The Ridgewood Open Space Committee has recommended to the Ridgewood Village Council that the 7-acre Schedler property be developed to include a walking trail, preserve the Schedler-Zabriskie House and hold a 90-foot baseball field.
But neighbors around W. Saddle River Road are none too pleased with the recommendations.
On Oct. 24, Ralph Currey, the chairman of the Open Space Committee, told the council they're seeking a "balance" as to the development of the oddly-shaped property nestled between Route 17 and W. Saddle River Road.
All – including officials, sports groups and neighbors – agreed the process should be modeled after the successful Irene Habernickel Family Park project.
But you might not know it judging from the tone of the discussions Wednesday night.
The recommended plan
Five topics of concern must be addressed for the development, Currey said: balance development, safety, saving the historic house, preserving trees and seeking private fundraising.
"We believe it should be designed for active and passive recreational purposes," Currey said. "Based on our perception of the village's needs we recommend a 90-foot baseball diamond with an overlay multipurpose field in the outfield. Recognizing the neighbors desire for balance, we also recommend the plan also include a signficant amount of recreation space."
A berm of trees along the side of the property facing 17 was also recommended and traffic calming features could be added to W. Saddle River Road, Currey said. Trees should be evaluated by the village's arborist to see what can be saved. Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh expressed hope that the house could be saved. The large sugar maple on the property needs to be assessed, Currey told the council.
The committee sought to preserve the Zabriskie Schedler House, built around 1830. He said within six-to-twelve months there should be a "credible" preservation plan in place including funding. If the village council does not see the house worth preserving, he said the committee recommend the house be raized and a new one built.
In terms of funding, the Village Council should identify a citizen's group to spearhead the private fundraising drive to get the development approved, Currey said. The newly-created Ridgewood Conservancy for Public Lands (CRPL) is interested and so are representatives of sports groups.
Mayor Paul Aronsohn said the neighbors (represented by the "Ridgewood Eastside Development" group, or "RED") "must have a seat at the table.
Efforts to save the house should be done separately, Currey remarked. "We believe those efforts will appeal to very different donors."
Few living near the proposed project were pleased with the Open Space Committee's recommendations, claiming the village was putting the interest of sports and "hobbies" above the "quality of life" for those living nearby.
Representing the RED, Phil Dolce, of Kingsbury Lane, said the council is under no time constraints in terms of development. Habernickel took eight years to come to fruitiion and was fundd with public monies and grants. That should be the model at Schedler too, he said. Dolce and others feared if private fundraising were the primary money-raising tool, special interests might win out.
"We know funds are tight in the village right now," he said. "They won't be tight forever."
The size of the baseball field was another chief concern for the neighbors. Between the parking lot and 90-foot field, there wouldn't be much space available for passive recreation, they claimed.
"Right now I feel after those three meetings we're still faced with the same giant field," Isabel Altano said. Referring to Habernickel again, she said: "We want the same thing on our neighborhood side because we pay the same taxes and we love this village as everyone else. We deserve the same."
Angela Leemons, of E. Saddle River Rd. worried a lack of trees would further deteriorate the quality of life. She said the interests of sports are being pitted against their right to live peacefully off Route 17.
"We heard a lot about fields being needed," she said. "For us who live on that side of Ridgewood, it's a quality of life issue. We live in close proximity to Route 17. Quality of life, versus quality of play."
Representing the Ridgewood Baseball/Softball Association (RBSA), Jim Albano said it's clear Ridgewood doesn't have the playing fields to support sports participants. The fields at present can't withstand the perpetual use, he argued.
A 90'" baseball diamond would help rectify the loss of the field at B.F. Middle School due to the referendum. Many nearby towns have three-times the amount of 90'" baseball fields, Currey added.
According to Albano, they've compromised with residents and others. But the 90'" field is "imperative."
"It's not the big stadium field you're thinking about," he said, describing the proposed field. "Theres just not enough fields right now for the older boys to play on."
Currey, of the Open Space Committee, stressed that a balance has been met. He cited the walking trails and green space proposed for the facility.
He also said this isn't specifically a neighborhood issue.
"This is an asset of the village of Ridgewood, not just a particular neighborhood in Ridgewood," Currey told the council. "It's a property that belongs to every resident in Ridgewood."
The village will continue to discuss the plans for the property in upcoming meetings. The council has the final decision as to how Schedler is constructed.