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Residents Say Controversial Subdivision Makes Sense in Texas, Not Ridgewood

Residents near 975 East Ridgewood Avenue spoke out against a developer's plan to tear down an 1850 home and place two larger homes on a subdivided lot.

What would be better for a neighborhood, attorney Charles Collins asked – two 3,200 square ft. single-family residential homes or one large home that could house twelve people with mental illnesses? How about a 5,000 square foot home with people suffering from head injuries? A daycare facility? A group home for victims of domestic abuse? The developmentally disabled?

That could be , Collins said, if the planning board does not grant the variances his client Robert Jennee is seeking to bulldoze an 1850 home on a corner lot, sub-divide a half-acre lot and place two new 3,200 square ft. homes in its place.

The objector's planner, Michael Kauker, said in the eyes of the ordinance, both are in equal standing; residents responded to what could be construed as threats by welcoming many of the possible uses. Even moreover, one resident–Kathy Benson–said, all homes zoned single-family residential are permitted to have such uses.

The reality is, Collins said, "Nobody likes change. And unfortunately, this lot will change." Collins said there will not be a rehabilitation of the historic home, one that had been in poor condition compared to the rest of the neighborhood. "That's not going to happen . . . with certainty, my client will build a bigger house on this lot."

Collins, in his closing statement, told the planning board to carefully . Among the reasons cited, the setback along Walthery Avenue is the size of three front yards across the street; the home's coverage area is in line with others; and as noted by the applicant's planner David Troast, two homes in the same space would be "more in rhythm" with the neighborhood.

"I ask you to pay very close attention to what's best for the village," Collins said. If you do that, he told the planning board, you will come to the same conclusion he and the applicant has.

However, resident Quincey Pitney, who lives at 929 East Ridgewood Ave, implored the planning board to reject the application on the grounds it would be more in place "in Plano, Texas" than Ridgewood, New Jersey.

"We're talking about changing the character of the neighborhood and Ridgewood. Where does it stop?" she asked. Pitney continued, "This is the integrity of our town...it is not characteristic of the neighborhood to have smaller lots [with bigger homes]."

Pitney said Jennee making smaller lots "for his own selfish reasons" would not be "for the benefit of the community." Pitney also charged that two "McMansions" would bring in two families with at least three kids each, and will further strain the schools and taxpayers.

Various other residents like Lorraine Reynolds and Kim Albano-Carramanna echoed Pitney's comments, telling the planning board that it could not possibly draw the conclusion the village will be better off.

Reynolds pointed out that out of 21 corner lots within a few blocks, only three have a ratio greater than 20 percent lot coverage ratio. All of those homes, Reynolds said, "look squeezed" together. The two proposed homes would have a lot coverage ratio of 25 percent. Troast has used aerial photos to display what he called appropriate floor-to-area (FAR) ratio, something definitely more appropriate than a smaller house on a large lot that by today's zoning standards would not be in compliance, he said.

Kauker testified that his view of the application was similar to the supplemental report by Village Planner Blais Brancheau. According to Kauker, the property does not fulfil the "unique characteristics" to merit a hardship because the hardship would be self-creating by subdividing a lot.

Furthermore, Kauker said the application doesn't significantly upgrade the area, so in his view there's no case to be made, particularly as recent the 2006 Master Plan revision looks negatively on infill subdivisions, he said.

The planning board will deliberate and likely make a ruling on April 5.

