The following minutes are a summary of the Planning Board meeting of June 17, 2014. For more detailed information, interested parties may request an audio recording of the meeting from the Board Secretary for a fee.
Call to Order & Statement of Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act: Chairman Nalbantian called the meeting to order at 7:38 p.m. The following members were present: Mayor Aronsohn, Ms. Bigos, Chairman Nalbantian, Mr. Reilly, Mr. Joel, Ms. Dockray, and Ms. Peters. Also present were: Katie Razin, Esq. and Gail Price, Esq., Board Attorney; Blais Brancheau, Village Planner, Christopher Rutishauser, Village Engineer, and Jane Wondergem, Board Secretary. Councilman Pucciarelli is recused from the hearing on the H – Hospital zone and was absent from the meeting.
Correspondence received by the Board – Ms. Wondergem said there was none.
Public Comments on Topics not Pending Before the Board – There were no comments at this time.
Public Hearing on Amendment to the Land Use Plan Element of the Master Plan for the H-Hospital Zone, The Valley Hospital, 223 N. Van Dien Avenue, Block 3301, Lot 51 – Following is the transcript of this portion of the meeting, prepared by Laura A. Carucci, C.C.R., R.P.R.:
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: So why don't we begin, Item number three, this is a public hearing on the Amendment to the Land Use Plan Element of the Master Plan for the H Hospital Zone, The Valley Hospital, 223 North Van Dien Avenue, Block 3301, Lot 51, for the Board Deliberation and vote.
Before I begin, let me again point out that we have with us, especially given the large crowd this evening, officers and members from the police and fire department for everyone's safety this evening.
Please note the fire exits especially, we have several in the back, the very back. We have two here in the front in case of an emergency (indicating) and in front of the stage.
But please note, ingress and egress should occur during the back during deliberations. If you need to use the rest facilities, please access them through the back and down the corridor.
So, during the last meeting we wrapped up with instructions from the Board's legal Counsel. And tonight you will hear the Board's deliberation and vote regarding the pending amendment to the H Zone and the Master Plan.
Before we begin with the vote and Board's deliberation, I would like to express appreciation to everyone involved in this process over the past 25 or so meetings, including our Village professionals, consultants and staff, Pete McKenna, C.R.R., Valley Hospital representatives and fellow Board members, especially Village residents. Thank you all.
Per the meeting on the 9th, Blais has provided the Board with a copy of a slightly revised Amendment which specifically addressed exhibits that have been marked incorporating Blais's clarification per his memorandum to the Board on March 31st.
Everyone, I see has a copy at this time.
So, let's move ahead to deliberations. And this is important, I again ask everyone to remain quiet during these deliberations. It's important that we all hear what's said without disruption or interruption.
Thanks in advance for that.
One final closing comment, let the record show that all certifications have been received.
Mr. Mayor, would you like to begin?
MAYOR ARONSOHN: Sure, thank you.
Thank you very much. Before I have a prepared statement, before I read it, I just also want to express my gratitude, first to my fellow Board members for all the time and effort you've put into this. I say that as not only as a member of the Village Council who appointed you to these positions, don't hold that against me, but also as a resident who is very grateful for all the time and effort you put into this and all the seriousness you bring to this. It is much appreciated.
I also want to thank our Board professionals, Chris, Blais, Gail, Katie, you guys have been tremendous, you’ve been a tremendous resource for all of us. At times I know people sometimes give you some flack, they question your objectivity, but the truth is you've been nothing but professionals with us. And you've been there to answer all of our questions in a very objective way. And I do appreciate that.
Also, of course, our residents, particularly those of you who have been camping out here with us for the last 15 months. I really appreciate and respect your dedication and your commitment to this issue and to our community in general. It's really wonderful that you come out here night after night and express your views and listen to the deliberations and participate, fully participate, in this whole process.
And I also want to thank those residents who have come maybe for one or two meetings, sometimes they get criticized that they don't sort of stick it out with us and, you know, sit here for the entire process, but people have other things going on in their lives and people are busy. And I respect the fact that whether it's just an e mail or if somebody comes here for a meeting that they too want to have their voice heard and I appreciate that.
And, particularly, I would like to note the folks that work at Valley Hospital, some of the medical staff who have come here. I think it's tremendous. I'm sure they are under a lot of pressure. It's probably not an easy thing for them to do, and I really appreciate them lending their voice to this process.
So with that I would like to read my prepared statement.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Board members, fellow residents.
There is absolutely no question about it, this is a defining moment in the life of our community. Defining in the sense that the decision we will take tonight, and the manner in which we take it, will likely have far reaching implications for our hospital, for our residents, for our entire community. It will not just impact the look and feel of the hospital zone and the adjacent neighborhoods, it will also render judgment on the utility and integrity of our Master Plan as well as the utility and integrity of our Planning Board process. This is important because the plan and the process are essential to Ridgewood's future. In fact, the decision we make tonight and the conversation we carry forward will help shape Ridgewood for years to come. It is, therefore, imperative that we not only take great care with that decision, but that we take great care with that conversation as well. That means respecting the views expressed tonight, even if we disagree with them. That means respecting the people involved in this process, regardless of their position on this issue. That means respecting and honoring and embracing the fact that we are a community of good people with good intentions who sometimes disagree on important issues. And that's okay. We can disagree without being disagreeable, without personalizing the conversation and attacking one another, without demonizing those whose point of view is different than our own.
