A newly-proposed transit-oriented development at the Ken Smith Ford site would likely generate few school children while accommodating for parking demand, expert witnesses testified Tuesday night at the planning board meeting.
But Ridgewood planning board members maintained some skepticism and also expressed worry about traffic impacts on the dangerous Franklin Avenue.
Dubbed the plans envision a St. Mark's-inspired 137,000 square foot mixed use development on Franklin and Chestnut avenues, comprised of 114 luxury housing units and just over 7,000 square feet of retail space.
The developer has appealed to the planning board to create an overlay zone allowing for higher densities around the Ridgewood train line, with gradual declines in intensity as properties move further from the train station.
According to Phillips, transit-oriented developments in towns like Montclair, South Orange, Cranford and Maplewood have been fully occupied, get by with about 1.0-1.2 parking spots per unit, generate limited traffic and have few school children.
The target market – young couples and singles who can't afford mortgages in Ridgewood – statistically have fewer vehicles and children, he testified. Two-thirds of the units at 'Ridgewood Station' are 1 bedroom of smaller, he said, which should limit kids. The proposed parking ratio is 1.25 per unit.
Planning board members on Tuesday, however, expressed skepticism on the number of school-aged students expected and parking, while strongly advocating for in-depth studies of pedestrian and vehicular traffic impacts.
"They're not Bergen County, they're not Ridgewood," member Nancy Bigos said of the Essex and Union County comps. "We have had a serious, serious parking dilemma for decades. I'm not convinced if you don't give them space they won't bring a car. I'm a little concerned about that."
Bigos said she believes the proposed development would generate "more than a dozen" school children.
Phillips, on the other hand, said the figure should be between three and nine, though he noted having an affordable housing component could increase the number, as could the desirability of Ridgewood's school system.
There's reason to believe kids will stay away, he said. At the 55-unit Cranford Crossing, no school-aged children are present.
"That amazed me," the planner said. "These kinds of developments are not targeted toward families with children."
The studies available are limited, a point Phillips conceded. There's a 2006 Rutgers study based on census data from the year 2000. Otherwise, empirical data on transit-oriented developments is restricted to studies undertaken by developers, of which there are few.
A major traffic study will also need to be undertaken by the developer in the coming month or two.
Concerns remain over traffic queueing by the underpass, making a left into the property from Franklin and others were stressed by planning board members.
Dinallo traffic engineer Brian Intindola testified that fewer vehicles are projected to enter/exit the property (at two points) than the previous use.
Intindola's study will also incorporate projected traffic impacts from the other three proposed developments before the planning board – Chestnut Village, The Dayton and The Enclave.
Vehicular traffic is a large-scale challenge on Franklin near Broad Street. But there are very different – and perhaps more critical – challenges on the opposite end of 'Ridgewood Station', at the intersection of Franklin and Chestnut.
Franklin Avenue, particularly near Chestnut Street, is the site of numerous strikes over the years.
Dinallo will need to make significant improvements in that regard, planning board members said. A traffic light may need to be erected there and any intersection along the property will have to incorporate pedestrian crossing mechanisms.
The Ridgewood Station concept has been lumped into the planning board's 16-month process to vote on amending the Master Plan to incorporate a new zone(s) into the downtown. Three other developments – The Enclave, The Dayton and Chestnut Village – are also folded into the planning board's study.
A vote on the elements needed for a new zone could be taken by the planning board in as little as a month, Planner Blais Brancheau said. From there, a draft ordinance would be kicked up to the council for a vote. If the council were to agree to the zoning change, the developments would appear before the planning board for site plan.