Planning Board Public Meeting Minutes 20140916

The following minutes are a summary of the Planning Board meeting of September 16, 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, Councilwoman Knudsen, Mr. Reilly, Mr. Nalbantian, Mr. Joel, Ms. Dockray, Mr. Abdalla, Mr. Thurston, and Ms. Peters. Also present were: Gail Price, Esq., Board Attorney; Blais Brancheau, Village Planner; Chris Rutishauser, Village Engineer and Michael Cafarelli, Board Secretary. Ms. Bigos was absent.

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.

Correspondence received by the Board – There was none.

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 –

Ira Weiner the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood attorney introduced Brigitte Bogart, a planner to continue cross-examination.

Ms. Dockray asked Mr. Weiner if he had the date of the testimony and he said it was March 4, 2014.       

Mr. Bruinooge asked Ms. Bogart if she recalled the documents she reviewed prior to her appearance. Mr. Bruinooge referred to Exhibit E-1, a planning report completed by Burgis Associates. Mr. Bruinooge asked if Ms. Bogart reviewed evidence marked as B-1 completed by the Village Planner, Blais Brancheau and he asked Ms. Bogart if there are any other reports she recalls reviewing. Mr. Bruinooge referred to Exhibits marked B-1 through B-7, D-1 through D-10, CBR-1 through CBR-7, E-1 through E-5A – E-5D, and RA-1, 2 and 2A. Ms. Bogart said she did not have a copy of the Exhibit list.

Ms. Price asked Ms. Bogart if she had an opportunity to review the B-1 proposed amendment and clarifies that it is an amendment not a report. Ms. Bogart said she did. Mr. Bruinooge asked Ms. Bogart if she prepared and submitted a report to the Planning Board. She said she did. Mr. Bruinooge asked if the process in her report is questionable. Ms. Bogart said no.

Mr. Bruinooge asked if Ms. Bogart visited 257 Ridgewood Avenue in connection with the preparation of her report or testimony. Ms. Bogart said she was that evening. Mr. Bruinooge asked Bogart other questions about page 1, paragraph B in the MLUL requirements in the Master Plan and that it said must include a statement of objectives and referred to a missing link.

Mr. Bruinooge questioned Ms. Bogart about her testimony on March 4th and referred her to pages 20, 21, 22, and 23 stating a Master Plan is supposed to be a municipality's document. Mr. Bruinooge asked if Ms. Bogart reviewed the Master Plan reexamination report, the 2008 housing plan, and the 2010 open space committee report. She said she did.

Mr. Bruinooge referred to Exhibit B-3-R a proposed zoning amendment that would affect his client's property. He referred to Mr. Jahr's traffic report; Exhibit B-12 stating Mr. Jahr determined the Omland engineer's report was accurate. Ms. Bogart said she did not recall him saying that.

Mr. Bruinooge asked if Ms. Bogart was familiar with Village reports and testimony. Ms. Bogart said she was with some but not all of them. He asked if Ms. Bogart made an issue with the number of school-aged children in the Burgis projections. Ms. Bogart said she agreed with the methodology but more localized analysis needs to be done.

Mr. Bruinooge directed Ms. Bogart to the phrase 'missing link', found in her report and Ms. Bogart testified the proposed amendments are deficient because there is a 'missing link' between the amendments, the development patterns, and densities in surrounding areas.

Mr. Bruinooge asked if in Ms. Bogart's review of the Exhibit B-3-R, the Master Plan amendment was she aware his client did not own the land or lots. Ms. Bogart said she did not know. Mr. Bruinooge called Ms. Bogart's attention to Exhibit E-1, pages 3 and 4 and asked if Mr. Burgis accurately described the neighborhood in or around the proposed B-3-R zone. Ms. Bogart replied yes.

Mr. Bruinooge directed Ms. Bogart to Exihibit-2; a PowerPoint prepared by Mr. Burgis, and asked if the PowerPoint addressed the building height. Ms. Bogart said no. Mr. Bruinooge asked if page 13 referred to the building height and Ms. Bogart said it did.

