Valley Hospital is expected to return to the Ridgewood Planning Board with a new expansion proposal in March after the settlement of a lawsuit a neighborhood opposition group filed against the board and hospital.
In an order of dismissal dated Feb. 14, Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver III called for two planning board hearings per month – with testimony and public comments – on a new expansion proposal beginning on March 11, 2013.
The three parties – the Ridgewood Planning Board, Valley Hospital and Concerned Residents of Ridgewood (CRR) – agreed to set a target for a vote on a new zoning amendment to the Master Plan before the planning board reorganizes in July.
(A PDF copy of Carver's order, obtained by Patch at Bergen County Superior Court, is attached at right.)
The settlement states that all three parties agree that the original Master Plan amendment is no longer valid.
"The objective of our lawsuit was to force this issue back to the planning board," CRR chairman Peter McKenna told Patch Friday night. "We felt the Master Plan amendment that was passed in June of 2010 [by the planning board] was flawed and our lawsuit was intended to remove that from the books and records of Ridgewood."
The Ridgewood hospital's previous expansion plan, dubbed 'Renewal', was passed 6-1 by the planning board, but an accompanying ordinance was unanimously defeated by the previous village council in November 2011. That council found substantive and significant problems with the expansion plan.
'Renewal' called for the hospital to double its square footage while creating single-occupancy-only rooms at a cost of $750 million.
It's unclear what scale the latest proposal will be, though multiple village sources told Patch it is expected to be reduced from the 'Renewal' model, with more uses conducted off-site.
No official plans have yet been submitted to the planning board, Board Secretary Jane Wondergem said Friday. The hospital must submit plans by March 1 if it is to appear on March 11.
Hospital officials and Valley's legal counsel, Charles Collins, could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Testimony previously entered in the arduous three-plus years of planning board hearings won't be entirely wiped out, according to the settlement.
"We've agreed not to rehash some of the issues," McKenna said Friday. "It will be a new process and we hope the new planning board will consider the broader impacts that this kind of expansion; that they'll consider the plan relative to a residential community that the hospital sits in."
Specifically, he said, intensity of use was not fully addressed in the previous hearings. It should be fully vetted by the planning board come springtime, he said.
The news of Valley's imminent return is somewhat surprising.
The planning board just lost two members and is weighing the merits of new zoning that could forever change the character of the village downtown. Four proposed multi-family housing projects have been offered for board consideration.
Planning board Chairman Charles Nalbantian declined comment on the matter until the entire board had discussed the settlement with counsel Gail Price on Feb. 28.
It is, however, a very different board than the one that passed the "H-Zone" amendment in 2010.
"I don't assume they come in with preconceived notions about this. I don't assume anything about them," McKenna said. "I do know they have a lot on their plate right now and they're things that are going to alter the look and feel of Ridgewood for decades to come. It's their perogative to determine what issues they can and can't take on at any point in time."
Should the planning board again vote in favor of a re-zoning to the Master Plan, an ordinance to be voted on by the Ridgewood Village Council would need to be drafted.
Like the planning board, the council also has a different look.
Three of the five sitting council members voted against the amendment in November of 2010.
But there are other interesting dynamics at play.
CRR chafed when Mayor Paul Aronsohn supported Gwenn Hauck and Albert Pucciarelli in the trio's successful spring election. Both Hauck and Pucciarelli have supported expansion efforts.
Pucciarelli, also a member of the planning board, has said he'll recuse himself both as a planning board and council member.
Councilman Tom Riche also voted in favor of the planning board amendment in 2010 but then against the ordinance that followed in 2011.
“Concerned Residents of Ridgewood as an organization, its leadership as individuals do not have an issue with Valley Hospital and we are grateful for their presence in the Village," McKenna said in a news release Saturday. "Our issue is with the massive expansion that was previously proposed and the unintended impacts that an expansion of this size and scale could have on the residential character of the Village we love so much.”
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