At the conclusion of "blank slate" hearings to mine the public's wishes on the development of the Schedler property, the age old question has emerged – what is an appropriate use of the precious little open space left in town?
With the help of grants, the village purchased the roughly 6.5 acre site in late 2009 and has plans to purchase a remaining half-acre section in the next few months.
Set between Rt. 17 and W. Saddle River Rd., the uniquely shaped property would require private fundraising for any development to be undertaken.
Members of the Open Space Committee stressed they have no preconceived notions as to what should ultimately become of the Schedler property, and will only take a plan with "significant support" of the Ridgewood community to the council for recommendations.
Finding a plan favored by all appears to be a tall task, though community members last Tuesday by and large stated the Schedler property presents a unique opportunity to find some common ground.
At the forum, neighbors on the east side of Rt. 17 expressed concern potential construction of sports fields could negatively impact property values, and worried about traffic and safety matters. In turn, representatives of the sport programs echoed sentiments they've been shouting for years – that the village desperately needs fields to keep up with the demand of participants. Others suggested no development at all or perhaps an arboretum or small golf course.
Should the plan ultimately be to add a full-sized multi-sports field overlapped by a baseball diamond along with parking and restrooms, the historic Dutch home and passive activity would be at risk, said Isabella Altano, who spoke on behalf of the Ridgewood Eastside Development ("RED") group, comprised of about 300 households.
"Space between active and passive recreation should be balanced," Altano remarked, adding the Habernickel development (which set aside both active and passive uses and preserved old structures) should be used as a model for Schedler. Her group has fought to preserve the Dutch home with hopes of restoring it and designating it as a community meeting space.
Ed Seavers, who does the schedules for youth sports, disputed Altano's figures that active recreation would take up four of the seven acres.
"That's a great example of what we can do with the field," Seavers said, comparing Habernickel's development to potential development of Schedler.
The Dutch house wouldn't be threatened by field development, he said, stating that neighbors nearby would have a greater buffer than most living by sports fields in Ridgewood.
Both the neighbors worried about development and the sport groups told the Open Space Committee they could raise a good deal of money toward whatever development they saw as aligning with their interests.
Sports groups have underwritten hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements over the years as they juggle how to fit thousands of participants on few fields and numerous speakers said new grounds are "desperately needed."
As has been seen with expansions of the high school fields, neighbors haven't been enthusiastic by the prospect of fields nearby.
"As a neighbor I have concerns for the safety of my children, the aesthetics of the community, the value of our property," said Terhune Rd. resident Claire Keran. "I hope that this property isn't seen as a 'fix-all,'" she said, stating she expected some development will eventually occur.
Though much of the discussion centered on the impact a potential sports complex would have on the area and village-wide, some suggested it should be left untouched.
The impact of removing trees to clear for sports fields would "decimate" surrounding homes, said resident Susan Knudsen.
"We need untouched, untrampled nature," added Diane Palacios, whose comments were echoed by Marcia Ringel.
One resident pitched very different ideas – Roger Wiegand said an arboretum or ecology center could provide educational opportunities for children. Maybe a small golf course could be an option, he suggested.
"The reality is that it's an opportunity that we have," said Blair Neville, head of the Ridgewood Soccer Association (RSA). "It's an opportunity to work together as a group, the residents who live there and the sports groups, and resolve the issues. Nothing is insurmountable," Neville said.
Time will tell if Neville is right.
[Correction: Isabella Altano's first name was incorrectly stated in the intial publication of this report.]