Mr. Bruinooge asked if the report referred to a particular property and if it set out the density. Mr. Bruinooge referred to the five story building on Franklin and North Maple Avenue and stated that the appendix referred to the density, the number of units and that there is 125 units to the acre. Ms. Bogart stated that the appendix was taken from the Village Planner's report and her report referenced the Village Planner's analysis not hers.

Mr. Bruinooge said given the historical documentation in the Master Plan, documents detailing parking issues in the CBD it seems appropriate the Planning Board review proposals in conjunction with the parking requirement. Ms. Bogart said it is recommended that the proposals meet RSIS requirements and if the parking requirement cannot be accommodated on-site, it implies that the permitted density may be too great.

Mr. Bruinooge asked Ms. Bogart if the Master Plan Reexamination Report of 2006 stating that the household size in Ridgewood was shrinking and the population was aging suggesting a need for smaller units located near goods and services. Ms. Bogart replied yes.

Mr. Bruinooge asked Ms. Bogart if in her earlier testimony on March 4, 2014 she defined ''spot zoning' 'and asked Ms. Bogart to define the term. Mr. Bruinooge said it appears to be ''spot zoning' ' because ''spot zoning' ' typically is an application of zoning to a specific parcel of land within a larger zoned area. He said 'spot zoning' is usually at odds with the current Master Plan and the current zoning restrictions and may benefit a specific property owner and be at odds with the preexisting adjacent property owners indicating all of those characteristics seem to apply to this case. Mr. Bruinooge then asked Ms. Bogart if she is familiar with Harvey Moskowitz. Ms. Bogart said yes. There was a discussion about Mr. Moskowitz's definition of 'spot zoning' and if Ms. Bogart agreed with Mr. Moskowitz's definition.

Mr. Bruinooge asked if in Ms. Bogart's testimony the parcel of land owned by 257 Ridgewood Associates is being singled out for special and privileged treatment. Ms. Bogart replied she did not look at individual parcels instead; she focused on the Master Plan process and historical Village documents.

There was a discussion about the purpose of the hearings and the Master Plan amendment, Exhibit B-1, as it relates to the Planning Board and whether or not the Master Plan should be amended taking into consideration Ms. Bogart's report. Ms. Bogart said the Board has an obligation to consider al points raised.

8:48 P.M. There was a break and the meeting resumed at 9:10 P.M.

Mr. Nalbantian recommended the Board discuss some of the testimony heard to date and a recommendation by the Mayor and other members. Mr. Nalbantian asked the Mayor to begin the discussion.

Mayor Aronsohn said some of the Board members wanted time to re-look at the amendment and engage in a discussion. He said the Board has had the draft amendment since December 2013 and while the process is moving forward, there is more to discuss.

Mayor Aronsohn said there was a reference to the different densities that already exist in Ridgewood and the appendix to Ms. Bogart's report came from the Village Planner. He said the density being proposed by some of the proponents was not unprecedented in the Central Business District (CBD) and that Ridgewood's current density of one at 125 units per square acre, another at 45.5 units per square acre, and another at 82.8. The Mayor said no one at the hearing is proposing anything close to fifty. He proposed the Board move to scale down the number to 30 or 40 with his preference closer to the thirty. The Mayor said the issue should be looked at in terms of one being the CBD proper and the other CBD periphery. Mr. Aronsohn said the core is Ridgewood Avenue, Franklin Avenue or CBD proper, versus the periphery and to look at it as two different zones and put them into two amendments; then the board can focus on one amendment first and the other on another date.

Mr. Nalbantian was asked to repeat the designations, he referred to page three on the map in the proposed amendments, and B-3-R and C-R, which would be considered the core, then AH-2, and C would be on the periphery.

Councilwoman Knudsen said she found the Mayor's proposal interesting, and would like time to study the proposal. She said she wants to review where the numbers come from and is 30 to 40 verses 40 to 50 verses what is currently permissible. Councilwoman Knudsen stated she wants to continue in the process and conclude it.

