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American Dream project gets key endorsement

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The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission today endorsed a report on the environmental impact of the proposed American Dream Meadowlands project, clearing one of the remaining permitting hurdles for the retail and entertainment complex.

The so-called hearing officers' report, in which state officials outlined how the developer must limit the impact, was adopted today by the commission's board, an agency spokesman said. The report will be forwarded to the state Sports & Exposition Authority, the owner of the project site, but the plan is still awaiting a similar federal review.

The commission approved the report today as a lawsuit looms over the former Xanadu project. On Friday, the New York Giants and New York Jets sued developer Triple Five and the sports authority, alleging that plans to expand the project would cripple game-day traffic around nearby MetLife Stadium.

The teams argue the plan violates a 2006 agreement with the previous developer that gives them the right to consent to certain changes to the project, according to the complaint. Project advocates and representatives for Triple Five have spent this week blasting the teams for filing the litigation.

Among the main issues in the lawsuit is Triple Five's plan to add indoor water and amusement parks to the project, which was the focus of the state's environmental review. The Edmonton, Canada-based developer said it needs to build on 5.5 acres of wetlands for the new components, which are needed to make the project "economically viable."

The hearings officers — two top officials from the Meadowlands Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection — prepared the report after reviewing an environmental impact study and several months of public comment on the plan.

Sports authority spokesman John Samerjan said the agency is still awaiting a review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is studying Triple Five's plan to mitigate the wetlands disturbance around the Meadowlands Sports Complex. After the completion of the federal review and another public comment period, the sports authority will consider the project for approval.

"Everyone is hopeful that will happen soon," Samerjan said, referring to the federal review. He called the adoption of the state's report "a tremendously significant step forward."

But the Meadowlands Commission's approval was slammed today by environmental advocates, which voiced concerns about the plan during the public comment periods.

"Calling this an environmental assessment is a joke. The Meadowlands Commission is nothing but a rubber stamp for overdevelopment and traffic," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, in a statement. "This assessment is a whitewash that is going to mean the people in Bergen County are going to be stuck in permanent gridlock, with a significant increase in pollution."

Triple Five still has yet to say whether it has obtained financing to complete the project, which could total nearly $2 billion. The ambitious plan calls getting rid of the notorious multicolored exterior and opening the retail portion of the project by the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.

The developer has about a month to respond to the NFL teams' lawsuit, which has prompted outcry this week from public officials and supporters of the plan. This afternoon, the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council was the latest to come to Triple Five's defense.

"The Jets and Giants owners need to … stop blocking a vital North Jersey development project that singlehandedly could put many of our trades members back to work," council President Bill Mullen said in a prepared statement. "At a time when almost 50 percent of our members are out of work, large projects like American Dream will take our members out of the union hall and back onto the construction site."

Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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