Planning Board Meeting Minutes 20141117

The following minutes are a summary of the Planning Board meeting of November 17, 2014.


Call to Order & Statement of Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act: Chairman Nalbantian called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. The following members were present: Mayor Aronsohn, Ms. Bigos, Mr. Nalbantian, Councilwoman Knudsen, Mr. Reilly, Ms. Altano, Mr. Joel, Mr. Thurston, Ms. Dockray, Mr. Abdalla, and Ms. Peters. Also present were: Gail Price, Esq., Board Attorney; Blais Brancheau, Village Planner; and Michael Cafarelli, Board Secretary.

Chairman Nalbantian made opening remarks regarding safety issues and the hearing process.

Public Comments on Topics not Pending Before the Board – No one came forward at this time.

Correspondence received by the Board – Tito's Burritos withdrawal letter from Mr. David Rutherford.

Ridgewood United Methodist Church Minor Site Plan and Variances – Signage, Fencing and Gates - 100 Dayton Street – Block 3709, Lot 1.01

David Rutherford appeared before the Board and introduced the United Methodist Church application and representatives, including Pastor Reverend Victor Peterson, Chairman Scott Labory, and Katherine Gammer, the director of the nursery school from the church. Mr. Rutherford described the church's property, the church use and affiliated uses, its parking lots, services, and the signage. He stated the purpose for appearing before the Planning Board was to seek approval for various signs and to provide a fenced enclosure for an outdoor play area associated with the existing child care center. Mr. Rutherford identified changes to the church's originally filed application, which include: 1) to remove, not replace, free standing Sign B; 2) revise the content of Sign C to also include the content of Sign B. He also proposed keeping small wall mounted Sign A on the rear of the building. He described the church's need for variance relief, referencing Mr. Brancheau's report for the freestanding sign and the building mounted sign.

Mr. Rutherford indicated the State required that the church install additional fencing and gates, which gates will be closed when children are in the area.

He stated the church's plan to remove the 'Family Promise' sign, which is temporary, no lighting is proposed for any signs, and that the church has no objection to a condition of approval that would require approval by Fire, Police, and EMS officials. He stated the size of the footprint of the playground would not change.

Ms. Price marked the November 7, 2014 letter, plans dated on June 5, 2014 by RDS Architects, and a three-page document containing an excerpt of a former site plan dated April 2, 2002 prepared by Andrew Marshall, the same plan modified to show the location of the proposed fencing and gates, and a statement from Bergen Fence of the fence layout, materials and price dated August 27, 2014, collectively as Exhibit A-1. Ms. Price marked Mr. Brancheau's report dated November 17, 2014 as Exhibit B-1.

Pastor Reverend Victor Peterson was sworn by the court reporter and Mr. Rutherford summarized the church’s proposals for the fencing, signs, and the parking lot and asked if the Pastor concurred with the proposed changes. Reverend Peterson agreed and stated it would make it easier for visitors to know where to park; most visitors use the East Room entrance and he described the nursery school operation.

Ms. Price asked Mr. Rutherford to confirm the fence and the gate details. Mr. Rutherford reviewed the fencing details, timeframe the children will be in the play area, that there are no plans to expand the play area and he stated the fencing is being installed to provide a safer area for the children and to comply with the State's requirements. He also said the gates would remain open at all times, except when the children are in the playground.

Ms. Bigos asked how many children are in the pre-school program, how the gates would be secured, if the gates would include a post for the latch, and if the gate would open two ways. Reverend Peterson stated there would be sixty-eight children, there would be double gates with no posts, that the gates would open one way and have a fork locking mechanism.

The Planning Board asked why the Church would not make sign B wall-mounted and smaller in size. The applicant agreed to remove sign B from the plan and add the content of sign B to sign C. The Board asked if all of the information would be readable on sign C. The Board discussed permitting an area of 30 square feet for sign C and asked about the color and materials of the fence. Ms. Gammer, the Director of the Coop Nursery stated they were flexible as to the color.

After deliberating, the Planning Board approved the application with conditions, including: 1) the elimination of the existing “Family Promise” sign and Sign B, 2) that the area of Sign C not exceed 30 square feet, 3) that the gates only open to the inside and not affect vehicle traffic, in particular emergency vehicle traffic, 4) when the gate is open, that there be a lock in place so the gates do not swing freely, 5) that the discrepancies between the Bergen Fence plan specifications and the marked up Andrew Marshall plan be reconciled, 6) that construction details of the fencing and gates be provided, and 7) that the Police, Fire, and EMS approve the fence and gates prior to signing of the plan or issuance of permits.

Halwagy Subdivision, Amended Resolution - Lot Number Changes

Ms. Price stated the amended resolution was on the agenda because the lot numbers were changed by the Tax Assessor; Lot 3.01 became Lot 3.02 and vice versa. Everything else remains the same.  The Board adopted the amendment.

Public hearing Land Use Plan Element of the Master Plan AH-2, B-3-R, C-R and C Zone Districts.

Public questioning of the Village Planner, Mr. Brancheau, continued from the November 3 meeting.

