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Few School Kids, Less Traffic Expected at 'Ridgewood Station', Experts Testify

Testifying on behalf of the developer, experts said they believe the 114-unit development at Ken Smith Motors will generate fewer than 10 school kids. Concerns also remain over parking and traffic.

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.

In The Wood January 17, 2013 at 04:10 PM
With the proposed height, is the current fleet of Ridgewood Fire Department trucks able to handle this? Just another thing to think about...
Slow Down January 17, 2013 at 04:14 PM
One point of clarification. Sometime after 11:00 pm tuesday night (yes, the testimony ran late) the traffic expert acknowledged that his opinion that there would be no net increase in traffic at the Ken Smith cite was based NOT on current usage of that site, but rather on statistics relating to OTHER car dealerships in other locations! Not only was this admission telling, but the fact that it came out not as a result of questioning from the board, but rather during the citizen Q&A time illustrates that if the board does not ask the probing questions, the residents will have to.
James Kleimann January 17, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Just saw my notes: 55 feet above grade for much of the roof life. 70 feet at the highest point, which is the parapet.
AMAMOM January 17, 2013 at 04:38 PM
What would happen if the developer went bankrupt or otherwise had financial problems? It's happened before. Would Ridgewood be left with a half finished project of an eyesore? What if the units were not rented out 100% would the developer then abandon the property if they were no longer able to afford to run it with 50% occupancy? How solid is their financing?
Elizabeth Cox January 17, 2013 at 05:11 PM
people do move to towns like Montclair, Maplewood & Cranford. they are great towns with excellent schools as well! don't know much about East Orange.
Lisa Baney January 17, 2013 at 06:00 PM
So, a lower-than-55 foot main building wouldn't be feasible (and thus a lower parapet above)? Could one less floor here create less traffic -- which so many of us worry about -- at the already difficult trestle intersection and on Franklin Ave; less pedestrian risk; and less possibility of potential parking deficiencies, school burdens, congestion, and aesthetic change in the village? Taken together with the three other large proposed developments now considered as the basis of Master Plan revisions, wouldn't significant reductions in size still mean a load of new housing in Ridgewood? And wouldn't they still net a marked increase in shoppers (hoping some existing ones aren't driven away by traffic) as well as tax ratables -- a rationale for the developments advanced by some in the village? Has the Planning Board or Planner conducted or commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of trade-offs here? I admit I focussed on all this only recently -- just grasping the scope and pace of change -- like many residents, and as many stil haven't. So I may have missed this. But, as part of such a cost-benefit, has our town done a financial analysis projecting net municipal budget resources (a common rationale for this rapid wide-scale development), weighing various total counts of new apartments in town? When there are so many risks, I'd assume such an analysis has naturally been conducted (James, do you know if it has?) and if so can residents see it at this time?
Slow Down January 17, 2013 at 07:45 PM
When asked what taxes the project would throw off if approved, the Village planner said he had no idea and did not know whether they would be higher or lower than the taxes generated by Ken Smith. This followed his statemetn that they did not know what the apartments could be expected to rent for. These statments were surprising and this lack of knoweledge would seemingly make it hard if not impossible for them to have done a meaningful cost-benefit analysis.
Mike Kender January 17, 2013 at 08:02 PM
I think that the concerns about height and architectural impact are overblown. There are already tall buildings near the site of the proposed Maple Av project and the Ken Smith lot project would only be a little higher than nearby buildings and would replace a vacant car dealership, which seems like an aesthetic upgrade. To me, there are two real issues with all of these large projects: additional traffic and the impact on property taxes. How much additional traffic will they generate on a percentage basis (compared to what we already have at those intersections), and can this be mitigated by adding an extra entrance to each project? More important, what will be the cost of the additional children to the school budget compared to the incremental property taxes revenue from the projects. In my opinion, everything else is a sideshow. Those two questions are what really matter.
Andrew J January 17, 2013 at 08:20 PM
I would guess that if the units were not rented out at 100% they would start offering incentives such as lower rents. This whole promise of luxury apartments for professionals at a higher rent blah blah blah will go out the window as soon as the developer starts losing money, and guess who will be stuck with it right in the middle of town. It's also comical that anyone is to believe what a paid "expert" would say in this situation...hmmm I'd venture to guess that the "expert" hired by the developer is very unlikely to produce findings against that developer despite obvious truths. Do they really believe residents are that ignorant to believe that dropping a huge structure in the middle of town won't strain resources or increase congestion? They are really going far to insult everyone's intelligence! Are the town leaders just rolling over on this? Have they each been promised their own luxury rental and parking space???