The truth is, here in Ridgewood, we are very fortunate. Unlike many other municipalities, as a community, we rarely have to confront life and death issues. And in fact, unlike many other municipalities, as a community, we have the time, the capacity and the ability to engage big picture, far reaching Master Plan issues in a thoughtful way. Again, we are very fortunate.
Granted, this has been a long, sometimes frustrating process. Too often these proceedings resembled a detailed site plan review rather than a hearing on a proposed change to our Master Plan. And too often these proceedings have degenerated into shouting matches or contentious, rude exchanges that undermine, not just the dialogue in the hearing process, but more importantly, they have undermined the strong sense of community that is central to life here in Ridgewood. Indeed, for several years we have let this issue divide us. We have let this issue tear at the very fabric that holds our community together. We have let this issue pit neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, family against family. This it truly unfortunate and completely unnecessary and this cannot continue. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to embody and give voice to a higher level of civility and a higher level of mutual respect.
You know this morning I attended a funeral for a young man, Patrick Moran. Patrick was a 19 year old, he was the son of somebody who is near and dear to many of us in this room, Mary Jo Leighton. Mary Jo is a reporter at The Bergen Record and as many of you know, she covered this very issue for several years. She had to take a leave of absence about a year ago to not only care for her son who was struggling with melanoma, but to care for herself because she too was diagnosed with cancer.
And at the funeral today, the central theme in everyone's remarks from the clergy to Mary Jo's husband, Tom, was love, was this concept of love and the importance of love and the power of love.
And when Tom spoke of his son, Patrick he spoke about a boy who appreciated this, and who got this, and who even in his darkest days when he was struggling with this disease, he would make it a point to note how blue the sky was and how lucky he was to be surrounded by friends and family and be surrounded by love. And I share this with you, I point this out to you because I think Patrick's funeral, Patrick's life, Mary Jo's story, is a real compelling backdrop to the discussion we're having tonight, to the discussion we've had over the last few years, to the discussion taking place in towns across the state, across the country, discussions that sometimes get a little too contentious, a little too personal, a little too nasty. And I share this with you because I think it's an important reminder that although this Valley proposal is a very important issue to all of us, it's not the most important issue. There are other things more important and we should never lose sight of that. We should never lose that perspective.
Anyway, having said all that, let me turn now to the issue at hand, whether to support Valley Hospital's proposed amendment to the Master Plan.
From my perspective, this issue, like any issue that comes before this Board, comes down to one simple, albeit, all important question: What is best for Ridgewood? In answering that question, I am clearly mindful of the hospital's "inherently beneficial use". And I am clearly mindful that N.J.S.A. 40:55D 28 authorizes municipal bodies to act in a manner "which protects public health and safety and promotes the general welfare". In fact, the determination to act in a manner which protects public health and safety and promotes general welfare drives all of my decisions as Mayor, as a Council member and as a member of this Board. It was through that prism that I considered the Valley Hospital proposal as a member of the Village Council in 2011, and it is through that prism that I consider it right now.
To me, both then and now, there has been no question that Valley Hospital provides a beneficial use to Ridgewood and the entire vicinity. It plays a very important role in our community as a provider of first class healthcare, as well as being a good neighbor. And to me both then and now, there has been no question that the Master Plan, as previously written and as is currently in practice, "Protects public health and safety and promotes the general welfare".
So, it stands to reason that, one, any change to the Master Plan or current practice must meet that standard or improve upon it; and two, that it is incumbent upon Valley Hospital to make the case for change because Valley Hospital is the one advocating a departure from the status quo, the one advocating that we try something new.
In both circumstances, both then and now, it has been Valley's burden to prove that change is warranted and to prove that its proposed change will continue to "Protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare."
And having sat through 15 months of testimony, having reviewed the submissions and having re read the transcripts, and having thought through all of the relevant issues, having done all of this, I don't believe that the hospital has met this burden. I don't believe that the hospital has effectively made the case of the proposed change would sufficiently "Protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare." And while I believe that some change may be warranted and even necessary, I don't believe that the hospital's proposed change would serve the interest of our community.
In other words
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Please hold the applause.
MAYOR ARONSOHN: In other words, in answer to the all important question, I don't believe that Valley Hospital's proposed amendment is best for Ridgewood. And, as such, I will be voting against the amendment.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Ladies and gentlemen, now I asked you at the beginning if you wouldn't mind, if you can hold your applause until the end. Please don't disrupt. Let people speak. Thank you.
MS. BIGOS: Thank you, Chairman.
I, too, am appreciative to the dedication, the many hours of commitment, to my fellow professionals and members of the Ridgewood Planning Board. Thank you my friends.
Ms. Price, thank you. This afternoon during my lunch and after work I listened to the transcripts from last night's meeting. I am most grateful for your thorough presentation. I have listened to the instructions, the review of the Municipal Land Use Law, the charge and responsibility of the Ridgewood Planning Board and the importance and comprehensive understanding of this entire process.
As the Ridgewood Planning Board, one made up of only Ridgewood residents, we have heard more than 16 months or 25 meetings of testimony from experts, whether it be planning, construction, traffic and safety, environmental, healthcare or legal. We have heard and listened to the passionate comments from our fellow neighbors and my friends. We have reviewed and examined numerous documents, exhibits, testimonies, reports. All of this with an unbiased mind.
I am to understand that the present charge of the Planning Board before you this evening is either to deny or accept the modified, proposed amendment to the Land Use Element of the Master Plan H Zone, utilizing all of the testimony that has been provided through this process with a full and unbiased review.