Art Wrubel stated that he supported the idea of higher density housing; however, he sees the visual character as having the greatest potential impact, and suggested more detailed standards. Mr. Brancheau stated that the Master Plan does not get into specific architectural design guidelines, only general principles; but that the ordinance would include more detailed architectural standards. Mr. Brancheau agreed with Mr. Wrubel that visual impact was an important factor.

Steve Libenson, 41 Clinton Avenue, stated the burdens would be borne by current residents and the benefits by future residents of the proposed housing. He questioned the impact on the school system from his estimate of 245 new students. He asked if Mr. Brancheau would be open to creating a more robust projection of new students and their impact.  He asked how many new students would have more than a minor impact on Ridgewood. Mr. Brancheau referred to his report, stating that what will happen is dependent on several factors. Mr. Brancheau disagreed regarding the costs and benefits. Mr. Brancheau also disagreed with the projection of 245 students. Mr. Brancheau stated he didn't feel that a more robust projection is needed now. Mr. Brancheau stated that additional students could mean larger classrooms, redistricting, and/or other things, but without knowing how additional students would be accommodated, the increased cost would be impossible to project. When viewed in the context of the overall school enrollment levels and trends, the impact would be comparatively minor.

Ron Simoncini, 249 Bogart Street, asked if Mr. Brancheau had consulted with the Board of Education, if the Village could set a hard limit on the number of housing units allowed, and if additional research would be worthwhile.  Mr. Brancheau stated the plan does include a density limitation, but not an overall unit limit for the zone. He said that the Board has tried to strike a reasonable balance in the amount of research.

Brian Abdoo, 308 West Ridgewood Avenue, asked Mr. Brancheau if he has an obligation to respond to the will of the people, and if the schools should be a major factor in the decision. He then asked what impacts would result if this housing is permitted, and then it were also permitted in the rest of the Central Business District. Mr. Brancheau stated that if the public's will is something that is a valid consideration, he would respond to it.  Mr. Brancheau stated he looked at trends of school populations, total population and total housing units. He said there would be some school impact and the board attorney apprised the board about the role of fiscal impact and particularly school impact upon planning and zoning decisions, and indicated that zoning and planning are not driven primarily, if at all, by those considerations.  As for such housing spreading to the entire CBD, the market and the economy would have to support it and the land ownership would have to work together to sell and acquire property to make it happen, but that is not realistic.

Felicia Angus, 82 Fairmount Road, asked what the fiscal impact would be to the Village, citing a fiscal impact projection performed in Upper Saddle River.  Mr. Brancheau stated he did not project specific costs, but that various developers had submitted fiscal impact projections and that he had reviewed their projections.  However, the difficulty with the projections is that they are based upon a myriad of assumptions that may not be accurate.  The courts have said that costs should not be a major factor in zoning decisions.

Board Attorney Price commented stated that the Upper Saddle River situation is different because that matter is pending before the Mayor and Council, not the Planning Board. 

Ira Weiner, attorney for CBR, stated he had a problem with Ms. Price making statements. Ms. Price stated that she was not testifying, but providing legal advice for the Board and to the public.

Dave Slomin, 36 Heights Road, asked if a full market place study should be performed, the names of court cases that say that fiscal impacts are not a part of zoning decisions, and who was the author of the amendment. Mr. Brancheau stated it is too speculative to determine what might happen. Mr. Brancheau did not agree that a market study was needed. He referred Mr. Slomin to a number of court cases cited by the Board Attorney.  Mr. Brancheau stated the amendment is both his and the Board’s, and that it was only a draft amendment.

Scott Vandenbosch, 302 Stevens Avenue, asked about the comparables used to project the number of students, why the children from the Oak Street apartments were not included, and the number of children per bedroom. Mr. Brancheau stated he looked at the Rutgers study and found its projections were lower than what occurs in Ridgewood. Mr. Brancheau stated he excluded the Oak Street apartments as he was only looking at the downtown area, and that he looked at school children per bedroom.

9:35 P.M. There was a break and the meeting resumed at 9:46 P.M.

Kelly Ahern, 434 Spring Avenue, asked if it would be beneficial to perform a referendum, if there had been a study of other potential uses for the area and if there had been studies related to safety.  Mr. Brancheau stated the law is clear zoning based on referendum is not permitted, but a referendum would be beneficial in understanding the public sentiment. He stated that safety questions are better answered by traffic consultants, engineers, and others, but that the Village has spent considerable time assessing crosswalk safety and that the plan is attempting to reduce automobile usage and promote mass transit.

Edward Sullivan, owner of properties at 17, 23, 25, 27 and 29 Chestnut Street, asked if analysis has been done on how the proposed housing would be supportive of the local business community, if the amendment would allow a small boutique hotel, and what the impact would be from a large single use retail development.  Mr. Brancheau said a quantitative fiscal analysis of the revenues was not done for the same reason we have not done a quantitative analysis of the tax costs.  He said that a proposal for a boutique hotel could be considered.  The impact of a large retail user has been studied from a traffic perspective, but not in regards to tax revenue, water usage, sewer usage and other aspects.