James Kleimann January 17, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Lisa, I'm not aware of any study that factors in potential tax revenue. According to the village planner, because the rental costs have not been tabulated by the developers they can't determine the taxation as a commercial property. According to property tax records, the Ken Smith property (including the adjacent one on Franklin and Chestnut) paid about $100,000 in 2011. I would bet that because of the dramatically higher value the proposed development would bring, it would be assessed at a much higher figure. What that number is I can't speculate on.
Michael Sedon January 17, 2013 at 08:51 PM
I think it costs about $15,000 per year per student in Ridgewood, and there are about 17 pedestrians hit in town each year. But hey, the expert hired by the developer said there will only be three to nine school children added and no traffic impact. On another note, I'm currently selling the Goethals Bridge. It's a little rickety and old, but a real money maker. And I'm letting to go dirt cheap. Hit me up if anybody is interested.
Ridgewood Mom January 17, 2013 at 09:01 PM
Yes. I was looking at the area the other day. I think the proposed project could look really good. Better, in fact, then the way it currently looks. The concerns are the increase in traffic/parking congestion and the question of relative cost vs. revenue for the Village. As it stands, I am open to being convinced either way.
Brian January 17, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Add parking as part of traffic and I think you have summarized the issues quite well. We also don't know that the property tax increase is incremental. It could be substantial but it seems that no one has proposed a guess as to this number yet.
MBB January 17, 2013 at 10:57 PM
What concerns me is the pace at which this is moving. It seems that there are parties involved who want to rush it through before enough people are aware of it to question it. The variances they are asking for are quite significant, in terms of changing the ratio of square footage per acre and the height of the buildings. I believe downtown is currently zoned for 12 units per acre and these proposals for new apartment buildings are asking for it to be changed to something like 37 units per acre. All of us who live here no how bad the traffic and parking situation is downtown, and these proposed projects will only make it worse. This process needs to be slowed down and approached in a far more thoughtful manner with analysis done by independent parties so the information we receive allows us to make educated decisions.
lowertaxesJohn January 17, 2013 at 11:00 PM
More developing, more urbanization of Ridgewood. Any councilmember of the planning board voting to approve this expansion of ridgewood which will increase our taxes should be voted out of office. Some of us moved here and loved it went we had a small town feeling...
Craig Hueneke January 18, 2013 at 12:23 AM
LOL... I LOVE IT!!! The builder hires a few "experts" to generate findings that supports their client's case. I wouldn't of never seen that coming!! (I don't fault them).. As I was once told by a GREAT judge... "In every argument/debate there is no truth, there are no lies, just data to be manipulated and opinions to twisted". The ONLY thing funnier would be if they hired experts and they got up there and said that it WAS going to generate more children in our schools and more cars on our streets! LOL
James Kleimann January 18, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Here's more detail on that project. http://ramsey-nj.patch.com/articles/proposed-luxury-apartment-complex-design-goes-from-one-building-to-three#photo-13000526 Similar in some ways, very different in others.
Beth Meleski January 18, 2013 at 01:23 AM
Just a data point - according to the website schooldigger.com, out of 558 ranked school districts in New Jersey, Cranford is #116, S. Orange - Maplewood is #183 and Montclair is #219. Ridgewood is # 19. Based on these numbers, I'm pretty sure we'd see an increase of more than 10 kids.
Matt Allen January 18, 2013 at 01:31 AM
If you want to make downtown Ridgewood look like downtown Newark or Hoboken, then sure go ahead. It is weird that I have never heard of any singles or young couples just dying to move to Ridgewood but not being able to because of high costs. All forums are full of people with kids looking to move to Ridgewood for the school system. But no. Apparently some singles will magically appear in downtown Ridgewood.
anonymous January 18, 2013 at 04:55 AM
downtown is currently zoned for no more than 12 units per acre. The Enclave is asking for 37 units per acre, Ridgewood Station (Ken Smith) is asking for 56 units per acre. Not sure of the Dayton or Chestnut Village.
rexa January 18, 2013 at 11:17 AM
Matt Allen: I, a single woman, have been wanting to move to Ridgewood for sometime. I finally did but I'm consistently dismayed by all the NOT IN MY BACK YARD comments I read on this site. It's disturbing, xenophobic, and downright inhospitable. Ridgewood is a great town. People- single and those with children- want to live in great towns such as this. And they, like you and me, will pay out the nose to live in towns such as this. Live and let live!
