Letter to the Editor: Why We Need You at the Parking Garage Meeting Wed. 1/6

By: Dave Slomin


This Wednesday night, 1/6, our Village Council is meeting (7:30 at Village Hall) to vote on a $12 million dollar bond to fund the biggest garage possible on the Hudson Street lot, near Sook and Mt. Carmel.  We need Residents to attend… to be seen and be heard, to share your thoughts and concerns.  The current plan is approximately 270’ long by 50+’ high… almost the size of a football field.  Even if they opt for the smallest current option, it only shrinks by 10 feet in height.  Once built, Hudson Street will be narrowed by 10’, street parking will be lost, neighboring buildings will be dwarfed, Mt. Carmel will be impacted and it will set a size and scale precedent which will be used by developers to argue for bigger, taller and denser multi-family buildings throughout our historic downtown.

That said, personally, I don’t think a parking deck, fittingly sized, is necessarily a bad idea at all…  just like I don’t think that multifamily developments, fittingly-sized, are a bad idea at all.  I just think the proposals we’ve seen on both are way too big, too dense, and too out of character to preserve the small-town feel of our beloved Village.  For parking, in addition to a revised garage plan, the council should better review and advise on other options that spread new parking throughout our CBD, while also making drivers better aware of current parking options through signage.

I’d also like to hear more about possibly creating a Business Improvement District (BID) downtown, to get the landlords who will directly profit from this garage to chip in some more to help pay for it.  That’s needed, because financing the garage is too tentative at present.  The language of the actual referendum didn’t point out that much of the funding for the garage will come from increasing current meter rates in other key areas of downtown by up to 300-400% and increasing paid parking hours from 6pm to 9pm.  The garage does not pay for itself.  That’s pretty important stuff to know… or at least test out before you start writing checks that bank on its success.  The last time Ridgewood increased parking hours to raise revenue, the Chamber of Commerce themselves complained and asked to have the hours paired back to 6pm.  So before we spend $12MM, we should have a firmer idea how it’ll be paid back.  Last time, some of these “givens” didn’t work so well.

Regarding size, in a November email, one Councilmember supported the notion that “quaint” is in the eye of the beholder.  I’m not sure I know of any ‘beholders’ that would think the current garage plan is quant.  It’s not.  As is, it’s massive.  At a recent Council Meeting, the former Chairman of Ridgewood’s Historical Preservation Committee said he feared if we build this thing, we’ll look at it afterwards and think, “My, that’s a really big building.”

Backstory is… in November, our Council put forth a parking referendum, asking:  “Do you support a proposal to finance and build a downtown parking garage on the Hudson Street lot… by bonding up to $15 million in public funds, which will be paid for principally, if not entirely, with parking revenues.”  65% voters voted “Yes.”  However, even in voting “Yes,” many folks asked indicated they really voted more for “parking in general” than a singular giant garage.  No one had any real idea how big the garage would be, as it was not determined.  Yet, several Councilmembers are using this vote as if it were a ‘blank check’ in support of building the biggest edifice possible, or something close to it.  That’s not right.

At the time of the referendum, Residents were essentially promised that we could vote “Yes,” and then negotiate the garage’s size later.  Despite this promise, the Council so curtailed the subsequent public garage discussions that concerned residents could not give full voice to their opinions.  At the main post-referendum garage meeting, initial public comment was limited to 30 minutes total (at five minutes per speaker) and then to a maximum of 3 minutes per speaker later, with no repeat speakers allowed (even though the meeting was not running late and some folks, myself included, could not finish their presentations within the 3 minute limit).   I was actually asked to sit down and not speak again by a Village staffer.  As such, there was no real negotiation on anything.  The post-referendum garage selection process felt frustratingly preordained… like so much of what we are seeing happen in Ridgewood lately.

At the end of that meeting the Council polled 3-2 to bond for the largest garage option.  This all-too-quick and ‘non-negotiated’ selection, which also wrongly occurred before the comprehensive traffic and parking study promised on 9/30/15 has been performed, raises further concerns with the “process” by which things are happening in Ridgewood.

So, in short, while we should use the opportunity of this referendum to make some smart and truly fitting decisions regarding parking, we should not rush into construction of the current over-sized garage options.  Bigger for Ridgewood is not better.

Hope to see you on Wednesday night.

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PLEASE NOTE: Opinions presented here do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this site. To submit an editorial, please email us at tips@tipsfromtown.com

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