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Residents Wary of Sports Field Development on Schedler

Final hearing on potential development of 7-acre property concludes with an important question – what's a 'balanced,' appropriate use of open space?

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.]

Marcia Ringel June 04, 2012 at 05:42 PM
May the results differ dramatically from what happened at Maple Park, Citizens Park, and the besieged Veterans Field. Assuming that sports will co-opt every square foot of open space in town is a mistake. Those who do not consider sports fields to be the best use of open space need to speak out now and in large numbers.
Boyd A. Loving June 04, 2012 at 06:34 PM
The "almost complete" Irene Habernickel Family Park is a wonderful example of how the interests of sports groups and local residents can both be accomplished (one multi purpose athletic field and plenty of space devoted to passive recreation). If you have not yet visited this Village gem, take a drive, walk, or bike ride up Hillcrest Road and see it for yourself.
Douglas Cronk June 04, 2012 at 08:17 PM
When did supporting youth sports turn into something sinister? People want their kids to have fields to play on. Actually, most realize that they're advocating for facilities for future kids, since theirs will likely be too old by the time anything gets done. Seems pretty noble to me. All of those volunteering parents across the kids' sports spectrum are simply trying to do what they think is best for their kids- and Ridgewood. Of course, most of them also support a passive recreation component. Boyd's absolutely right- beautiful, long-lasting compromises are definitely possible.
jp1 June 04, 2012 at 08:29 PM
What is wrong with leaving the property in a natural state no all vacant land must become a sports field?
WoodMom June 04, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Why does every issue in this town have to be framed in such a decisive and polarizing manner? A balanced approached to sports, open field, walking paths, etc., if plausible, is a nice compromise. I agree, why are sports so negative? Sports provided one option for promoting fitness, time management and teamwork. Are those such negative qualities to embrace?
Boyd A. Loving June 05, 2012 at 01:10 AM
The simple answer to your question is that most Village Council members want to be re-elected. At the end of the day, those residents affiliated with sports groups offer the likelihood for more votes and campaign contributions. Understand now?
JAFO June 05, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Boyd, Is that because there are more residents affiliated with sports groups, or because those affiliated with sports groups just tend to vote more often?
Boyd A. Loving June 05, 2012 at 02:04 AM
By their nature, the sports groups within Ridgewood represent organized, and identified, participants. Thus, it is much easier to disseminate information to them along the lines of "recommended" candidates, requests for contributions, etc. Those who prefer vacant lands be left in their natural states have not yet organized in Ridgewood, thus have no strong voice per se as of now.
Marcia Ringel June 05, 2012 at 04:41 AM
It's much bigger.
News Man June 05, 2012 at 10:07 AM
Solutions are always associated to the problems of the History and Philosophy of Physical Education and Sport you have learned along the way. What have you learned along the way if anything?
Donald Henke June 05, 2012 at 01:10 PM
The real challenge will be safety; how to protect our children 100% on a property bordering Rt. 17 and an exit ramp from the highway.
Ridgewooder June 05, 2012 at 01:41 PM
A fence?
Ridgewooder June 05, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Classic NIMBYism.
Donald Henke June 06, 2012 at 10:46 AM
yea, a fence should keep wayward trailor trucks and cars from running over our kids. Why didn't I think of that?
Chris Peters June 06, 2012 at 01:06 PM
hi Boyd, the sports folks explained the field at Habernickel is that size due to that area being the only flat land available to build a sports field..... they would have preferred more or a bigger field if the land was suitable.
Chris Peters June 06, 2012 at 01:09 PM
I agree, and many other people do to. the one word used by ALL involved was 'balance' - there needs to be balance of passive and active use, to meet the needs of all residents.

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