The questions that we need to consider are, is the 2013 modified proposed Master Plan Amendment of greater betterment than that already in existence from 2010? Does it fulfil the requirement of being of inherently beneficial use, according to the Municipal Land Use Law? Is it considered a value and benefit, both locally and regionally? In comparison, do the positives outweigh the negatives? We are all well aware of each.
I recognize that the decisions that will be made this evening will be challenging and all will have risk, and will only be successful as the Mayor says, as we come together as a community, as a Village. We work together to find the balance, a mutually agreeable solution, one with all of our neighbors involved speaking, listening, hearing and working side by side. Our Village is like none other.
I am in support of this modified Land Use Plan Element of the Master Plan for the H Zone.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Thank you, Nancy.
MS. PETERS: Thank you.
As the newest member of the Planning Board, it has been quite the learning experience. And I, too, wish to thank everyone for your attendance at these meetings, the extensive discussions that have taken place, the superb lawyering I've had the opportunity to witness. And I do want you to know how truly humbled I am in order to be a process and to be able to help and assist in choosing a path for the Village of Ridgewood.
In many respects, we have inherited this 2010 Amendment, I feel that way myself. There's only two members of the current Planning Board were present during that time period. And the fact that an amendment exists, the question to me is, well does it make it right? We can look back at many laws that have occurred in the past and there has been change as lives changed. Technology changes, as the hospital has pointed out and meeting the needs of a changing community. But what is appropriate development? The decisions as we have been wisely governed by our Counsel Gail Price, and I thank her too for our directions we received last night. A decision that we make is not to pass on to our Zoning Board, the responsibility to make a decision that we need to structure in our Master Plan.
So, what testimony is credible? We have heard many, many, many hours.
We have issues that were raised in 2010, which I believe Valley has discussed, mitigating the groundwater issue. They have offered solutions to moving the hospital personnel traffic, the use of shuttle buses. They have discussed all of this and traffic solutions working with our Department of Transportation.
I want to go back to November 26, 2013, where our traffic consultant Gordon Meth did comment that currently the traffic at the hospital is for a facility of 995,000 square feet. One of the suggestions made were that there should be services moved off site and the hospital said they would do so. We heard testimony from Dr. Shannon Magari if I mispronounced her name, please forgive me, very, very compelling as an environmental expert. We have heard Steven Evers, the Valley architect speaking about the reduced size. We understand the changing needs of technology and the inappropriateness of obtaining variances, variance relief, from our Zoning Board. And we look to the ultimate plan that Mr. Evers discussed. It was a new hospital with new area in a new area, splitting the hospital into two or building at the existing site. These, I believe, are business decisions and the hospital has the right to make their own business decisions.
But are they the right decisions for our community? Importantly, we have a case that Ms. Price brought to our attention again last night, the Howell Properties versus the Township of Brick where our Superior Court spoke quite clearly as to viewing the ramifications of decision on the local level, and also on a larger regional level. And this is again, as our Mayor pointed out, and I thank you so much for what you said opening remarks. As our New Jersey annotated 40:55D 7, the fundamental premise that and I quote from the case, "The public use of streets is broader than the mere use of residents of a single municipality". That does cause pause as we think and as has been argued by Valley, that the hospital, itself, is not just for a few, but for many. But yet how does the hospital affect those of us in the community? The exercise of municipality's legislative authority is to advance one of the purposes of the Municipal Land Use Law, to regulate property within its boundary lines with consideration of the general welfare of neighboring municipalities.
We heard Sheila Brogan's testimony about the effect of construction in the schools. And having been a public school teacher, I can say I support her decision that teachers will prevail, they will teach no matter what situation they are put into.
We have heard the land use expert, Peter Steck speak. And I want to point to something that Peter McKenna spoke about on October 29, 2013. We should not be dictating how a business should run, but what is the use of the land? And he spoke about the 1983 resolution. Being that I live on the opposite side of town, I could say, well, hello, that hospital's been there for a very long time, you knew it when you moved there and you think that they wouldn't make changes?
But, yet, Mr. McKenna pointed out that as residents moved into the area, they were looking to see how the legislation, the persons like ourselves, are maintaining the direction of the Village. And I believe there is a reliance that trust is placed into persons like the Board members, that they should make the right decisions.
Much discussion has been of the inherent beneficial use of the hospital. But I wish to just cite back to our planner, Blais Brancheau on May 6th of this year where he commented that there are instances where the detriment of a project is so great that it can be rejected, even if there is a beneficial use.
So, in my opinion, there are items that need further analysis and there are modifications that are necessary.
I vote against this amendment.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Please hold your applause. Please hold your applause. Thank you very much.
MS. DOCKRAY: Okay. I don't think I am going to be as eloquent as the Board members that precede me, but I do want to also thank my fellow Board members, residents and Valley Hospital for all the time and effort that has gone into these hearings.
And I feel very privileged to be up here. And I take this responsibility very seriously.
First off, again, like the Board members before me, I recognize the benefit of Valley Hospital. It's truly a fine institution. I understand its needs to create single bed rooms, additional operational room space, and I think they did an excellent job in demonstrating that to us. I do, however, have significant concerns about the development of the site. I will say that in addition to attending every meeting, reviewing every exhibit, listening to all the testimony, I did spend time on the site. I walked Linwood Avenue. I drove Steilen Avenue because you can't park there. I walked Van Dien. And, actually, I drove because it was not good for parking either. And I did it more than once. I also did it particularly during the time we had the height test, you remember the orange banner or whatever on the top the top of the building. And I did it separately to observe traffic and students exiting from the school last week.