Pat Middleton, 128 California Street asked if age restrictions could be placed on affordable housing and if senior housing could be required, if the shortage of open space would be incorporated into the master plan.  Mr. Brancheau said that COAH's rules capped the number of age restricted affordable units and that there are legal limitations on imposing age restrictions.  He stated that there could be something in the ordinance that provides for the creation of private amenities related to multi family housing, but not public open space, and that the properties are not well suited for public open space.

Eileen Mullen, 624 Upper Boulevard, asked about instituting a referendum, if Mr. Brancheau considered that apartments are rented to people that don't take up residence in town, but only so their children can use the school system, and if a detailed traffic study was competed.  Mr. Brancheau stated that the Village could conduct a referendum if it wants, and that he did not consider that some people would not live in the apartments, and summarized the findings of the developers’ traffic consultants and the Board's traffic consultant.

Kevin Collins, 135 Crest Road, asked about the magnitude of the developer’s proposed structures and how they relate to the size of the surface areas they are to be built on and relative to the buildings and neighborhoods around them.  Mr. Brancheau stated the master plan amendment that there were three-dimensional studies that were prepared by the developers, and that he had mapped the heights and the floor area ratios in the area. 

John Saraceno, 17 Coventry Court, began to ask a question, but Board Attorney Price stated that since he was a developer who had requested the amendment as was represented by an attorney, that a separate time in the hearing was set-aside for his questions.

Drew Watson, 300 Highland Avenue, asked how these buildings would enhance the character of the CBD and surrounding area, how much weight the board must give to the public good outside of Ridgewood compared to the public good within Ridgewood, and the relevance of comparable projects in other towns. Mr. Brancheau stated that the character would depend in part upon the design and the setbacks of the buildings.  Municipalities are supposed to appropriate weight to the public good within and outside their boundaries.  The use of comparable projects can show that they have been successful and beneficial to other towns.

Christine Rush, 87 California Street, asked what Mr. Brancheau can do to help residents feel more comfortable with this and be more informed so that the Board can hear the residents’ collective wills.  Mr. Brancheau responded that all alternatives have impacts, and it's for the board to decide if the benefits are sufficient, and the impacts sufficiently low.

Oliver Beirsdorf, 50 South Murray, asked what the impacts would be from 500-700 units and who would pay for it, the rationale for the current density limit of 12 units per acre and why it needed to be changed, and who would benefit from the amendment. Mr. Brancheau stated that the impact would depend upon the number and composition of housing units and how the school system accommodated the additional children, but that he gave a reasonable projection projection of how many school children there would be. If costs increase beyond revenues, taxpayers would bear the increased cost. Mr. Brancheau said the current density standard was adopted in the 1990s, as part of the second round housing plan, but had produced no additional housing.  Mr. Brancheau said that the developers and the public would benefit from the proposed development.

Jim McCarthy, 153 Hope Street, asked Mr. Brancheau how he was tasked by the Board to come up with the draft amendment, what zoning alternatives were considered, and if this could be considered spot zoning.  Mr. Brancheau said the Board had two years of discussions initiated by development interests. The Board engaged experts to review the proposals and advise the Board, and received input from various agencies and departments.  Mr. Brancheau stated that the Board then formed a subcommittee to propose draft recommendations.  The committee submitted recommendations to the Board, which the Board discussed and instructed Mr. Brancheau to prepare a draft amendment based upon the discussions. The draft was reviewed by the Board before the hearing. Mr. Brancheau described spot zoning, how the public would benefit, and that the amendment would not cause it to expand, just as the existing multi family developments do not obligate the Village to zone for more multi family housing. He and the Board went through an extensive evaluation and site selection process, where they looked at various criteria. 

Mayor Aronsohn stated the Board has not decided on anything yet and that the plan is just a draft. He stated that there are several options that the Board will consider at the end of hearing.

Lorraine Reynolds, 550 Wyndemere Avenue, asked where the public could obtain a copy of the subcommittee’s report. Ms. Price stated that it was not releasable because it was an oral report to the Board, and any written document was a deliberative work product.

Dana Glazer, 61 Clinton Avenue, asked if the residents have issues after the approval of the plan, such as the need for more police, traffic problems or there are more students than planned, can they go back and make the developers responsible. Mr. Brancheau said the Village can require that safeguards be put into the regulations, but cannot retroactively impose requirements on developers.

Mr. Nalbantian stated the Board would continue the process on Tuesday, December 16 at Benjamin Franklin Middle School and would continue with public questions, Board questions and questions by the developer’s attorneys. There will also be a period of public comment.

The meeting was closed to the public.

The hearing was adjourned at 11:05 p.m., to be continued December 16, 2014.

Executive Session – Mr. Nalbantian moved to start an Executive Session at 11:05 P.M.

The Board returned from Executive Session at 11:55 P.M. and adjourned the meeting.

Respectfully submitted,
      Michael Cafarelli
      Board Secretary

Date approved: January 6, 2015


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