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Letter: Ridgewood Redevelopment Looks like a Blessing not a Curse

"Chasing away reinvestment" is not a solution, according to one reader.

It is very common in NJ towns to hear public outcry when significant redevelopment is proposed. More kids to teach, more cars to park, and a new streetscape.

These are all valid concerns. Ridgewood is not an island. It shares these issues with most NJ towns. Many of these communities have moved ahead with projects and the worse-case fears never materialize. Once built, redevelopment projects quickly become part of the fabric of the community. The new vitality encourages more reinvestment especially in the smaller properties nearby.

Ridgewood’s population/household density is not remarkable in the county or the state. I’m not sure, but since the 80’s Ridgewood like many NJ towns has seen a decline in population. Almost every town does a poor job of handling cars and pedestrians.

Most experts on the subject think that there are 21st century solutions to these problems. Chasing away reinvestment is not one of the solutions.  Our NJ towns are largely built-out. Proposals for reinvestment are renewal projects not development over green acres. These projects are built on private property as a business propositions and require investment and financing. The cost of development is so steep that the scale of the project must be at a certain level to be viable. 

There are very few foolish developers and investors who don’t care deeply about the community where they put their money. Land use controls are slow to catch up to the times and are generally not good at looking into the future. Ridgewood’s future looks very promising.

