The Ridgewood Village Council last week formally took up discussion on the Schedler property, with public opinion split on recommendations for the future of the seven-acre site.
Proponents of the recommendations made last year by the village’s Open Space Committee cite a need for additional field space, while many neighbors of the property, located between Route 17 north and West Saddle River Road, said they have quality of life concerns with the proposal to add a full-size baseball field to the site.
“This is an equity issue, and it’s very important that the residents in that part of the community have a seat at the table,” Mayor Paul Aronsohn said following a presentation to the council from Ridgewood Eastside Development, a grassroots group opposing the current recommendations.
In their presentation and in public comments from residents of the neighborhood, the council heard air quality concerns about a field near the busy highway, perceived traffic issues and worry that the elimination of trees would remove a natural buffer along Route 17.
“A 90-foot multipurpose field is too large for the site, it is too close to Route 17 north and therefore traffic is a concern for our children,” Isabella Altano told the council at its Dec. 3 meeting.
Others compared the recommended development of the site to the process at Habernickel, another open space purchase that was developed largely as a passive recreation area.
“If you put a side by side description of those two parks, you will see a stark contrast between them,” Phil Dolce said.
“We now have an injustice. It’s the inequality of neighborhoods.”
For the Ridgewood Baseball and Softball Association, the property presents an opportunity to replace a full-size baseball diamond lost when Benjamin Franklin Middle School’s field was converted into track and field space. Representatives of the program described a shortage of field space that has limited practice time for older, high school age players.
“It’s not because we want another field,” Jim Albano, the president of the RBSA, said. “It’s out of need…we find we’re turning kids away that can’t play.”
The sports association had collected nearly 500 signatures on an online petition in support of the open space committee's recommendation.
The arguments are not new, and were aired in meetings of the open space committee last year as well as after the recommendations were first presented. What has changed is a need to preserve the historic home on the property from further deterioration. Both sides agree that the house, constructed around 1830, can be preserved.
The Bergen County Historical Society is interested in leasing it to house a library, and has identified potential grants for the completion of the project, according to James Smith, the society's president and a Ridgewood resident.
“By turning the Zabriskie Schedler House into a premier research facility, future generations…will be able to understand the unique past our county has and will make Ridgewood a destination for advanced research and learning,” he said.
The house was absent from discussions prior to the $2.7 million purchase of the property in 2009, and Councilman Tom Riche, the liaison to the open space committee, said the county made no requests that it be preserved.
Ridgewood officials said they would work to bring the sides closer together in coming discussions on the site, adding that the open space recommendation is only a concept at this point.
“It’s not an east side or a west side asset,” Riche said. “It’s a Ridgewood asset that we’re talking about here.”
"This has the potential to be a fantastic, positive thing for the village," said Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck, "and what we have to do is work together and trust each other and communicate."