Housing Impacts Need More Study, Residents' Attorney Says

Public comments heard for first time in formal consideration of zoning change to allow high-density housing downtown.

Citizens for a Better Ridgewood attorney Ira Weiner makes opening comments to the Ridgewood Planning Board Jan. 7.
Citizens for a Better Ridgewood attorney Ira Weiner makes opening comments to the Ridgewood Planning Board Jan. 7.

The Ridgewood Planning Board should commission additional traffic, demographic and other studies to gauge the potential impacts of a proposed zoning change that would pave the way for high-density downtown housing, an attorney appearing on behalf of a residents group urged Tuesday night.

Ira Weiner, hired by Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, called the proposed master plan amendment before the board a “fundamental change in the community” that needed more independent analysis.

“If you’re going to do this big thing, do it right,” he told planning officials at a packed meeting in the Ridgewood High School Campus Center.

Though public hearings on the zoning change began only last month, the planning board has heard substantial study of the potential impacts of the proposed residential developments in nearly three years of work sessions on the subject. But Weiner noted that much of the analysis has been presented by consultants contracted by the applicants.

Among the additional information he called for the planning board to obtain is a better understanding of the village’s state affordable housing obligations, which officials have been unable to determine precisely, demographic studies to gauge the interest of the older tenants targeted, and a full “build out” analysis to asses the possibilities of further development in the zones beyond the current applications.

“If you rezone it, and people build it, then you’re going to have to live with it,” he cautioned.

Residents, who appeared in a steady stream to air their concerns to board members, largely agreed with Weiner’s assertions – though Citizens for a Better Ridgewood has claimed no supporters beyond a small board of trustees footing the legal bills.

Dave Slomin, a resident who said he has two decades of experience in the rental market, argued that information presented so far has been slanted in favor of the proposals.

“I know the business and I know developers here are gambling with our village,” he said.

“You have to do your own reports.”

Several residents also raised questions about the potential influx of students into Ridgewood classrooms. Experts have characterized the additional projected students as minimal, but Superintendent Dan Fishbein raised concerns early last year that the numbers could be higher, especially given unique trends of increased enrollment in Ridgewood.

Also troubling to residents, Weiner said, is a slippery slope potential that granting higher height and density limits could be used as a precedent for other property owners in arguments for variances.

Proponents of the housing have argued that the studies presented thus far have been based on standard industry models, and that the projects will boost tax revenue in the business in the downtown, in addition to providing luxury housing options currently lacking in the village.

Board Chairman Chales Nalbantian, countering perceptions that residents have been shut out of the process, said it was “unusual” for officials to hear public comments so early in the formal process, and that residents will have additional opportunities to question testimony as the process unfolds.

“Don’t assume that we’re not interested in your comments and concerns,” he said.


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