Planner Blais Brancheau advised the board in July to explore the creation of a new zone for sites where four high-density downtown housing developments – the Dayton, Enclave, Ridgewood Station, and Chestnut Village – have been proposed. At the time, he had determined the creation of a new zone was necessary due to significant differences in density between the proposed projects’ specifications and the zones they would occupy.
Citing affordable housing
obligations that the village has yet to meet, Brancheau told the board that any
modifications to Ridgewood zoning would have to mandate multifamily
developments, though projects could be mixed with commercial space in accordance with uses currently allowed downtown.
“The village’s affordable housing obligation requires that we provide an opportunity for the production of affordable housing in our zoning regulations,” Brancheau told the board.
In reworking the zoning
regulations, he explained, the village would have to provide a “realistic opportunity”
for the development of affordable housing units. After consultation with COAH, the state agency that regulates affordable housing, he said that the new zone would likely require the board to mandate that multifamily dwellings be constructed in the new zone to meet that need.
COAH has been in a state of uncertainty for much of the last year after an attempt by Gov. Chris Christie to abolish the agency entirely, and the amount of affordable housing that would be required in the developments is not exactly clear. Officials have estimated it would account for 10 to 20 percent of the units.
Mayor Paul Aronsohn, who also
sits on the board, urged that the village explore using those units to
address a “tremendous need for special needs housing in this community,” which COAH has approved in some past projects.
Brancheau recommended that the zone, if approved by the board, allow for maximum building heights of 50 feet – slightly above the 45 currently allowed in the commercial zone – with some exceptions for architectural features, such as a cupola, that might rise above the height but provide an aesthetic value.
Density in the new zone would be 43 units per acre, which Brancheau said would help encourage the development of luxury rentals.
Bringing in high-end developments was important to some on the board. Aronsohn noted that Ridgewood already has multifamily units and that ideally new development would “fill a niche that’s missing from our housing options.”
The standards proposed would encourage luxury development, Brancheau responded, “but we can’t mandate it.”
The board was hesitant in offering feedback on the mandate of multifamily developments, agreeing that members needed more time to "digest" the implications of the proposal, which could ultimately restrict what property owners are allowed to develop on the sites.
Brancheau said that since
developers have already come to the village asking to develop multifamily dwellings, the zone would be unlikely to face a legal challenge, and that in fact the village would be hard pressed to make its case to the state that zoning of the sites not requiring high-density developments are in line with the municipality's obligations.
“It’s a constitutional issue, and I think it’s something that we should be challenged with,” said board member Michele Peters, noting that the board should approach the issue cautiously but not necessarily “run in fear” from the proposal.
The board will take the issue up at its next meeting, Monday, Sept. 23.