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Council Unanimous in Voting Down 'H-Zone'

Last minute plea by Valley CEO Audrey Meyers to 'compromise' didn't sway the council, which will vote no to the ordinance next week

All five members of the Ridgewood Village Council were in agreement Tuesday – that has pitted resident against resident for five years is "unsound" from a zoning and planning perspective.

All five plan to vote down the to the village's Master Plan in the form of a resolution on Nov. 29. It's decision was met with raucous applauds from one side of the room, while supporters of the "Renewal" shuffled out somberly.

Can compromise be found?

A last ditch attempt from CEO Audrey Meyers to "compromise" on some of the issues was ultimately made in vain.

Meyers said Valley would be open to going through the planning board or council to address the concerns, but added the council should approve the planning board's passed ordinance. While she offered further "compromise" to construction time, traffic issues and groundwater construction methods, there was no talk of scaling down the project.

"Conversation is the only path to progress," Meyers said in her address to council.

Valley officials refused to comment after the meeting, but issued a statement.

"We are disappointed that the Village Council felt the need to make statements before availing itself of the opportunity to meet with Valley to hear about the opportunities for further compromise," Meyers said in the statement.

The opposition group Concerned Residents of Ridgewood (CRR) had decidedly different sentiments after the meeting.

"I'm gratified that the council saw it our way, I'm gratified that they saw the same flaws in the planning board process we saw but I still look at it as we lost five years of our lives," said CRR Chairman Pete McKenna. McKenna remarked in an interview with reporters after the meeting that he didn't feel Meyers' gesture "was genuine" after five years and extensions for compromise.

Valley has said it needs to in Ridgewood and to do so would require a doubling of its space, though it claims the . 

According to hospital officials, "Renewal" would allow Valley to be in line with the healthcare standard of single-occupancy rooms with more modern diagnostic equipment that hospital officials say is desperately required to attract top talent and remain a viable provider of care.

Valley Hospital was dealt another blow Tuesday morning, receiving word Pascack Valley's opening appears iminent after the state gave the thumbs up. The Ridgewood hospital has opposed rival Hackensack University Medical Center's bid to re-open the Westwood acute care facility, arguing Bergen County already has too many empty beds and another hospital would cause significant financial harm to existing facilities.

Each council member prefaced their comments Tuesday night in a packed  Campus Center exclaiming how valuable they thought Valley is to the community, but ultimately, they said, with concerns ranging from , the length and as well as the sheer size of the proposal, they could not allow for the expansion.

Council members say planning board process was botched

"The most critical aspects are intensity of use, traffic, geological impact and overall a consideration of neighborhood impact were not thoroughly vetted," said Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, who as a member of the planning board voted to approve the amendment to the Master Plan in June of 2010. "This is a clear case where certainly the detriments outweigh the benefits to the community at large."

Councilman Paul Aronsohn agreed the detriments outweighed the benefits and he cited "devastating" testimony from an expert witness who gave a "yellow light" to the proposal. Aronsohn – who pondered if the zoning board would be a more appropriate board to review plans – added that it was unclear from expert testimony if intensity of use really would remain at current levels given the lack of clarity over what constitutes outpatient services. "In answer to the question 'What is in the best interest of Ridgewood?' I will vote against this proposal next week," he said.

Others keyed in on other aspects, such as potential damage to nearby homeowners.

Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh said the foundations of hundreds of homes in a 1,500 foot radius could crack due to de-watering during construction, which may strain the aquafors and taxed sewer system. Like several others, Walsh said she felt the planning board process was poor. She called it "disturbing" that experts and the planning board took unverified information "supplied to them provided by Valley Hospital at face value and did not attempt to check any of the facts."

Threat of 'unchecked growth' concerned Walsh

Walsh, who , also expressed concern the "open-natured" state of the proposed ordinance could allow for greater intensity of use without a process to limit growth.

"This would be tantamount to allowing permanent, unchecked growth by the hospital," Walsh said. 

Councilman Steven Wellinghorst, but remained publicly silent until Tuesday, said Valley's point that its history of safely and effectively managing large construction projects in the past was not an apt one.

"It's an apples-to-oranges comparison to the 80s expansion," he said, adding the "Renewal" would dwarf past efforts in size and scope.

Wellinghorst said roads would be taxed, along with village services. Worse, that school children would be "exposed" to diesel fumes and dust from construction would be "irresponsible" in his view, particularly from an institution pledged to provide healthcare.