P Crowley January 18, 2013 at 03:33 PM
First, the entire town should vote on whether we want to become a city. No one wants 4 developments at once. Traffic and congestion will be a nightmare. The towns developers are citing, So Orange, Maplewood, Montclair and Cranford may all be great but they are all semi Urban,None of their schools rank with Ridgewood, have much higher crime and many are leaving for private schools. I did not move here for the urban flavor. I will return to NYC when I want that. Experts are paid to say anything.
Barbara Parker January 18, 2013 at 06:22 PM
This sounds like a traffic and pedestrian nightmare, if ingress and egress to the development are on or near the busy Franklin Avenue-Broad Street intersection. With some imagination and planning, can't the entrance and exit be placed elsewhere?
Joe January 18, 2013 at 06:44 PM
I have a friends (older couple) who would love to live in Ridgewood but they don't need a whole house/yard and the apartments available here are tiny and not appealing. They settled on an apartment in Westwood for now. Kids are grown. They like the area. They are exactly the type of couple who would love something like this development.
barbara January 19, 2013 at 04:09 AM
Make it a 55 plus age requirement complex.....it's a win for the developers and a win for taxpayers (increased revenue in the coffers).
Lisa Baney January 19, 2013 at 08:31 PM
Could the town please do a cost-benefit analysis with a projection of tax revenues (using a comparable value or comparable selling price or tax ratables (and/or rents if that affects it -- assuming various levels of occupancy) May our town leaders or Board members PLEASE do this, as long as they keep referencing these and the other developments and overlay zone as a main rationale for taking all these risks of traffic, congestion, pedestrian safety, and possible school budget costs (let's be honest, no one knows for sure about any of these things, and especially if the town "overlay zones" Ridgewood's Master Plan for four of these developments at once? Unless this i known, It confounds me -- and many of the people I talk to around town -- how our Planner could make plans to accomodate all this, or the Planning Board could ever vote on it, or invite any informed public reaction at the hearings? Or if the town somehow won't do it, an open-minded careful media person do their own investigation/projection on this? It is one of the two bases of doing all this (that and promoting more shopping in town, but that two is risked if traffic is affected and current shoppers deterred). Finally, can anyone truly trust the projections of the developers' own optimistic projections on this (no traffic impact, no pedestrian safety impact, no school impact? Are the Planner and Board, even Council, getting all the facts that would drive such a huge, permanent change in town?)
Dan Johnson January 22, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Back in the late 80s, the Ridgewood school system had many more kids than they do now. In other words, don't blame your opposition to development on an increase in kids. And as fas as pedestrians and traffic, bring it on. Anything that will slow down the speeders on Ridgewood Avenue and Franklin is to our good. And maybe even the cops will start to enforce the speed laws after a couple of more people are hit while trying to cross the street.
Gary Rabinowitz January 22, 2013 at 06:32 PM
@ Dan Johnson: awesome comments! As a casual observer, I recall your comment about "embracing change." I guess we can never go back to the 'good old days' of the 50s and 60s, right? Well, if memory serves, Ridgewood & all school districts had many more school kids back then (requiring at least one elementary school to have an 'annex' on Kenilworth Rd). So why stop at the 80s? Arbitrary selection on your part. By your logic, Ridgewood can max out at the peak baby boomer enrollment levels, no? Of course this is a ridiculous suggestion. Every school district 'right sizes' (in today's argot) their budgets, staffing, infrastructure, etc. to the current reality of enrollment, with built in and acceptable variation for things like family size, new development subject to density constraints, etc. So opposition to an increase in kids is quite reasonable. As for your suggestion that to slow down traffic in downtown RW, you need human shields, more traffic and more people, well, that's bold & novel. I think that's called "hair of the dog," (more hair (traffic) of the dog (speeding traffic) that bit you"). Perhaps I too should drink whatever it is you are drinking in your profile picture before I make suggestions!!! Cheers, GXR
Dan Johnson January 23, 2013 at 02:17 AM
Drink up. We had more kids then and it worked. Now we have more administrators and it doesn't work. And our taxes are higher. Drink up. And anything that slows down traffic on Franklin and diverts it elsewhere sounds good to me. Drink up. And watch out for those dogs.
anonymous January 23, 2013 at 03:38 AM
Next planning board meeting regarding the developments in the CBD is Wednesday January 23rd at 7:30, 4th floor Village Hall. Everyone should go and find out for themselves how they feel.

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