Having said all that, my concerns are as follows. First off, I looked at the proposed amendment relative to the 2010 Amendment, but I also looked very closely at existing conditions. The maximum gross of floor area of the proposed Amendment is 900,000. This represents an improvement over the 2010 Amendment where the maximum gross floor area was 1,170,000. This however, compares to the existing square footage of 562,000. Mr. Burgis, the planner for the hospital, argued in our last meeting that reducing the square footage from 1,170,000 to 900,000 was a significant reduction in use. He indicated that anything more than 10 percent was considered significant. And that is a 22 percent decline. Taking the same approach, I believe going from 562,000 to 900,000 or up 60 percent, is a significant increase in the intensity of use of the site. Similarly, if you look at the building mass above grade, with the data provided by Mr. Brancheau, the number goes from 405,000 square feet to over 1 million square feet, or upwards of 150 percent. So as I looked at the site, I envision, you know, multiple, multiple, multiple expansions of square footage on the location.
As our plan indicated, the proposed building height was greater than permitted for other nonresidential uses in the Village, which range from 35 to 50 feet, not including rooftop equipment. Proposed height range from 45 feet for the deck, to 67 feet to the west the South building, to 70 feet for the North building, plus 24 for rooftop equipment as well. This is far higher than any structure in town and dramatically higher than the homes in the residential neighborhoods that surround the hospital, which I believe are between 30 to 35 feet. I do not support 24 feet with rooftop equipment. So, the North Building relative to its immediate neighbors is up to three times as high, maybe more. As I said earlier, I did observe the height test from Linwood, Van Dien, Steilen and Glen, and believe the height of the North Building to be a significant detriment to those neighborhoods, and will significantly impact the quality of life for residents particularly on Van Dien and Steilen. I am afraid the residents on the north end of Steilen will look out their windows and see wall and more wall.
It is interesting to note that the current setback from Cheel Building from Steilen is 157 feet. The proposed is 70 for the part of the building for one part of the building and for the lower part of the building and 120 for the higher part.
I also have some concerns about the parking garage structure on the site, given its height and proximity to the homes on Linwood, Steilen and Van Dien. Again 45 feet is significantly taller than the adjacent homes, and many homes look to the large structure from the front of their homes. Even with a buffer, I have concern not only about headlights, I understand that the top of the garage layer will not be used at night, but still I am concerned about noise and engines turning on and off, horns blowing and screeching tires, typical of parking garages. Valley is a 24 hour facility. I have some questions about the actual needs and the garage and the parking requirements on site. At one point when it became apparent that the proposal for 2,000 cars was not necessary, 300 spots were removed from the proposed amendment. It was removed from the underground garage. In my mind, those spots should have been removed from the above ground garage, due to the impact of the garage on the site and adjacent homes. Furthermore, I found the testimony of Mr. Olivo, who claimed that 100 spots out of 700 spots for employees be left vacant a stretch in terms of the likelihood of such a large number of vacant spots being reported. Furthermore, there is testimony that during construction of Phase I employees will be shuttled from Paramus to the site. In my mind, far more important on the site is the construction of the health related needs to the hospital, not convenient parking for employees.
Given the intensity of the proposed use and construction on the site, and the limited amount of land with which we are dealing and the hospital is dealing, I think the option of shuttling a significant number of employees on a permanent basis to an off site location should have been considered.
In terms of traffic improvement, I considered the 430 trip per day to be minimal. According to the testimony of Mr. Neth Meth, sorry, the Board's traffic engineer, the number of peak hour trips in and out of Valley currently is in the range of 670 to 780 or thereabouts. With two peak hours we're talking maybe 1400 car trips over two hours. Add to that another 22 hours of operation, which I believe currently operates at less than peak, I know that, the 430 car trips does not strike me as a very significant number. I understand that 430 compared to the 2010 Amendment, but I cannot discern testimony that indicated that the 430 trips is on top of an already reduced count. In sum, I recognize and appreciate Valley's interest in upgrading to single bedded rooms and expanding its operating and treatment rooms and moving some services off site.
However, I think the current proposed amendment represents overdevelopment of the site and diminishes the compatibility of the hospital's operations and the surrounding residential neighborhood.
On balance I'm not convinced that the amendment before us is the best one in terms of promoting public health and safety and the general welfare of the community.
My vote is no.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Please hold your applause.
MR. REILLY: Okay. Thank you, Charles.
First I hope you don't mind if I am reading with a laptop, this happens to be the night my home computer got very angry at me and I was in Connecticut most of the day so I never got to my office. So I'm reading off my laptop which has a minimal charge. So if I start speaking very fast that's because the battery is running down.
Well, first, let me join my fellow members of the Planning Board in thanking everybody who stayed with us for this very long process. There were many nights we went late, it was tedious, it was long. There was a lot of evidence. The evidence got very disjointed because of the nature of our scheduling. So it took a lot of discipline to stay with it. And plenty of people in the audience stayed with it, they asked intelligent questions, useful questions. And I think it turned out to be a very comprehensive kind of a beneficial process all the way on through. After tonight it's finished, one way or another.