Satellite campus not impossible as claimed, Wellinghorst says

Wellinghorst was particularly skeptical of Valley's claim it could not maintain a split campus or a new one altogether.

"We were told time and again that satellite or off-site facilities would not be successful and were not an option," he said. "I find that position to be disingenuous. Valley already maintains a well-run, successful facility off-campus. It is tangible proof a satellite facility can and does succeed."

Mayor Keith Killion said it was "not a popularity contest" and he found many of the premises "speculative". From a land use perspective, he stated, planning and zoning considerations to the surrounding neighborhood and "general welfare" of Ridgewood were not properly analyzed.

Killion instructed Village Attorney Matt Rogers to draw up a resolution in support of the council's panning of the drafted ordinance. Killion, like the others, was resolute. There will be no new "H-Zone".

Ridgewood Residents for Valley still think compromise can be reached

Gene Cornell, the , said he was "disappointed" in the outcome but said he felt the council "recognized the importance of Valley" and was hopeful a renovation can still be done "in a way that is acceptable to the village and council."

The council will draw up a resolution to not advance the H-Zone amendment for its Nov. 29 meeting.

Still, many questions remain. 

CRR reps said they were not yet fully sure of the implications of the vote nor the status of the . While there may not be an approved planning board amendment, a council could still draft its own ordinance down the line.

"I'm very concerned that a council friendly to Valley comes back and in the future resurrects it," McKenna stated. "I think that's a risk we want to protect against."

While Valley is tight-lipped as to its plans now that "Renewal" as presented has been shot down, Meyers said in her statement that high quality of care will remain.

"We will redouble our efforts to ensure that our community has the high-quality hospital it has come to expect and deserve."

