Forgotten in the recent discussions of two large downtown housing proposals in Ridgewood is a bold mixed-use concept that .
In December of 2010, developer John Saraceno presented to the planning board a rough conceptual plan to 'bookend' the bottom of Ridgewood's business district with 100 residential units over three large retail spaces totaling 53,000 square feet at the site of the and on Franklin, E. Ridgewood and Maple avenues.
As suddenly as it appeared in front of the planning board, the 'bookend' concept disappeared. That is, until Saraceno (of "257 E. Ridgewood Avenue LLC.") submitted his official plans for "The Enclave" to the zoning board on Nov. 18. No hearing date has been determined but Saraceno says he's ready when the board is.
There are key differences between the first look the planning board saw and the plans submitted to the zoning board, most strikingly in the size and ambition of the proposal.
"The sheer size of it was something I sensed was going to be problematic," Saraceno said of the original concept, adding the economics "didn't work" in purchasing Brake-O-Rama at this stage. "We've really reduced the size of it – it doesn't go to the corner, it's a story less, and it doesn't have as much retail so it generates materially less traffic."
According to the new plans submitted, the brick and stone-styled "Enclave" would feature 53 upscale housing units (23 2-BR units and 30 1-BR units) geared toward young professionals or older couples downsizing, all above one large lot of retail space that includes a parking garage largely covered from view.
The two one-story buildings housing and would be demolished (those tenants may be able to be accommodated in the new proposal, Saraceno said, but he couldn't guarantee it) and the three-story Sealfons building would be partially demolished with a subsequent addition to 47.5 feet, a story lower than the initial concept envisioned. The three lots would be consolidated into one lot, totaling around 34,000 square feet, representing a reduction in retail space by about 7,000 square feet.
While developers of the two projects currently undergoing hearings at the planning board have requested zoning changes to the Master Plan, Saraceno opted for the zoning board with a slew of variances, including density and parking easements. Saraceno is betting the zoning board agrees the benefits outweigh the detriments, giving him the green light to start construction, which he estimated would take a year or less to finish.
"I know that it's controversial to have three projects like this," he said Tuesday. "People think the character is going to change so significantly and there's going to be this influx of school children and traffic to go along with it. I'm sensitive to it as a resident."
Saraceno said he believes traffic will be decreased with his "Enclave" proposal, stating that testimony will be introduced to demonstrate impacts. Further, he remarked that school age children are very unlikely to populate the development, as the existing population figures for school children living in multi-family housing is "shockingly low".
The other two proposed developments – the 52-unit proposal near the , and 120-unit at Brogan Cadillac on Broad St. – may need to closely examine what they're looking for at the planning board, the Onyx Equities LLC. head told Patch. , though "Chestnut Village" has generated little discussion at about half the size.
"I think the other projects are going to have to look at some of the densities they're asking for and make some decisions as to what they want and what they really need," Saraceno said, adding he thinks his reduced plan may prove more palatable to the zoning board. "I think when it's all said and done – and it gets done with character and the right design – these three projects will help the downtown."
Still, there are clearly "tradeoffs" with such developments, he noted.
He'll also have to overcome a variance request for parking, where he's sought a total of 137 "shared" spaces – citing previous variance approvals at the property as a primary reason to allow the change – though the ordinance requires 201.
The intersection of Maple, Franklin and E. Ridgewood is already chaotic and hazardous to pedestrians, a point the planning board stressed in its look last December. As Maple Ave. is the county domain they might need to also sign off on plans, which could delay the process.
Ultimately, Saraceno said that he's spent years analyzing a potential development to 'bookend' the CBD. He thinks he's struck the right chord with "The Enclave."
"We spent a lot of time trying to do something here that addressed the community's needs," Saraceno stated. "I believe we need to have residents in the downtown to help the downtown. I think it's an important part of any downtown, but not do something that's overwhelming in size and density."