Let me also say Valley put on a very professional case. And the applicant's witnesses and evidence were helpful in speaking personally, but I think for everybody too, in my getting a sense of what the project entailed in full. Valley also addressed in their presentation of evidence many of the issues that we're concerned with, and we would have to take into consideration if we are going to have a fair and comprehensive review of the application. Valley witnesses offered evidence as to how some of the impacts could be mitigated in varying degrees. And I found a lot of that evidence to be either unrebutted or credible. I am only speaking personally I had no reason to discredit certain of this evidence.
Other impacts, however, in my judgment, could not adequately be mitigated, which leads to the further question whether those impacts could be dispositive, were dispositive, with respect to the viability of the proposed project or fall into the category of inconveniences that have to be accepted. The short answer is some yes, some no. And of course that requires an elaboration which is going to be the subject of my my following comments.
As I listened to the evidence over the past several months, and as I reviewed the evidence over the past couple of weeks, I kept three main principals in mind, my own analysis started with, first: Valley owns its property, they should be able to use it in accordance with local zoning. It's not seeking to expand its property lines, the nature of its use as a hospital essentially the same; second, with regard to impacts, and there are indeed impacts, the burden of persuasion rests on Valley as the applicant to show that the proposed Amendment to the Master Plan and the re zoning that would have to follow in order to implement the project, is a benefit rather than an detriment to the community; and, third, the issue is not just whether neighbors are inconvenienced, we can certainly be sympathetic, but the issue involved a broader field of vision including the neighborhood as part of the community, but also as her instructions indicated last night, the community as a whole and the region.
It's a truism, I think, that one who buys property takes it subject to the existing conditions in the neighborhood. Valley's been operating for a long time at that site. People who purchase homes nearby, have to be deemed to know ambulances are going to be coming and going, there's going to be reasonably anticipated traffic flow into and out of the hospital. And they also have to anticipate, there's going to be some expanded conforming uses on the site. The same usually goes if one buys a home next to a church or synagogue or a school or a police precinct. Certain activities have to be anticipated that flow from the legal use. However, there's a point where expanded use leads to results including an expansion of the physical facility, which could not be reasonably be anticipated when homeowners moved in. So, my own analysis also turned to that question, whether the extent of the proposed expansion, in this case, superseded the general principal that people purchased homes subject to the legal surrounding uses in the vicinity.
As I considered these questions, I also kept in mind the instruction that our Counsel provided and discussed last night and I found those to be thorough and helpful. I divided my own analysis into two components which have some degree of overlap. The construction phases and those impacts that result, and the operational phase after the construction is completed, and those impacts.
It's probably another truism there are always impacts caused by a project of any significant size. So my own approach was to analyze the evidence as evenly as I could to evaluate whether the impacts were of a kind or a degree that caused material detriments that outweighed the benefits to the community that may result from the hospital expansion.
I think it's not a controversial conclusion that Valley, as presently situated and operated, is of some benefit to the community. The question, of course, is whether the proposed expansion becomes a detriment to the community's health, safety or general welfare. And in the latter category, we considered evidence including quality of life issues, visual impact, noise and various sources of pollution.
First, the geological evidence. I understand that the dewatering was a major source of conflict for the 2010 Amendment. I wasn't part of that discussion, but I've heard this. Having heard from Valley's witness and reviewed his documentation and having heard from the Board's own experts, it seems to me that dewatering for the proposed project, this time around will not present a major detriment. While there may be occasions when there's the peak flow, I believe the number was 300,000 gallons a day, the evidence seems to indicate this can be handled without a significant upset. I recall no expert testimony to the contrary pertaining to this project. And I find no reason to discredit the evidence that we have. The challenge was evidence concerning ground conditions, settling and subsidence in the main, also seem to be unrebutted by expert testimony. And while this may remain an area of concern, and I think it has to be carefully monitored, I don't have a clear basis in my mind to reject it. I found Valley's evidence regarding on site dust suppression to be somewhat equivocal. I heard about methodology, but I think the real test will be how it works during construction. But it seems to me that dust suppression is an intermittent impact that can be corrected during construction. Blasting presents another problem that Valley's evidence addressed with a technological explanation which I think would have to be carefully monitored if the project goes forward.
The role of traffic and how to mitigate it became a core point of dispute. As a parent who sat waiting for a light to change and a line of cars to move on many mornings when I dropped off my children and, again, in the afternoon, although to a lesser degree, when I picked them up, I can attest, as any parent can here, that Linwood and North Van Dien is a major choke point for traffic. I recall some of the evidence reflected a traffic problem going west to east. But it struck me the real problem is south to north passing the hospital's main entrance en route to the school. In any case, in either case, any increase in traffic will be a significant impact. I recall Valley's general evidence regarding the proposed reduction in cars entering and exiting the site because medical services could be moved off site and employment shifts can be adjusted. At the moment, that seems to me to be only a proposal that would have to be looked at in detail if the project goes forward. However, it seems to me to be obvious that any increase in vehicle use at the site, let alone visitors to the patients, will exacerbate a problem that is already significant. In my view, while Valley has made a proposal about reducing the number of cars, that remains inconclusive until such time as the details can be worked out. I'm not sure that the Village would be willing to do regular traffic studies after the expanded hospital is in operation to verify Valley's projections. And if there are exceedances, I'm not sure the Village can do anything about it. So, Valley's evidence may be in the category of optimistic, but unverifiable projections although I'm not prepared to reject it outright, nor am I relying on it. Valley also argued that all point traffic lanes and signaling at that corner could facilitate traffic flow and may even improve it over the current situation. Personally, I remain unconvinced. So in my judgment eliminating the traffic problem caused by the project, more than merely mitigating it somewhat, was part of Valley's task and I've not been persuaded.