Robert Steelman

Broker, 4a Realty

maureen January 27, 2013 at 01:09 PM
Duh, you're a real estate agent ?
Mikka H January 27, 2013 at 02:55 PM
that's so funny...coming from a broker....yes were that stupid.....why not just have one of the property owners in the CBD write the article....all the news that's fit to print...
Mark Bombace January 27, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Are you saying he is not entitled to an opinion? This is an open letter to the editor and he discloses his profession. What I am offended at lately is a growing number of people who are critical of others, insulting them hiding behind their anonymity. As adults we try to teach our children to respect others. These types of attacks are undemocratic, hurtful and and damage an open discourse between people of differing opinions.
Alfreddie January 27, 2013 at 05:58 PM
In my humble opinion, I think it is healthy to further highlight that this was written by a broker. Personally, I offer a vote of confidence and am in favor of the development proposed for Ridgewood. I am a long time resident and can't think of any personal financial gain, except to share in the experience of community growth and development, something I feel is to be encouraged. Look at the growth of NYC over many, many years. Of all the big cities around the world, I'm proud to live near NYC and participate in it's evolution, even with all the challenges, hustle and bustle that goes along with change.
Mark Ruckhaus January 27, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Sorry, but I think the last paragraph is a crock. Investors and developers will go anywhere they can make a buck. Care? They care about their wallets; that's what they care about. Yes, Mr. Steelman is entitled to his opinion. No disrespect to him, but I think it's a biased one as he would likely benefit by the availability of more housing such as the type Ridgewood is considering. And, no, I'm not hiding behind a screen name.
Jeanette L January 27, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Alfreddie you mention financial gain, which is something those who are for the developments forget. The only reason developers want to develop properties is for financial gain. They normally do not live in the areas they are developing and when they leave, the community is left to deal with the aftermath. And, yes the broker says what he says because it's in his best interests to encourage development. I have also never heard of a community that had 4 developments being planned at once. I just can't imagine that the impact would be beneficial to our community. No one has yet mentioned the effects of it on our infrastructure, such as water, electricity, etc. And the traffic experts also seem to live in la-la-land because development never seems to affect any community negatively regarding their traffic studies, including using an old study which wouldn't take into account areas that have increased in residents since 2006. Does anyone honestly think experts, hired by the developers, would ever tell their customers that development is a negative? Would they have any customers if they did that? Something to think about. I think we should be very cautious and think seriously about the impact changing the zoning and what development will do on our community before we move forward.
Tom Kossoff January 28, 2013 at 01:06 AM
My 2 cents on the proposals so far is not that growth and redevelopment are not wanted or not desirable. I attended the last Planning Board meeting on The Enclave. What drives these projects right now is the developers interests. That's fine and understandable. The public at large however wants the problems downtown of traffic, parking and public safety not to be made worse. If the developers can't come up with creative solutions, then they may have to change or scale back these projects. Yes, Mayor Bloomberg would be the first to welcome such projects but he also would demand "give-backs" of different sorts in the public interest. He would not support any developer's project that created more problems for the public than it solved. For the Planning Board to approve such a change to the Master Plan, the public's interest must at least be on equal footing with the developers. Some would argue the public's interest should be greater. That's the crux of the problem with these projects: more traffic, more parking problems, more pedestrian safety issues, more school crowding and overall losing the "charm" of the Village of Ridgewood to overdevelopment. The developers need to address these issues intelligently, sincerely and creatively. So far that has not been done and that's why some residents are rightfully frustrated and frightened too. Something can be worked out. But this all needs to be worked out, not in the backrooms, but in open honest public forums.
Matt Allen January 28, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Approving one building does not create development. One building will do nothing to revitalize the downtown area - if that is even required in the first place. It will simply bring in a large number of lower income families looking to get high cost services (mainly schooling and a low crime town) on the cheap. The discussion should not be centred around this one single development. We should rather ask what we want to become of the village in 10-15 years time. Do we want to be a 'quaint' village more like Larchmont, Chappaqua, Scarsdale etc or do we want to be semi urban like a large number of nondescript other town in this region? If we do decide that we want to be a generic town with a highly built up downtown, then we should revise the entire master plan and seek out other investors for similar buildings. One building will not create a vibrant downtown. It will not magically draw in a whole new demographic into this village. So sure - let us discuss development but in a holistic way. Maybe we do not want to be a quaint village. I am all for change as long as it is well thought out. But arguing that one building will all of a sudden attract restaurants and lead to a revamp of downtown is garbage. This is just a scheme to make a few bucks quickly given the strength of the multi family rental market. In a different market, they would be pitching condos.
Brian January 28, 2013 at 01:49 AM
What is the alternative to building this development? Let the remaining 6 stores in town get boarded up? Let the town continue to lose population and rapidly age? There will be plenty of parking and no traffic but also no town. There are of course valid concerns regarding this plan and I hope that town officials will require sufficient parking, create a plan for traffic and have a real prediction of the likely cost to the school system. But as of right now, I really see any alternative to this plan. Ridgewood is slowly dieing and it needs something new to revive it.
Robert Steelman January 28, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Just to be clear. I have no financial interest in these projects. I don’t do residential work. My interest is in job creating small business commercial real estate. Done right, redevelopment is the tide that lifts all boats. It is unfortunate that some members of the public see no value in free speech or property rights. When did business people who put capital at risk become villains? The people I’ve met who make investments in NJ communities are good people making sound business decisions. The challenge now is for your elected officials and appointed boards to make decisions based on facts
Mark Ruckhaus January 28, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Robert, SOME businesspeople who put capital at risk became villains when they put profits ahead of a thing like quality of life (i.e., We can afford to put this project here, but what will it do to the existing area?) and treated their good employees as a cost of doing business and not the assets they really are. Done wrong and done hastily, with visions of ratables dancing in a town's head, redevelopment can be a blight.
JAFO January 28, 2013 at 02:00 PM
"I’m not sure, but since the 80’s Ridgewood like many NJ towns has seen a decline in population". 1980 to 2010, NJ's population has increased almost 20% from 7,364,823 to 8,791,894. Ridgewood is virtually unchanged: 25208 in 1980 24152 in 1990 24936 in 2000 24958 in 2010
Matt Allen January 29, 2013 at 08:39 AM
