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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."

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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