of the Xanadu project; and they knew no more than I did. Finally, due to the height of the Ferris Wheel, the FAA must issue an approval. Last week I learned from FAA representatives, there are no fewer than 75 on line documents addressing the Ferris Wheel. In fact there are two pending applications.
There are two points here. First, the people of this state are entitled to full disclosure of the Xanadu project. Second, a carnival-like structure, i.e. the Ferris Wheel, will only serve to deface the view of the world's most stunning skyline, virtually at our door-step. At minimum there must be a public hearing before any further applications, plans or construction take place. Lane J. Biviano is an attorney with offices in Rutherford, where he also resides. He had worked for and/or represented public entities for both political parties for over 30 years.
(Editor's Note: The views expressed are solely those of the author, who is also responsible for the content of the column.)


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