Traffic raises a different problem though, which led to a question that I addressed to Valley during rebuttal last week. During construction, thousands of truck trips will be entering and leaving the property, and they will have to be routed through at least part of the community to reach either Valley or a disposal destination for debris. I realize that the project is phased and the truck traffic will not be all the time. Nevertheless, the sheer number of estimated truck trips presents several significant impacts. First, it's very reasonable to assume that the estimate provided may be a low number, that is defensible, for present purposes, but which may be exceeded if circumstances require. While I concede that any particular number in that regard will be speculative, I note that the number already provided is merely an estimate. And estimates are always adjusted during major construction. The trucks bringing in equipment and materials create noise and inconvenience and present their own traffic issues as they approach and enter or leave the site. I know that Valley offered evidence to try to mitigate the obvious safety issues, but it's not an unsupported worry that statistically there is a real possibility of accidents, notwithstanding the most diligent safety measures. And human error cannot be conclusively eliminated. I mark this in my mine as a continuing worry. The same concern exists for trucks leaving the property with debris. However, debris creates its own concerns despite the best diligence, again, especially if trucks become overloaded. I do not offer this as a conclusion since it's somewhat speculative, but I have as a continuing concern that I cluster with the other concerns that cannot be proven one way or another at the outset. Debris can also be dust and particulates. In fact, these thousands of truck trips will likely result in emissions of fumes and particulates that will be an impact on the vicinity of the truck routes. Even with the cleanest of the vehicles, unless the contractor proposes to use electric vehicles, there will be an aggregate impact from emissions from the thousands of truck trips.
I don't think that impact can be adequately mitigated. Considered alone it might not be fatal, since it's the same as any major construction project, but I include it in the basket of other impacts. And I recall the evidence as to which route will be selective of the trucks, whichever route is selected will present impacts even if the impacts might vary. There are also impacts these are also impacts that are hard to monitor, unlike on site noise or site dust or blasting, because in effect the truck is a moving target and we're talking about thousands of truck trips.
The construction related impacts will continue is my time up? Did I speak too long?
The construction related impacts will continue over a period of several years. While some mention was made recently about a ten year project, I recall that the estimate by Valley's construction manager is it on.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Maybe go back to where you were before.
MR. REILLY: Am I back on?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: No. No.
MR. REILLY: Am I back on?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.
MR. REILLY: Getting to the end.
The construction related impacts will continue over a period of several years. While some mention was made recently about a ten year project, I recall that the estimate by Valley's construction manager and other witnesses was that it would be closer to six years. Even six years, though, is an extensive time period. It's also not unreasonable to consider that timeframes of construction projects seem to be chronically imprecise. Even though the contracts include Time of the Essence clauses and there are penalties for delayed performance and as to the latter, we don't know how the contracts will actually be drafted.
At the present time, all we are all we have are representations by interested witnesses. Although I assume the Village will have some degree of involvement, I don't know if the Village, as a non party contract, can insist on penalty provisions. All that aside, even six years can be a very long time in a small Village, even when we know that phasing means that there will be relatively quiet periods. And whether or not Valley can keep the project tor six years is unknowable at this point. Again, it's only an estimate.
Hence the impacts caused by the construction, even if they can be mitigated to a degree, have to be viewed in the context of an extended time period, which in my judgment, escalates the impacts.
The scale of the resultant facility has been a point of debate. My own judgment is that the expanded footprint, itself, is not substantial impact since I credit Valley that foliage and walls in some locations and sidewalk setbacks can screen the lower parts of the buildings. There also is merit in what seems to be an expanded green area at ground level, which reduces storm water runoff, reduces the parking lot as a key item during the summer months and just seems healthier as well as in my view, more aesthetically pleasing.
The rearrangement in the buildings at ground level does not cause a community detriment, although I can understand the concern of some close neighboring properties.
However, the excessive height above the tree line of several buildings creates a visual impact that in my judgment cannot be adequately mitigated. A structure of that height in a different location might present a lesser impact. However, this is the part of the community that excepting the hospital and a school is low density residential. I do not see any reasonable way that the highest structures can be visually integrated into the landscape. And the impact is not only to the surrounding property owners, but to residents of several blocks away. And to all residents as they walk, drive or even bicycle in the surrounding neighborhood. The eye will always be drawn to that visual impediment which will remain an obstruction in the landscape. And unlike some of the other impacts which I've looked at that can be corrected over time, it would be permanent. Essentially, it's the equivalent of taking something like Hackensack hospital, which is in a busy mixed use urban area and dropping it into the quiet and visually pleasing landscape of a small village, which, in fact, describes the impact to our small low scale village.
Finally, I understand that the proposed amendment is of the 2010 Master Plan and Valley's Counsel insisted that the 2010 Amendment was the only relevant point to reference.
However, that's a paper plan that was never implemented and won't be unless the zoning is amended. What exists on the site now is what Village residents are familiar with.
While I keep one eye on the 2010 Amendment as a point of reference, I feel that I cannot ignore what actually exists today as a baseline for evaluating the impacts that will result from the proposed project and the operation that will be built as the hospital has proposed. I also have taken into account that an enlarged and reconfigured Valley Hospital may provide some regional benefits, although I think that any additional benefits are somewhat inconclusive as a counterpoint to the benefits already provided.