Grant Symington March 17, 2011 at 01:05 AM
I was at the hearing last night and thought Collins' cross-examination of the opponants planners was one of the most appalling, offensive and distasteful things I've ever seen. I heard people gasp when he started his threats. I thought 1 member of the PB was going to fly over the dias and strangle him. To explain ... he was asking the opponents planner about allowable uses of residential lots in Ridgewood which include residences for mental health patients, physically and mentally disabled, battered women, etc. He kept asking what's better, two houses or a battered womens shelter? Two houses or a hospice home? etc. The planner simply replied that neither was better in the eyes of the Village Code; that both wer allowable on residential lots. Kathy Benson got up and noted that all residential lots in NJ have these uses attached to them. Uecessary and baseless threats hurled at the PB and residents. The best comment of the night came from a PB member who cut Collins down by asking "so, does this mean that if we grant this subdivision, you might place 2 group homes on the property or maybe a hospice and a drug facility?" Collins, in his closing remarks backed down and noted that is client is a businessman who "will build one big house on this lot (sounded to me like Charlie slipped and admitted defeat at that point by saying 1 house). No mention of other uses.
Grant Symington March 17, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Also, the opponants planner and lawyer did a good job laying out the reasons why there were no benefits to the Village and only detriments citing the Master Plan and Village code. They noted that the only person benefitting from this would be the developers. Alot of neighbors who oppose the project were there last night and those that spoke did a good job of explaining why this was bad for their neighborhood and the Village. I did note that not a single person was there to support the project. The developer's guys looked like they were going to have a heart attack when the neighbors eloquently and sytematically made the case against the subdivision from a long-term residents point of view. James, thanks for covering this story.
Anonymous March 17, 2011 at 02:51 AM
The planning board has already demonstrated it is not concerned about Ridgewood character or aesthetics of the neighborhood. They just want the most revenue presumable generated. The subdivision will pass, and everytime we drive by the eyesore, we will be reminded of each and every member.
Kiko Arase March 17, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Just noticed that the house on Van Dien directly adjacent to the the developers Spring/Van Dien subdivision just went up for sale. Guess the neighbors don't like an ugly oversized McMansion 10 feet off of their property line. Developer gets to live peacefully in his own McMansion while driving others to sell their homes at prices that are reflective of the degradation caused by the subdivions. It this the new Ridgewood? And Jenne/Paladino/Collins are flat out lying when they say that there are 3 front yards houses across the street from the proposed subdivision property and they should really be building three homes instead of two. Flat out lies. I drove past to check it out. One side yard, one front yard and about 2' of another front yard. I have faith that our Planning Board will stand by the Village Code and Master Plan. I am sure that they are smart enough to see through empty threats and baseless lies. These people have shown themselves to be swine. I hope the Planning Board shows them the door.
Cranford Mama March 22, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Tearing down a historic part of Ridgewood, a house built in 1850, flies in the face of retaining the character of the Village. While the house is admittedly in great disrepair now, it can and should be restored to its former greatness. These historic homes are what separate Ridgewood from so many other towns in Bergen County. If Ridgewood continues to lose its fabled charm and character, properties within the Village will inevitably lose value. If Ridgewood is allowed to become more cookie-cutter, families will begin to invest in nearby towns where you simply get more house for your money. If the developer is allowed to continue with his plans to build 2 homes, let's at least hope he has the common courtesy to construct homes that reflect the traditional feel of the neighborhood. I would appeal to him to construct homes in the Colonial/Victorian style commonly found along that stretch of Walthery and Ridgewood Avenues - homes with front porches, for example, not McMansions. Finally, I find it disgraceful that Mr. Collins would threaten concerned residents with the likes of a battered women's shelter or hospice care center -- residents who work hard and pay high property taxes to enjoy the benefits that are supposed to be inherent from that. Shame on him.
Kiko Arase March 22, 2011 at 08:03 PM
