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Council to Dispense Opinions on Valley Expansion Proposal Tuesday Night

Big crowd expected to turn out to hear the council finally unmuzzled

The Ridgewood Village Council is nearing its decision on the fate of the "H-Zone" ordinance and members will be chiming in with their opinions at the next meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 22 at the . A vote is expected to come a week later, and a big crowd is expected at both meetings.

Members of the council will provide their opinions on the wealth of testimony up for consideration, which includes planning board transcripts, , as well as public input. The council is deciding the legal status of a planning board vote to amend the Master Plan's land use section, allowing for a large expansion of Valley Hospital.

The plan

Valley Hospital seeks to double its size on the 15-acre campus with its $750 million "Renewal" proposal they say is driven for a need to upgrade technology and modernize its aging facilities. Valley wants to add three beds to the 451 existing beds but intends to transform the existing rooms to single-bed rooms, which is the current healthcare standard.

The first phase, which includes demolition to Phillips and a new North building, would last an estimated seven years. A second phase would see the toppling of the Bergen building and two new buildings in its place. The timeframe has not been pinned down for the second phase.

Ultimately, it's a proposal that has divided the village for years. Proponents of the expansion say Valley's value to the community can not be compromised. If it continues to fall behind in medical technology – as – it will not be able to continue to compete with others. It could be a catastrophic loss, many have said at recent meetings.

Valley representatives have said or be improved should the "Renewal" go through; additionally, they say they'd minimize construction inconveniences as they have in the past; and point to new studies and information that they claim changes concerns the council has raised with underground construction.

Opposition

But a say the site is just too big for the campus, which is nestled in a tight residential neighborhood. They point to potential problems with traffic and what they claim to be dubious data collection efforts; disruption to school children during years of construction at , which borders Valley Hospital; concerns with legal precedent in changing the Master Plan.

Opposed resident group Concerned Residents of Ridgewood (CRR) have called the "lengthy but not thorough". They also say the hospital could explore other options, such as a split campus or a 30-acre facility somewhere else. Valley says it would be difficult to obtain the land and prohibitive in cost to consolidate its facilities.

Neighbors and opponents have questioned if Valley's aim is to expand to increase the amount of outpatient services, which would lead to an uptick in the intensity of use at the Linwood Ave. campus. Valley rebutted that claim, saying outpatient services would remain largely off campus, though doubts have been cast in pointed council questions and expert testimony.

Past council views, actions

Mayor Keith Killion, Councilman Paul Aronsohn and Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh have spoken out against the expansion in campaigns, while and by the CRR.

Riche, however, voted while on the planning board to approve the Master Plan amendment. He has said he only voted on land use issues as they related to the planning board's responsibilities and the vote was not reflective of how he saw the proposal. Wellinghorst has been publicly silent on the issue.

Council's options

Rogers cited three options the council could take. A resolution is likely to follow at the next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 29.

The council could introduce the planning board's ordinance, drafted by Village Planner Blais Brancheau and controversially approved by the planning board last July. There would be several public hearings and a vote, Rogers said.

The second option would have the council amend the planning board ordinance. It could formally introduce the ordinance and determine which elements it wants to amend; conversely, it could also discuss in work sessions which portions it wants to amend and then draft a separate ordinance.

Finally, the council could decide not to introduce the proposed ordinance at all.

"In order to do this, the council does not have to introduce an ordinance although it could," Rogers said. "It could vote at a public meeting to adopt a resolution to decline to introduce an ordinance recognizing in that resolution this would be inconsistent with the Master Plan." By doing so, the council would have to spell out the inconsistencies based solely on zoning and planning. 

If the council cannot agree on how to proceed, Rogers said, "it could be a real procedural nightmare."

The council will meet at 8 p.m. Tuesday night at the high school's Campus Center.

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