Reacting to the numerous housing development proposals that have sprung up of late, the Planning Board has directed Village Planner Blais Brancheau to lead a comprehensive study of the downtown.
The study is expected to aid the planning and zoning boards in determining the fate of three projects that could very well transform the Central Business District.
"We can't just look at each of these developments in isolation," Brancheau said. "We have to look at them in the context of the downtown area because they're all sort of in the same general location."
Per Brancheau, the study seeks to critically evaluate the current lay of downtown housing, existing traffic issues and the potential impact three new developments could create, particularly regarding a perceived influx of school children.
As two applications – and – have moved through the initial stages at the planning board attempting rezone the Master Plan, members have expressed skepticism over its possible impacts.
Member Jane Shinozuka said Tuesday that the notion traffic won't be negatively impacted by new housing developments was a "pollyanna" view, stating that it's unlikely residents wouldn't still have cars even residing within close proximity to the train station. Board Chairman Charles Nalbantian requested that the study also touch on pedestrian safety. A traffic expert for the village will be retained, shared between both boards.
Others have keyed in on the height and mass of the buildings, all of which clear four stories. Discussions Tuesday also pointed to a potential strain on village utilities, another piece of the puzzle needing study.
As always, there's a lingering concern the cost to the village – both in municipal services and to the school district – will be a net negative.
Roughly 65 percent of the tax bill is allocated to the schools, where the cost of educating a child is about $13,100 per year. The remaining portion winds up at the municipal government (25 percent, roughly) and the county (about 10 percent of the bill).
Perhaps of greatest concern has been the potential impact on the school system. Members of the Ridgewood Board of Education have appeared before the board asking for a study on how many school-aged children might be moving in should the proposals receive a green light.
Finances alone cannot be a determining factor in passing or denying applications, Brancheau said.
"Even if at the end of the day, we find that it’s losing money, I’m not saying that that in and of itself would be a valid basis for not approving," Brancheau said. "Those criteria can be looked at in the broad scheme of things as one consideration, but they should never rise to the level of major decision making factor."
The study, which Brancheau estimated could take several months but less than a year to complete, would need to be coordinated with the zoning board, where the awaits a hearing.
Brancheau said the study should encompass "sizability," land use compatability, street compatability, proximity to the train station, carrying capacity for utilities, as well as building height and mass and aesthetics.
Board members enthusiastically endorsed the commission of the study, with some having stated they had trouble contextualizing aspects of the applications presently in front of the planning board because the data was not specific to Ridgewood.
"There's a certain potential that what we'll find will weigh in their [applicants'] favor and that will help them," Brancheau said. "There's also the potential that what we find may not."
Attorney Thomas Wells, who represents the applicants for Chesnut Village and The Dayton, said he was fully in support of the pending study.
"I sensed, not surprisingly, as we were starting to explain new concepts for the downtown, some skepticism . . . in the eyes of some of the board members, and that’s one of the reasons why this is all good from our perspective," Wells said.