Joe November 23, 2011 at 06:18 AM
Bring on the lawsuit against the Village. Defending it will be another great use of my tax dollars.
James Kleimann November 23, 2011 at 06:24 AM
A lawsuit does seem like the natural end to all this, doesn't it? We'll be putting up a poll (yes, an unscientific one) in the morning to gauge if residents feel the council made the right decision or not. Hopefully it doesn't look like the one that strangely nabbed over 12,000 votes...
Gregory November 23, 2011 at 06:33 AM
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Pete McKenna November 23, 2011 at 06:44 AM
James - I propose the wording of the poll to be very clear about whether "I support Valley, but i don't support Renewal, or I support Valley, but I don't support litigation to further this management team's ambitions"... As President of CRR, we only initiated legal action when our rights were clearly denied by the Planning Board Process. The Village Council tonight highlighted the same questions and concerns we had with that process. Once we know that the "tainted" actions of the Planning Board are permanently behind us, we'll stand down. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we're out of reach of Valley's supporters yet. Please contribute so we can finish this fight at wwww.stopvalley.com
Gregory November 23, 2011 at 06:46 AM
Funny how the CRR is spun as a minority while trustees and a few friends from two westside streets are a majority. Fact is that the civic group represents a faction of residents who went to polls who were simply fed up. Even westsiders who fully knew of the extent of Valley plans deemed it excessive. Im proud that we have a VC that had the integrity to right a wrong and was able to intelligently express a basis for their decision. Cramming a regional hospital in a residential zone had little merit and if it is such a asset then please tell me why no other town is vying to host it. We all know the reasons. It isnt.
James Jr. November 23, 2011 at 01:10 PM
Honest question, what compromise (if any) would the CRR support with any renewal/expansion of Valley?
A mom November 23, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Mr.McKenna, As a member of CRR, I wanted to say congratulations to you and to everyone else for fighting this fight for us and with us. Thank you to the town council for seeing and questioning the validity of this "renewal". As the fight continues hold fast and steady. Hopefully regulations can be put into place so that this doesn't happen again. Now, can you please give me some advice on how to rally support so that a cell phone tower from Sprint cant be built at Twinney Pond?
Zigi P November 23, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Not speaking for the CRR...I would like to see 1. no increase in traffic due to Valley; put car monitors on the driveways and count the number of cars, busses, trucks, ambulances etc; fine valley if they exceed 2010 limits 2. no increase in how much sky gets blocked out. If i stand on linwood or john or at bf, i should not see any decrease in how much blue sky i can see. The setback changes in the h-zone was a joke; setbacks are required for buildings. The buildings were set back more, but the parking garage doesnt count as a building, so it was not subject to the increased setbacks. Yet it is as tall and longer than the building that it would replace.
Zigi P November 23, 2011 at 01:57 PM
I was also thinking last nite - say what you want about valley, its a successful hospital - financially, reputation-wise, etc. There has to be a few smart people working there. But at times, Valley's approach to this renewal project was amateurish in execution. The most recent example was Audrey M's appeal to the council about compromise just hours before the vote. Before that, Mr. Collin's remark about kangaroo court (as reported by the Mayor and one other councilperson). Before that the survey; did they REALLY think that people would not report on the tactics used; and why didn't the survey company report the results (would at least give more credibility). And before that the statement about how the council had already made up its mind as reported in the press. And throughout the past few years, their attitude of confidence and smugness. Many of those in place now were around for the two recent expansions and should have remembered the local opposition back then; why would there be any less now? No community meetings; not even the illusion of trying to work with the neighbors. And at the meeting last nite, one councilperson mentioned that Valley's reporting on real estate values was unlawful (should only be done by a properly licensed person). They either gave so little thought to these issues (arrogance) or really didnt have a clue how to proceed. Either way - amateurish.
Fan of Ridgewood November 23, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Good job, Village Council!
Lawrence November 23, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Zigi - Collins seems to have become a bit of a tyrrant. Remember he threatened the neighbors living near the proposed subdivision with a drug halfway house, battered women's shelter, mental health facility if his client did not get his way.
James Jr. November 23, 2011 at 03:12 PM
Realistically can those domain ever be met -- with any construction project? With the growth of the Village the demand on keeping up with the population/technical advancements/regulations is a daunting task, case in point the Village school construction and the problem of overcrowding. Even on a smaller scale some residents expend their homes to accommodate a new addition to their family. But, what is a fair balance for improvement and also respecting the community?
James Jr. November 23, 2011 at 03:17 PM
I have friends on the West Side/East Side that are for/against the plan. I don't think it is clear cut what group "represents" the majority. I was surprise there were East siders that were for and some West siders against. But, I don't think it can be argued that the residents value Valley -- expansion or not.
Michael Sedon November 23, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Thank god for the Village Council. They asked the fundamental question at the heart of this whole side show. Should an expansion this big even be built? With the de-watering issues, more than a decade of construction and at least 27,000 truck trips to the site that should have been a no-brainer. The Planning Board, in its quest to cram this over development on a site obviously too small for such a plan, did everyone involved a disservice. The Planning Board, four years ago should have voted this thing down. It would have saved the good people of Ridgewood a lot of time and money, and it would have benefited Valley. The hospital would have had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something reasonable. Instead because of arrogance the hospital pushed a doomed plan and wasted years that it could have used to come up with something actually based in reality. Now, Valley's hierarchy should put down the glue and take the time to craft a thoughtful and reasonable plan for its future.
Jack Egan November 23, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Tom Riche the Ridgewood flip flopper. What he is quoted as saying last night was not what he said and did as a Planning Board member. After extensive hearings at the Planning Board level Richie voted for the expansion plan. Now he wants to get reelected so he votes against the plan making the hypercritical statement below which is by definition a flip flopper. "The most critical aspects are intensity of use, traffic, geological impact and overall a consideration of neighborhood impact were not thoroughly vetted," said Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, who as a member of the planning board voted to approve the amendment to the Master Plan in June of 2010. "This is a clear case where certainly the detriments outweigh the benefits to the community at large."
