A real estate company says a could pay big dividends for the village, and it unveiled initial plans to the Ridgewood Planning Board on Tuesday night.
Professionals from Garden Homes, based out of Short Hills, NJ, offered up for consideration a 42,570 foot "reverse E"-shaped facility with 120 units and 180 parking spaces at the site of Brogan Cadillac on South Broad Street.
A proposed three and four story high project with parking enclosed on site, "The Dayton"–named in memory of one of Ridgewood's founding fathers, Samuel Dayton–would need to go through a battery of zoning processes, including a Master Plan amendment with planning board and council approval, before construction could potentially begin.
"This is a particularly exciting project," said applicant attorney Tom Wells. "I think it is a project that involves building a rampart building in Ridgewood."
Wells said the Tudor-style building would fit "right into the character of Ridgewood."
After Brogan Cadillac's Ridgewood site closed in 2008, Garden Homes singled the current commuter parking lot out for development, conducted numerous market and environmental studies and has an agreement to be a contract purchaser, according to Director of Development Scott Loventhal. The decommisioning process to remove lifts and underground tanks was completed in September, he said.
Applicant says there's a market for luxury, maintaining roots
While there are multi-family developments available in Ridgewood, there's nothing with "the level of service we can provide," Loventhal remarked, adding research tells Garden Homes that luxury units between $2,000 and $4,000 are desirable in the village. Garden Homes proposes 44 one-bedroom apartments, with 76 two-bedroom apartments and 12 affordable housing units.
Situated between the Columbia Bank to the north, a Brogan garage (which is not part of the development project) to the south and the railroad tracks to the north, Garden Homes representatives believe they came up with a sensible plan to mitigating the railroads impacts. Plan specs show the building spanning a wide spot on Broad Street with unit windows designed not to overlook the railroad, Loventhal said.
The units, complete with wood flooring, high-end appliances, granite countertops and laundry, would be between 900 and 1,600 square feet and would flank from a centralized lobby.
Many residents want to keep their Ridgewood ties, Loventhal said. "They may want a summer home, they may have a house elsewhere, they may simply want to downsize as their kids move on. And they want this type of housing."
Show your work?
Planning board members were curious as to the studies Loventhal cited. Member Constantino Suriano asked if those studies would be submitted to the board. Because they're "internal documents" they would not, Loventhal said though many of the points in the studies would be explored in an attempt to prove to the boards a zoning change is appropriate.
Member Jane Shinuzoka appeared suspicious that units so expensively priced would be as desirable as the applicants contended. Loventhal brushed aside concerns, saying they've been in the game for a while and remain convinced the market is strong.
Potential parking problems?
Parking appeared a concern as well. Plans show parking would be enclosed within the structure at grade; each unit would have a dedicated parking spot and there would be 60 remaining spots for spillover. Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, also a planning board member, noted that it's possible the parking provided won't be enough and the Hudson lot would be flooded. The applicants rejected that theory. Loventhal said tenants are expected to understand the constraints of living in a one or two bedroom apartment mean fewer vehicles. Besides, given the train station nearby, he said he believed many tenants wouldn't even have cars.
Member Kevin Reilly asked if Garden Homes had considered making parking below grade, which would have the added effect of lowering the building height, which he noted might appear "a castle on a hill" at somewhere north of 60 feet. Economically, Loventhal said, it wasn't feasible given ground water analysis studies and other costs associated with such a move.
Leave the kids at home and go to the park?
Walsh also stated that the amount of green space is quite minimal. In response, Loventhal said the expectation is the residents would be utilizing the village's own parks for recreation. Though there was landscaping in the front of the space for visual effect, Loventhal also said the minimalist landscaping was a purposeful commitment – the proposal doesn't aim to encourage families with kids to move in under the theory of "if you build it they will come."
Residents often condemn multi-family building projects under the banner it would tax the school system. Oddly, there was little discussion on the potential impact on the school system Tuesday night.
Traffic improved with plan?
Although conventional wisdom might pre-suppose a minimum of 200 new residents in a densely compacted development might increase traffic, the applicants say just the contrary.
"Currently there are 76 commuters that are parking at this site on a daily basis," Loventhal said, much of which generates rush hour traffic. "You will see that traffic we are going to generate with our proposed use will not even exceed the current traffic that is currently generated at this site."
The traffic engineer did not testify on Tuesday.
Wells also conceded the density level was far greater than local ordinance stipulates (nearly double) and the height of the proposed building would be similarly several stories above allowed residential zoning code. He defended that the 'vibrancy' it would bring to the downtown businesses would be tremendous and also stated the village's original ordinance standards on bulk restrictions are "unrealistic" given the economic realities of building in today's economy.
Lack of 'flexibility' in plans?
Member Richard Joel remarked the plans were well-conceived but also noted that there didn't appear a lot of flexibility on the part of the developers. He asked if there had been any other "less intensive" design alternatives and in response, Loventhal stated the company would "rather come in with certainty rather than be wishy-washy." Loventhal rebuffed ideas to move the property further back from the street due to grading issues that would require retaining walls be built. He later added that Garden Homes understood there's a give-and-take process and plans were not set in stone.
It's not the first time the planning board has heard a proposal for an "anchor bookend." John Saraceno presented a mixed-use development on the other end of Ridgewood's downtown at the site of the Sealfons building. But this will be no mixed use space, the applicants contend.
The office market is already oversatured and mixed-use development, Loventhal said, would be a poor fit at this site. "From our perspective there are simply too many vacancies in much greater locations for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. To create more retail in what is the fringe of the downtown, there is no place for it."
The next hearing will be on November 15. Should the project eventually be green-lighted by the planning board and council, a developer's agreement would need to be approved for construction to commence.