Excellent point Michelle. If Ridgewood loses its charm and eliteness, families will simpy buy more house for the same money elsewhere. I simply cannot fathom how the PB could approve this subdivision. The PB is charged with decding what is in the best interest of the Village and its residents. How does a subdivision on a premium corner in Ridgewood do any good to anyone but the developer who has no long-term interest in any neighborhood other than his own? It is in Ridgewoods best interest to preserve this corner lot. Ms. Reynolds is right; with the setbacks required for corner lots, these two 3200 sq. foot houses will be squeezed together, side-by-side with little/no space in between them with no lawns. The proposal is for two 3200 sq. ft houses on substandard lots. So Mr. Collins threatens all sorts of things including a "large" home. Anyone with a real estate backround can tell you that the market today is not for 5000 sq foot homes but something in the more modest range of 3500 - 3700 sq ft. THERE'S NO MARKET FOR A 5000 sq foot home on the east side of Ridgewood on a small lot. Hence, the proposal for two 3200 sq. foot houses. So the choice is really two 3200 sq ft homes or one 3500/3700 sq ft home. No brainer. If the PB takes Mr. Collins advice and pays close attention to what is "best for the Village", then they will most certainly deny this application. Otherwise, I think someone should look into their finances and see if they've been paid off.
Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 02:38 AM
I do not believe the sub division shoud go through, All Mr. Jenne is doing is trying to fatten is wallet. He does not care at all about the near by residence. Or about building 2 homes on a lot that is way to small. Ask him if he would like someone to sub divide a lot near his home on John Street. Surely that lot was big enough for 2 homes. But no Mr. Jennee wants privacy and noone else near him. Believe me Bob just not care about makeing the village better, he just wants his bank account to get bigger. Why doesn`t he just renovate the existing house or just build one house. Let me guess he cant make enough money doing that. I would not trust him at all ask many of his unsatified customers, homes hes renovated for people many people were not happy with his work. So why should anyone let him built these 2 homes.
madmax March 24, 2011 at 12:48 PM
The developer is a business man who wants to maximize his profit and there is nothing wrong with that provided it does not adversely impact the Village's exclusivity and the neighbors right to maintain the neighborhood. The PB has to decide what is best for the Village; two 3200 sq foot houses squeezed side-by-side onto substandards lots (and tons of variances needed to do this) with no decent setbacks or one 3700 sq foot house with lots of lawn/space. Seems an easy choice to me. Take a look at Spring/Van Dien Jennee subdivision and you will see that it is atrocious and ruins the character and panache of that neighborhood. I would tend to agree that the developers are only in it for themselves. They renegotiated the contracted price down so far down that almost borders on elder-abuse. Their attorney threatens the neighbors with drug rehab facility, battered womens shelter, hospice, etc if they don't get their way (but in the summation, admits it's going to be residential). Thugs. The developer does not want Valley Hosp to expand because he's only a few doors away but it's okay to drop two McMansions on his neighbors just around the corner? The developer called his clients from the neighborhood and asked them to support the subdivision. When these neighbors showed up at the PB and saw the actual proposal, they backed down quickly and never returned. Not a single person expressed support of this outrageous subdivision. The entire neighborhood opposed it
Grant Symington March 24, 2011 at 01:47 PM
And if anyone feels sorry for the developer and doubts that they will make money on only one reasonably sized house at 975 East Ridgewood Ave., they need only look as far as his latest flip on Wyndenmere Ave. (a block away). Mr. Jennee purchased 673 Wyndenmere on July 23, 2010 for $377,000. The house was an 1100 sq foot Cape Cod on a 8300 sq foot lot. Mr. Jennee tore the house down and it is now a 2200 sq foot colonial on an 8300 sq foot lot. The house went on the market on January 1, 2011 and SOLD 33 DAYS LATER FOR $789,000. Total flip time less than 7 months. Mr. Jennee purchases 975 East Ridgewood for a similar price ($385,000). The property is much larger so he can build a larger home and sell that in the$1,000,000 range. Lots of houses larger homes on Ridgewood Ave have sold well above that in recent years. Market analysis bears this fact out.
Anonymous April 01, 2011 at 08:52 PM
I must agree with Lawrence all Mr Jennee wants to do is "make a deal" for himself. He does not care about the village or the property. Ask him why is opposed of the Valley Hospital expansion then. I will tell you why its too close to his pretty little house. But then again I think he would sell his mother or his kids to make a buck. Just see how many friends he has on the planning board to help him get this thing approved. I am sure he is giving something back to them also. Maybe someoe should call immaration services while all of his illegal workers are there. Or the Dept of labor on how he pays them all under the table. I really hope they deny this non caring, self indulging, worm if I may his application. I would be willing to contribute money to help fight this if need be. And yes all of the Jennee houses around town look the same. They are very plain, cold, & lifeless. Oh wait just like Bob.

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