James Kleimann November 23, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Hey Jack, Deputy Mayor Riche said his vote on the planning board was not an endorsement of the proposal, but his intent to kick it up to council. He said the planning board's focus is much more narrow than that of the council and he was cognizant of such.
James Kleimann November 23, 2011 at 04:41 PM
As I noted, we have a poll set up for those wishing to weigh in on if the council made the right call or not. http://ridgewood.patch.com/articles/poll-do-you-agree-with-council-s-h-zone-decision
Rose Boniello November 23, 2011 at 04:57 PM
I could not agree more. This should never have taken so long. Someone should have chuckled at Valley's "dream plan" and told them, now go back and come up with a reasonable plan. The desire to compromise at the last minute was insulting. There is not one Ridgewood resident I know that doesn't value Valley Hospital and it is a great hospital now, as is. And yes, absolutely, they need to take steps to modernize. But their expansion was just way too much for a town like Ridgewood. The idea of knocking down buildings they just put up in the last 15-20 years is mind-boggling. And what I think so many supporters of this "renewal" never acknowledged is that Valley was demanding carte-blanche for future upgrades and construction. How many tax-paying homeowners would love for the town to say, go ahead and build whatever you want on your property?! That would invite chaos. So hopefully now Valley will go back to the drawing board, altho maybe they already have a Plan B ready!, and come back with proposals that are reasonable and acceptable to ALL Ridgewood residents.
Gregory November 23, 2011 at 04:57 PM
The reality is that Valley should either continue to operate as a local hospital only at that site and renew within their existing facility or become a satellite to a regional one if they don't have the managerial capacity to administrate a split campus. If rivalries and egos were put aside then our local and regional healthcare needs might be best served by a consolidation that would eliminate certain redundancies and costs and halt unnecessary buildups. In that vein, perhaps Valley should initiate talks with Hackensack about merging or being taken over. Let's face it, Valley is a non profit in name only and that status could/should come under review . A renewed facility that operates as a satellite could be a win win for all including Ridgewood that could receive just taxes for hosting a facility that has 95% of its business coming from outside its borders.
Jack Egan November 23, 2011 at 05:15 PM
"Deputy Mayor Riche ( substitute Mitt Romney here ) said his vote on the planning board was not an endorsement of the proposal, but his intent to kick it up to council. He said the planning board's focus is much more narrow than that of the council and he was cognizant of such". The Planing Board careful considered in a "narrow focus" all "aspects are intensity of use, traffic, geological impact and overall a consideration of neighborhood impact" and Riche voted yes. The council considered "aspects are intensity of use, traffic, geological impact and overall a consideration of neighborhood impact" and Riche voted no. That is by definition is flip flopping with a hypocritical rational to get reelected.
Gregory November 23, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Somewhat under your cynicism but you conveniently failed to mention that there were actually challenging questions asked this time around by this Council and some damning testimony by experts under such as well as a true focus on the pertinent issues. Think Riche cited that when voicing his opinion. Just because we had a flawed and tainted process at the PB doesnt mean that it had to be wrongly repeated. I actually respect Richie a bit for being man enough to change his view after hearing other testimony and it was great to listen to people actually give a basis for their opinion rather than a repeat of speeches meant to dodge the land use issues.
Dan Johnson November 23, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Think again. The planning board really is constrained. They can't look at the big picture. (As Riche said time and time again). That is the council's job and the council, including Richie, did their job. They looked at the whole village. Valley can move. Giving them what they wanted would have destroyed the village.
Todd November 24, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Huge victory for CRR but It's intersting that there really has been no mention of yesterday's decison by the State Health Dept that has put HUMC one step closer to oppening a 128 bed acute care hospital at the closed Pascack Valley hospital. Interseting that the decison was the same day as the final valley hearing before a vote. If this goes through Valley may actual not need to expand as the volume that they picked up when Pascack closed will eventually go to the new facility. The traffic issues have been tied to the closing of Pascack and would hopefully resolve it self.
Gregory November 24, 2011 at 06:08 AM
To James, As I warned you, you just had about 225 votes logged for Valley renewal in the hour from midnight to one. If you cant prevent a poll from being rigged then you shouldnt run one as it misleads and unnecessarily stirs. Shut it down if you cant monitor it properly.
Glad November 24, 2011 at 07:03 AM
Without question it was the right decision. Don't see how any reasonable person could disagree with that unless they stand to gain financially from the 'renewal.' Gregory makes a lot of good points. A regional med center is not what's needed here nor does it make sense considering the land space and traffic. What's really needed is a community hospital with excellent facilities for pediatric, maternity and ER. Valley should have bought or merged with PVH years ago when they had the chance but instead they chose to watch PVH die while they worked on their own expansion plans (but happily took in the millions in revenue from PVH patients switching to Valley). In hindsight, they must realize what a huge mistake that was. Now it looks like they'll get to watch HUMC reopen a community hospital at PVH under the HUMC banner.
Dominick Nizza November 24, 2011 at 01:04 PM
This Vote balloon will burst at the next election when changes will be made again. See the Poll numbers.
Gregory November 24, 2011 at 01:47 PM
This "poll" is tainted and useless as you should have read by know, last night a bit after midnight, 225 votes for Expansion suddenly happened in a few minutes. Went from around 40 to 265 as I was sending email to James about it. Have a Happy Thanksgiving
Dominick Nizza November 24, 2011 at 02:40 PM
The gruntels, poll stalkers and disgruntels not sure what to say now. Perhaps, it will be clearer at the next election.
Gregory November 24, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Fraud is fraud, looking past it to support an argument is a flaw
BF Mom November 29, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Thank you, Michael! Valley is to blame for its present circumstances. Ridgewood is not responsible for the poor corporate decisions made by Valley officials years ago, or for the fact that Valley has run out of room....

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