Mr. Thurston said he agreed with the Councilwoman that the Board needs time to study the Mayor's proposal. He said he had concerns and regardless of the number of units built changing the number does not address the real issue - does the Board want multi-family housing.

Mr. Nalbantian asked Mr. Brancheau if in drafting the amendment he considered criteria that would be different for rental verses for sale of multi-family housing and one with an incentive over the other. Mr. Brancheau stated the rental housing standards were based on a COAH rule that required housing plans to incentivize rental affordable housing by increasing the development yield, and that was the primary basis for having different standards for rental verses housing for sale. Mr. Nalbantian stated the COAH rules changed and the Board should look at the current COAH rules and see if they require the Board to change their approach.

Mr. Joel said density has always been a concern but it is a key component, would require an in-depth analysis, and judgment on the part of the Board. He said there is some merit to breaking the amendment into two and would like Mr. Brancheau's testimony to help.

Mr. Reilly stated his concern about density, the height of the buildings, and the visual impediments. He said his concern about how the proposal may look good on paper but after it is build it could create visual impacts, he is concerned about the precedent it would set for other developers. He said he favors a mixed-use downtown, yet, he is undecided.

Ms. Dockray said she agreed with Mr. Joel and mentioned an evening when she was in South Orange, which like Ridgewood has a parking problem; she parked on a side street and noticed an attractive multi-family four-story structure. She thought this kind of development would work in Ridgewood. She also went to look at a similar development in Englewood. Ms. Dockray said she believes Ridgewood can learn from the experiences of other municipalities.

Mr. Reilly said he did not find some of the alternatives feasible. He expressed concern about the functioning and operability of CBD and the look and appearance.

Ms. Peters said her concern about the 'as-of-right' uses and that the traffic testimony indicated that some of the other uses currently permitted would be more detrimental to and the Board should revisit the current what is permitted in the zones.

Ms. Peters asked Mr. Bruinooge if his client application is in two zones. Mr. Bruinooge said the property is located in the B-1 and B-2 zones. He said what is before the Board is three specific amendments to the Master Plan, one which is called B-3-R. He said that B-3-R described in Mr. Brancheau's presentation incorporates property beyond his client's and it is known as the Brake-o-Rama property.

Ms. Altano said she likes the Mayor's idea of a core and a peripheral. She said the proposal would help everyone better understand what the best density is that will be beneficial to the Village. She said she would like to study the issue in depth and to consider multi-use as it is an opportunity to help bring business and keep residents in the Village.

Mr. Nalbantian asked Mr. Brancheau about concerns regarding the height and density. Mr. Nalbantian said the amendment had a difference between the two, in the case of the 'as-of-right', a maximum of fifty feet, if it includes COAH, and the amendment is about fifty-five feet. He asked Mr. Brancheau to clarify the height differences. Mr. Brancheau said the additional height above fifty feet is permitted for an inclusionary development. Mr. Nalbantian asked if it was possible to mandate if a proposed building is higher than the additional height, then the additional height is only permitted with those architectural features and nothing can reach that height if it is not inclusive of those features.

Mr. Thurston said the discussion is so technical regarding the building height that it appeared as if it was more appropriate for a Site Plan discussion as the Planning Board is tasked to outline what the Board can do or what they would allow to be done.

Ms. Price said it was a little of both. She said the first decision that needs to be made is a policy decision on what the Board believes is appropriate for development, redevelopment, or future changes in the downtown area. Ms. Price discussed comments on the density issue. She referred to the numbers Blais provided for reference on at least three projects that had been roughly 42, 40, and 38.

Mayor Aronsohn asked if the Board realized it took on too large a task, could the Board look at it as two amendments. Mr. Brancheau said it would not be an issue from a Planners perspective.

Ms. Price said from a legal perspective, there would be a series of steps to be taken and the amendment would no longer be able to be considered in its current form; and Mr. Brancheau would have to draft a new document. Ms. Price continued with the specific detail on what the process would entail.

