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Hot piece of land in Hoboken at center of Christie-Zimmer dispute

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN
updated 8:32 AM EST, Tue January 21, 2014
  • Real estate in densely populated Hoboken, New Jersey, is big business
  • A development is at the center of dispute between mayor, Gov. Chris Christie's office
  • Mayor Dawn Zimmer says the administration tied Sandy relief money to land deal
  • Members of Christie's administration categorically deny Zimmer's accusation

(CNN) -- Most issues in Hoboken, New Jersey, ultimately boil down to real estate.

So it's no surprise to the residents of the small city that the dustup between their mayor and Gov. Chris Christie's administration centers around three square blocks in the north end of Hoboken.

With multimillion-dollar high-rise views of the New York City skyline, beautifully restored 19th century townhouses on quiet side streets, and trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques along the main drag, real estate is a prime commodity in the city that gave us Frank Sinatra and the reality television show "Cake Boss."

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The Rockefeller Group, a major real estate holding company in the United States, wants to add to that landscape with a mixed-use development. Among the proposed apartment buildings and commercial spaces is a 40-story tower. It would be the city's tallest structure.

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The company best known for building Rockefeller Center in New York has been in talks with city officials since 2008 to develop the three blocks it owns in a mostly industrial section of Hoboken, but the economic recession slowed the project.

Then, flooding from Superstorm Sandy left 80% of Hoboken under water. The approval process for the project slowed even more as city leaders explored ways to mitigate flooding in the future.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer favors a plan that would divert water from the Hudson River into a new green belt around the city. The plans for that green belt skirt the Rockefeller Group's coveted development site.

Zimmer said she isn't opposed to developing those three blocks. But she has concerns about congestion and a strain on public services in the fourth most densely packed city in the United States.

"My No. 1 priority is to do what's right for Hoboken," Zimmer said CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley. "We have severe needs and we have to look at this comprehensively."

At the center of the controversy is Zimmer's claim that two members of Christie's administration made it clear to her that Sandy recovery funds distributed by his office would be contingent on her approval of the Rockefeller Group's development project.

Christie's office, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and New Jersey Commissioner of Community Affairs Richard Constable have said that the allegations are categorically false. They called them a total fabrication.

The real estate company denied any knowledge of a quid pro quo relating to its project. A statement from the Rockefeller Group said: "We have no knowledge of any information pertaining to this allegation. If it turns out to be true, it would be deplorable."

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