The population of Ridgewood increased from 24,936 to 24,958 between 2000 and 2010. The population of Montclair - a town with a lot of high density construction and a town bandied about as an example of how young and vibrant Ridgewood should become - saw its population DECREASE from 38,977 to 37,669 between 2000 to 2010. You are entitled to your opinion on things but not to your own statistics. The town is in stable state and has a very well to do demographic. There is a constant influx of young families with children int homes sold by older couples whose children have grown up.
Matt Allen January 29, 2013 at 08:45 AM
The developer's potential profits from building housing in Ridgewood come from the fact that the village has managed itself in a certain way (including limiting mindless construction) that has led to this village's appeal. The developer simply wants to cash out the value that has been built up by the village's existing residents. Notice that the developer is not fighting to put up a new luxury building at Newark train station (absent some bribes in the form of tax credits of course).
Alfreddie January 29, 2013 at 01:34 PM
...and where can those lovely folks go when their children grow up? Do we want them to take their old money to some other new construction in a more elderly friendly village? Or do we want to provide lovely housing for people who no longer want the large home where they raised their children, but would like to remain in Ridgewood? These properties could keep the money in town.... if they are carefully planned and the parking is adequate, and, and, and....
Robert Steelman January 29, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Matt A logic. Everyone should do their own population and demographic study. I use 30 yr blocks starting in the 40’s. Pop peaking in the 70’s. Ridgewood is not at its historic peak now. Matt A logic suggests that the property owner with development potential is a “free rider” on the backs of the single family schoolcentric residents. And the natural order is once your kids are out of school there will be a knock at the door, for its time for you to make way for a nice young family with school age kids. Where do you go? Truth is that less than a majority of tax lots in town have public school age kids on them. In fact, if you do the math, with the cost of educating one child and adding the cost of running the municipality, your equation is likely to show that the “free rider” is the young family with school age kids. Matt A logic suggests that the property owner developer is not entitled to appreciation, despite paying taxes and market price. That gain is just for the residential prop owner. Ridgewood like most built out towns really needs development that contributes more than it takes out of the system. Your alternative is to roll back the cost and levels of all municipal services or pay much higher taxes.
Mark Ruckhaus January 29, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Robert, In a town such as Ridgewood, which is pretty well built out, it would SEEM that adding more, such as the proposed development at Ken Smith and Sealfon's, comes across as shoehorning some more ratables just because they're a way for Ridgewood to squeeze out a few more bucks. To me, it comes across as akin to a business cutting costs and laying off employees to lower the overhead and increase revenues. Because, at some point in time, everything will be squeezed out, there'll be no overhead to cut and the business will either be forced to get creative or close up shop. So, to me, this LOOKS LIKE Ridgewood doing one of those cost-cutting type of things as there's nothing creative going on here, just a money grab. I agree with you re: that "free rider" comment. And, the more kids, the freer the ride as school tax isn't paid by the head. Maybe, to some extent, it should be. Even people without kids or whose kids are out of the system need quality schools to boost property values. So, obviously, they should contribute. Besides, the a la carte method (paying for only the services you use) is a slippery slope. But, maybe, people who have more kids in the school system should contribute more. But that's a separate discussion for another day.
Robert Steelman January 29, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Mark. I don’t object to school kids, or making room for a few more despite the cost. I don’t encourage anyone anywhere to rubber stamp development. I do object to uninformed attacks on a class of rate payers or property owners with development potential. It is playing with a double edge sword to foreclosure on their rights and their potential contribution to the community. The future is not all bad if you end up with more density in the core and a more walkable town. Otherwise, towns like Ridgewood better find a cheaper way to operate.
Mark Ruckhaus January 30, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Robert, The bottom line to all of this is that the powers that be Ridgewood really has to think this through. That means thinking with their brains and not their wallets. They can build a relative few apartments which won't tax the school systems and won't affect traffic at the already busy intersections where they are to be built. After all, even if 50 kids of varying ages are introduced into the school system at one time, it'll be a couple in this grade and a few more in that one and, overall, it likely wouldn't require more teachers or classroom space. But, in the haste to squeeze as much as can be squeezed out of those two locations, what looks like an attractive development can be a negative. I'm not sure about your "more density in the core" comment, as that "walkable town" would affect only the two proposed developments because it'll remain the same for the people who already live in town or who visit it. They'll drive; they'll park; they'll walk around. So the benefit, if any, would be for the new arrivals. Certainly compared to Glen Rock, where I live, Ridgewood is already a bustling not-so-little town. So, the question, then, is this: Let's say you add more residents at the core. At what point does it become a negative, as in "It's getting too crowded around here?" Yes, a bustling downtown makes a town look good. But some folks might get put off by more crowds and tougher parking and shy away. Is this stuff all trial and error? And what if it fails?
disgusted February 23, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Jafo I was looking at the numbers you posted, what do you think has happened to the number of undocumented or non-responding reidents? Strictly your opinion?
disgusted February 24, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I already posted this on another thread but it fits here as well. If the development is built as proposed how many units will be low income housing? The village bought the horse farm to prevent the property from being developed to avoid MT. Laurel housing. The cost of paying another municipality to assume the low income housing has skyrocketed, I'm not so sure your still allowed to do it. The last numbers I was able to find was 80,000 per unit up from 20,000. Who is responsible for these costs if they are incurred The developer of the tax payer.? Also who will shoulder the loss of tax revenue generated by the restricted deed on the Mt. Laurel units? Is the developer responsible or the tax payer?
Robert Steelman February 25, 2013 at 01:57 PM
My opinion is that COAH or Mt Laurel is an example of land use regulation gone wrong. Despite a noble intention it missed the mark from the start. COAH most likely built nice second homes for many lawyers, capital bureaucrats and planners. It buried municipalities in a mountain of paperwork that needed to be trucked to Trenton. It also opened the door to a form of housing development most communities don’t favor. That said, it came about because many municipalities let politics dictate land use policy. The result was discriminatory behavior/ordinance subject to attack by the courts. I doubt the free market place has any trouble providing housing at all levels. I doubt COAH offers any solutions that the market place is not equipped to deliver at a more reasonable cost to everyone. Residents of municipalities need to understand the limits of local land use regulation. It is not so much the letter of the law, it is common sense. A free market place is inherently blind to discrimination.

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