Ms. Dockray asked if after Mr. Brancheau completed his report and testimony will she and the Board be able conduct an analysis in order to make an informed decision. Mr. Nalbantian said yes.

Ms. Peters asked if each time there is a change to the amendment does the Board have to go through the official notice. Ms. Price responded yes. Ms. Peters asked if the Board could receive advance notice when the amendment is on the agenda so they have time to review the document and make informed decisions. Mr. Brancheau replied he would rather address the issues once. However, he would work with the Board to make a determination on next steps and address issues they have. He thought the issues should include density, height, and affordable housing.

Mr. Nalbantian agreed with Mr. Brancheau and thought his suggestions would assist the Board in focusing their questions and thoughts so the work is not done twice. He said once the direction of the Planning Board is known, testimony can be completed, and the plan amended. Mr. Nalbantian said the Board needs to consider the housing element of the Master Plan.

Ms. Price said there was a lot of testimony and cross-examination not yet completed which would add three to four days, and it is likely to involve a considerable effort to get to the end.

Ms. Dockray discussed the possibility of the meeting becoming adversarial and concern her comments could be misinterpreted and she would be prejudged. Ms. Dockray suggested the Board conclude the discussion and make their best recommendations as to next steps.

Mr. Joel said he felt the Board had momentum and should continue to move forward with the process.

Ms. Peters, Mr. Reilly, and Councilwoman Knudsen said they need more time to review Board testimony, transcripts, and Exhibits.

Mayor Aronsohn said he would like the Board to consider his proposals although he understands the procedural issues.

Mr. Thurston expressed his concern about how the bifurcation would affect the record, Exhibits and testimony and he thought it best to move forward and conclude.

Mayor Aronsohn said when the process was started it was clear it was a working document and there would be information discussed regarding the height, zoning, and whether it was going to be an overlay.

Mr. Abdalla said it was important to hear all testimony before a final decision is made.

Ms. Altano said listening to the testimony from all the Board members increased her awareness about the process and whatever process is decided it must be in the best interest of the Village.

Mr. Nalbantian said there is a general interest to proceed forward and a strong desire to review some of the material and continue the discussion after which the Board can make a recommendation to Blais on how to proceed. He suggested the Board carry the discussion to the next meeting on October 7, 2014.

Ms. Price discussed the Church of God's application and asked if they noticed for the hearing to be at the Village Hall.

Mr. Kohut agreed with the suggestions that Board members review the past transcripts and other documentation and said the process has been going on for three years, the public discussion since September and the Board heard testimony from Ms. Bogart, 3 architects, and the Boards traffic consultant. To decide to bifurcate the application without hearing testimony from the Village Planner as to the impact to the amendment to the Master Plan is premature. Mr. Kohut asked the Board hear the testimony of Mr. Brancheau.

Mr. Weiner raised a concern about the potential plan amendments and wants the ability to submit CBR's position and recommendations. He said he wants the opportunity to send the Board his client's numbers and the reasons.

There was a discussion between Ms. Price and Mr. Weiner about what Mr. Weiner would submit to the Board, and who will prepare a legal memo to the Board. Mr. Weiner stated he would be.

Mr. Bruinooge said while everyone wants to see the process conclude he is entitled to a decision. He stated his concern about the process and how it is obviated by the Village Planner's report. He said the initial determination of the Planning Board was to move forward. He said the applicants addressed all relevant issues and the bifurcation suggested is present in document B-3-R. He said B-3-R is the only one in the core between Ridgewood Avenue and Franklin Avenue. Mr. Bruinooge said COAH was supposed to be out and it is likely there will be an appeal. Mr. Bruinooge recommended the Board move forward.

The meeting was carried to October 7, 2014 at Village Hall.

Resolution to adopt Hospital Zone Master Plan Amendment. Motion to adopt seconded by Mr. Joel, votes was five approved and none opposed.

The Board closed the meeting to the public.

The meeting adjourned at 10:40 P.M.

                                                                        Respectfully submitted,

                                                                        Michael Cafarelli

                                                                        Board Secretary

Date approved: July 21, 2015

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