I also realize that reconfigured medical services might provide some benefit to some Ridgewood residents. However, we have an operating Valley Hospital now and in its present operations and internal configuration are grandfathered, the present structure. If the application is denied, Valley will not be restricted in continuing that use by virtue of the Village's land use decisions.
And as was discussed last evening, Valley's business model, its competitive position, its economics, are not before us as a Planning Board, even if we may be personally interested in the hospital's financial health, so to speak. Just as the economic consequences for neighboring residents is not before us.
This is a land use decision that requires us to review the benefits versus the detriments to the community. My own evaluation of the evidence leads to a conclusion that the impacts, considered the aggregate but also some considered individually, are detrimental to the community to a degree that I vote to deny the amendment.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Richard?
VICE CHAIRMAN JOEL: I would like to thank my fellow Board members for hearing this matter, I mean a lot of hours, a lot of evidence, a lot of witnesses, a lot of effort. We all live in this Village and we want to do what is right by the Village.
The attorneys put on a great presentation in this matter, it's first rate. We had 27 meetings in this matter. You've listened to Valley's witnesses and architects, a planner, geotech, traffic, construction management, environmental expert, hospital facilities planner and construction management expert. C.R.R. also presented a land use expert and other witnesses. And the public also was very involved in this process. They had tons of questions, tons of comments and that's also helpful. We also had lots of exhibits in this matter to review. We had 19 Board exhibits, 36 hospital exhibits and 11 objector exhibits. We also had legal briefs to review in this matter. So, it's a lot to filter through, but the Board is up to the task and we take this very seriously. We've reviewed all the evidence in this matter and we have to strike a balance seeing what is right for the Village. We have to review the 2013 Amendment and see if it's a greater benefit than the 2010 existing Amendment.
And we all probably wrestled with this matter for the whole 16 months, and you keep thinking through, you know, what's the right decision in this? You look at the bulk of the building, I mean it's almost doubling, and also the height will be 70 feet plus 24 for a total of 94. There will also be a big parking garage and if you look at it, coming into Ridgewood, there are two primary places that you come in off 17, either Ridgewood Avenue or Linwood Avenue. So I think it's it's actually like a gateway road coming into the Village.
So I think this project is just unprecedented. It's too big. The residences in the area and the neighborhood would just be dwarfed by this project. I mean there's a lot of adverse effects, you've heard some fellow Board members, running through them, I mean the light, air and space. The project would be overwhelming. It would affect the aesthetics for the neighborhood. It would be an adverse effect. I mean we have a beautiful town, we'd like to keep it that way. But I think there would be more harm coming from this amendment than any good that we would realize from it.
There is also a traffic increase, whether it's regular traffic or construction traffic. Kevin touched on, you know, there's environmental issues with that also. There's such an intensity with this project, I mean with the building, itself, and then the construction, so that would it's a total rebuild, this construction, and the duration would be a long time. It would be very disruptive, we would have a lot of noise, a lot of particulate dust, construction activity. And that's not without impact. I think we would have a very bad impact on this town, on the school, the residences and the Village as a whole.
I understand that Valley is an inherently beneficial use and you have to take into account the interests of the local residents and the regional area, but when you balance it all out, the evidence, I feel, balances in favor of denying this amendment.
So I vote no
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Thank you, Richard. Thank you fellow Board members.
One of the great things about this Board and the fact, as evidenced from this deliberation, are the various views and emphasis that each of us have. There has been very little repetition. A lot of different perspectives on what we've experience. So I'll try not to be repetitive.
We all know that the Village Master Plan is a policy statement and the basis for Zoning Ordinances which are established by our Village Council and the guides for land use in the manner in which can protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare. Part of our objective here is to see if this pending amendment can support a better Master Plan for Ridgewood while serving this purpose, one that could effectively guide the creation of a supporting ordinance by the Village Council.
During the testimonies of this process, many compelling questions were asked by Village citizens and this Board to help our process in determining this. This was especially challenging because we're dealing with a hospital zone, an inherently beneficial use of land offering regional services and not just to our Village. In addition, the simple fact that Valley Hospital is an existing and active facility where any improvement to the site must be done while it also maintains high quality hospital functions during the construction. This alone is not trivial, it's a hard reality in my mind, which has limiting effects.
We also had to accept parameters of a Court Order for these hearings to try to find compromise. Let me touch on a few important areas of concern.
With regard to environmental impact during any stage of construction, I believe that any future developer's agreement language following a site plan submission will address many details and concerns which are too specific for a Master Plan, this Master Plan. Any Environmental Impact Study can and should be part of a future process whether this passes or not. I also believe an ordinance relating to this proposed amendment, if approved, must be carefully crafted by our Village Council. It must include essential and specific detail to protect our citizens and children. They need to include controls over odors, dust, bus fumes, noise, the impact to groundwater, neighboring foundations, et cetera. All as we heard during testimony. I believe that any Ordinance preparation for these issues by Village Council can be both robust and specific so that our citizens, especially our children, will be protected. I expect The Valley Hospital will be bound to strict compliance of these issues during any site plan process in the future.
Regarding intensity of use, I am satisfied that the facts on the record correlate with the language of the proposed Amendment although the square footage reduction is only approximately 260,000 square feet less, added setbacks and buffers with more green space is clearly desirable. A modernized Valley Hospital will require state mandated single rooms with any new construction, so significant added space is required to support the number of beds at Valley Hospital today if it were to modernize to single rooms. And preemption with the state prohibits us in these proceedings from challenging the State Health Department regarding Valley Hospital keeping roughly the same number of beds they currently have, if they were to modernize.
