The Future of Ridgewood Looks Bleak

I try to keep my local political opinion out of Tips From Town. It hasn’t been easy. I am not a journalist, but I appreciate ethics and it is my understanding media outlets have an obligation to equal and fair reporting. Of late, there have been complaints The Ridgewood News is presenting one side more than the other, and has been making it difficult for residents to place informational ads, quoting arbitrary rules and guidelines. These same rules and guidelines do not seem to apply to developers. Hopefully, this is simply poor management and/or an oversight at the newspaper, but either way, the two sides of this discussion are not getting equal exposure. So, I post this opinion piece. Happy to post one from the other side if you care to pass along.

I’m very confused, and I think most Ridgewood residents are in the same boat.

What is going on in this town I loved so well?

I moved here in 2006 and immediately fell in love. As a Queens native, and for about a decade, a NYC dweller, for me Ridgewood represented the best of both the city and suburbia. I could walk my kids into town, shop locally and enjoy the variety of restaurants. The schools were great, the people were welcoming, the town was vibrant and the streets were safe. With three small children and a job, I gave little thought to who was making the decisions for the town. I attended no meetings, I heard no controversy and I happily — as happy as one can be writing a big check — paid my taxes.

Then, I got wind of the Valley controversy. The lawn signs, the fundraising and the bitterness came as a little bit of a shock. Never a political person before, I tried to get informed. As a doctor, I am sympathetic to the need for a hospital to expand to stay current, and as a resident I am sympathetic to my neighbors for all the reasons expressed through costly marketing and lawyers. I was not involved, but I was aware, and I was shocked residents would have to fundraise to be heard.

Then, a few years ago, I started to hear about proposals before the Village Planning Board to change our master plan and quadruple the allowed density for development. What? Who in their right mind would agree to such a thing? This could only lead to uncontrolled development which would in turn lead to congested streets, overcrowded schools, increased traffic and the destruction of the idyllic Ridgewood feel. I did not believe it was possible, no matter how much money and power was behind the builders, this could ever pass. The proposal was outrageous, putting our density higher than small cities like Englewood and Hackensack. The members of the Planning Board and the Village Council represent the residents after all. They don’t represent developers. How naïve I was. For the past several years, I have attended many meetings and have gotten debriefed on those I missed, and sadly, it does seem there are members of the council who do in fact represent the interest of the builders and care little about truly representing their constituents or including them in real Master Planning.

In all these years, I have not heard one parent of a school-aged child — who does not stand to gain financially — speak on behalf of this overdevelopment. I have heard hundreds of parents and grandparents speak passionately and intelligently against it. I have heard them support growth, but with a cautious and common sense approach. I ask you this. Who cares more about the future of this town — families who have everything to lose, or developers who have everything to gain? Why in the name of heaven has this whole debate felt like the dedicated, thoughtful residents of the Village of Ridgewood against land developers and three members of the Town Council?

In all these years, not one time has a member of the Council been able to tell us why such a large increase to the allowed density would be beneficial for Ridgewood residents. We have only heard of the need for empty nester housing, fulfilling affordable housing obligations and the impact more residents can have on revitalizing the downtown. All of these goals can be accomplished at much lower densities and through proactive, thorough planning elsewhere.

Yet, on March 23rd, the Village Council voted to amend the master plan to the Planning Board’s recommended 35 Units per acre, 3xs our current zoning, while also failing to fix the mistakes in the ordinance regarding reducing “Floor Area Ratios.” (Note: 35 not 50 ONLY because residents stepped in at the Planning Board stage.) Developers win, families lose, three members of the town council benefit how? Residents never stood a chance, and were dismissed at every turn, despite providing informed, well-researched arguments to encourage the council to resist handing over the future of Ridgewood to businesspeople. This is America. The developers have the right to ask for what they think will generate the biggest profit. Our town leaders should not be thinking about profit. They should be thinking about people. Yet, despite an outpouring of objection, our voices were not heard because minds were already made up. Who did our representatives represent?

If these decisions were not discouraging enough, now the Council plans to build a monstrosity of a parking garage across the street from my beloved church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The structure will dwarf the beautiful architecture of OLMC. Eerily similar to the early stages of the high density housing “compromise”, the council’s jumping off design was laughably large and inappropriate. It encroached on the already narrow Hudson Street by 12 feet. They have graciously pulled back this design to taking up only 5 feet of the street, but do not want to entertain discussions to lower the 4 story, 5 level parking by one level. Our Lady of Mount Carmel was told the new design would fit the footprint and would be one level lower, neither of which is being honored. The disrespect shown by dismissing the concerns of the church leaders, parishioners and non-parishioners alike is reaching new levels.

Once again, citizens are trying to encourage common sense planning and are asking for a compromise of 3 stories, 4 levels, which will still provide plenty of parking and will be more in keeping with the feel of Ridgewood. What it won’t do though, is set a precedent with a too tall, too large building. Surely this will disappoint the owners and developers of the Broad Street property across the way. Take a look at this video to hear the position of residents who are fighting for compromise.

When did the mission for Ridgewood become, “Bigger is Better”? We are looking at, bigger buildings, higher density, increased traffic, and congested schools — which will lead to higher taxes — all for bigger profits for a select few and bigger egos for our leaders. Residents have spoken and this is not what we want. Even if the Village Council members who are dead set on supporting development at this increased density do have legitimate reasons they won’t share, still their primary responsibility should be to the residents they promised to represent. Our town is off the rails and at the precipice of a slippery slope because of decisions by three people who are abdicating their seats in a few months.

The future of Ridgewood is bleak. I can’t help but think of the beautiful Bedford Falls becoming the seedy Pottersville. In the movie, the destruction happened because one man wasn’t there to defend his community. Here, we have hundreds of men and women trying to defend this community, and still “bigger” is winning, hence my confusion. While it is a sad, and actually scary time, to live in this town, I am so proud of and grateful to all of the residents who spent and are spending countless hours trying to implement reasonable compromise. I am lucky to call you neighbor. No matter the outcome, my family and I owe you a debt of gratitude.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Physician, Wellness Coach, and founder of Tips From Town. She is passionate about sharing her medical expertise, her coaching techniques and her parenting experience to encourage happier and healthier lives.

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