With so many variables in play to accommodate concerns regarding expanding underground, given dewatering and excavation and construction timetables, coupled with the need for desirable green space, buffers for neighbors and setbacks, it seems allowance for a taller building in a single controlled location within the H Zone is a reasonable compromise, albeit a difficult one for me and most of us to easily accept.
Nonetheless, the language in this proposed amendment attempts to protect against significant increases in intensity requiring Valley to relocate certain outpatient services to alternate locations, it restricts and limits the area where the tallest structure could exist and limits parking to 1700 spaces. The proposed amendment attempts to provide some balance while offering some protection to the neighborhood.
Regarding traffic, although time will ultimately tell, it's my view that based on testimony from study data presented and contemplated road improvement and turn lanes and modern signaling at intersections near Valley and schools and the relocation of outpatient services, this proposed amendment might improve traffic situations around the hospital. Again, time will tell should this move forward.
The safety of pedestrians, especially our school children is, and will continue to be, paramount in the areas around Glen, Van Dien and Linwood Avenue. I cannot contemplate anything less, and we must be mindful of this in general during any site plan application going forward in this area regardless of whether this amendment passes or not.
Although inappropriate for this Master Plan amendment, I have stated my personal view before, that it would not unreasonable for the Village Council, if they deemed it appropriate, to explore additional revenue generating mechanisms in cooperation with the Valley Hospital. Since they are not a tax paying resident, on this specific site, this would be in addition to the current payments for Ridgewood for the use of services and infrastructure such as water and sewage. Perhaps Valley would consider voluntary action going forward regardless of this Master Plan Amendment proceeds or not.
These are just a few considerations, all in all I believe this proposed Amendment attempts to address concerns raised by the Village Council and their reason for denial of an ordinance implementing the standing 2010 Amendment and C.R.R. Although perfection may be impossible given the circumstances here, I believe there exists, in this Amendment, a foundation for sound ordinance to be established by Village Council. It will take a great deal of care to do this right, regardless of the direction we take.
I believe most residents want Valley to be a high quality facility that can offer the best and most advanced care possible. And I have not heard anyone suggest that they want a failed or less than excellent hospital in their town here in Ridgewood.
Without being spooked by the many potential "what ifs" many of us may have wondered during this process, I'm of the view that this proposed Master Plan Amendment is an improvement over what we currently have and we have Village residents and the Village Council to thank for this, for this improvement.
I also believe that a policy statement, as a policy statement, this Amendment is more concise and, therefore, does a better job at allowing the flexibility and basis for deliberate ordinance by Village Council and the guide for land use in a manner which can protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare.
Based largely on these points, I intend to vote in favor of this plan H Zone Amendment of the Ridgewood Master Plan.
Okay. Is there something more any members of the Board would like to say at this time?
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Is there a motion on the floor?
VICE CHAIRMAN JOEL: I'd like to motion make a motion to reject the 2013 Amendment.
MS. PETERS: I'd like to second that.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Michele seconds it.
MS. PETERS: I'd like to second it.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Michele seconds, please note.
Okay. So for those of you on the Board understand that a vote in favor is to reject the Amendment. A vote against, nay to to reject the rejection of the Amendment.
MAYOR ARONSOHN: Double negative.
VICE CHAIRMAN JOEL: If you vote yes you're rejecting.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: If you vote
MS. DOCKRAY: If you vote yes you're rejecting?
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: You're rejecting the Amendment. If you vote no, you're rejecting
MS. PETERS: A double negative
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Pardon me?
Right, you're rejecting the rejection, which means the current 2010 Master Plan stands.
(Whereupon, an off the record discussion is held between Ms. Price and Chairman Nalbantian.)
MS. PRICE: Let me just, so a motion, the vote would be the
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: We can't hear you.
MS. PRICE: the vote would be the motion is a motion to reject. So, an affirmative vote would be to agree with that motion, so an "aye" would be to agree with the motion to reject. A "nay" vote would be to disagree with the motion, which in turn would leave status quo.
So, if your I notice a majority of the people say that they were voting to reject, so those people should say "Aye" when roll call is called. So, a yes vote since the motion is to reject, a yes vote would agree with the motion. A no vote disagrees with the motion.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Thank you for clarifying Gail.
MAYOR ARONSOHN: Or trying to.
MS. PRICE: Of trying to.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Okay. The motion is on the floor.
Jane, roll call please?
MS. WONDERGEM: Mayor Aronsohn?
MAYOR ARONSOHN: Aye to reject.
MS. WONDERGEM: Ms. Bigos?
MS. BIGOS: No.
MS. WONDERGEM: Mr. Nalbantian?
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: No.
MS. WONDERGEM: Mr. Reilly?
MR. REILLY: Affirmative to reject.
MS. WONDERGEM: Mr. Joel?
MR. JOEL: Yes, to reject.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Please hold your applause to the end, thank you.
MS. WONDERGEM: Ms. Dockray?
MS. DOCKRAY: Yes, to reject.
MS. WONDERGEM: Ms. Peters.
MS. PETERS: Aye, to reject.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Motion to adjourn?
Ladies and gentlemen ladies and gentlemen, is there a motion to adjourn?
VICE CHAIRMAN JOEL: Motion to adjourn.
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: All in favor?
(Whereupon, all Board Members respond in the affirmative.)
CHAIRMAN NALBANTIAN: Thank you, everyone. Okay, thank you very much.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:43 p.m.
Date approved: July 7, 2015
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