2019 FULL STEAM AHEAD January quickly came to a close. As the Village Council kicked off the new year with a robust agenda, I wanted to take some time again to reflect on last year and look at the busy year ahead. Without question, 2018 was a very eventful year for the Ridgewood Village Council. I am very proud of everything this Council has accomplished and continues to do. Serving with my fellow Council colleagues continues to be an amazing and rewarding experience. The Village Council is constantly involved in many important issues that affect the everyday lives of our residents and I understand how difficult it is for residents to stay well informed. As I did last year, I have prepared a review of what the Council accomplished in the prior year, while providing more detail on some of the very important ongoing issues. I hope you will find this update to be very informative and helpful. I have provided many relevant facts but please note that any opinions stated are solely my own and may not represent the view of other members of the Council.
2018 Year in Review The Village Council tackled a broad range of issues during 2018. I will list just a few of our accomplishments and then provide an update on issues that are still pending a final resolution. During 2018, we:
Approved $12 million in funding for Hudson Street parking garage (see below).
Expanded the use of parking kiosks (total of 7) and increased meter rates in order to fund the Hudson Street parking garage.
Approved reconfiguration of train station parking lot which will create an additional 36 parking spaces for commuters and shoppers/diners. See plan here.
Re-allocated parking for employees in the lots with lower demand.
Completed the second phase of the much-needed Downtown beautification which included funding for the lighting of Van Neste Park Project.
Amended our B1/B2 zoning in the Central Business District to include more modern uses which will bring a new and improved mix of businesses.
Adopted a new Blade Sign ordinance to beautify the Downtown.
Adopted regulations for outdoor displays to allow businesses to promote themselves with more individuality.
Decorated empty storefronts during the Christmas holidays through the Ridgewood Arts Council.
Planted 140 trees (the second largest amount of trees in the last 40 years).
Replaced the Maple Park Turf Field, funded through the Open Space Trust Fund.
Approved $2.2 million for repairing and paving our streets. Obtained $380k in paving grants for North Pleasant Avenue and sections of Hillcrest Road.
Launched the visioning process for the comprehensive revision to the Master Plan (see below).
Funded the purchase of a new Senior Bus.
Reached a settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Center (see below).
Continued to address the Water Department litigation (see below).
Purchased Goffle Road property for use by Ridgewood Water for a treatment facility.
Hired a leading law firm to pursue lawsuits against parties responsible for contamination to our drinking water, in order to offset the cost of remediation.
Successfully conducted three rounds of lead and copper testing which resulted in an 82% reduction in lead levels and the lowest lead and copper levels ever recorded in the system.
Made substantial improvements to our water infrastructure which will provide millions of gallons of additional water output in summer 2019.
Purchased the Elks Club which is the last contiguous piece of property to the current municipal campus and will increase the efficiency of Ridgewood Water Department personnel by consolidating into one location.
Improved leaf pickup. There were 180 fewer leaf tickets issued than in 2017. Only 15 repeat leaf tickets were issued.
Continued working on the Green Acres Diversion on South Broad Street.
Voted on the final design of the Schedler property and completed preliminary work on the restoration of the Zabriskie-Schedler House (see below).
Developed a plan for the restoration of Kings Pond Park and received funding through a Bergen County Open Space grant for the first phase.
Continued to improved communications with residents through the use of social media.
Our Next Master Plan On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, the Village of Ridgewood officially launched Our Village, Our Future,a Village-wide visioning process that will inform the creation of its next Master Plan. The website www.visionridgewood.orgwill serve as the main online portal for Our Village, Our Future.
The primary goal of Our Village, Our Future is to implement a community visioning process that reaches out to a broad range of Ridgewood residents and other stakeholders (e.g., businesses, institutions, etc.) and encourages them to think about and discuss the values, principles, goals, and priorities that should shape the future of Ridgewood. This community visioning process represents one of the first steps toward creating a new Master Plan for the Village.
The final outcome/product of this visioning process will be a Vision Plan. This document will summarize the community engagement process and synthesize the results of this process in terms of identifying and explaining the values, principles, goals, and priorities that should shape the Village’s next Master Plan.
It is anticipated that the visioning process will take approximately 6 to 7 months to complete. The process of creating the next Master Plan will start after the visioning process is complete.
Ridgewood Water Litigation Since 2010, the governing bodies of the three communities outside of Ridgewood served by Ridgewood Water (Gen Rock, Midland Park and Wyckoff) have been engaged in a law suit, which challenged the allocation of expenses by the Village for the water company’s budget. The 3 towns felt that a 21 percent increase in rates in 2010 was excessive. The actual rate per 1,000 gallons is not excessive and, in fact, is in the lower middle of rates offered by other neighboring water utilities and still much cheaper than Suez. The challenge was started by the governing body of Wyckoff, whose auditor is a member of the former auditing firm of the Village when similar allocation methods procedures were used by the Village for the Water Utility budget. The claim argued that the methodology used by the Village in allocating percentages of Village expenses to the Water Utility was unfair (since it was not actual expenses) to the 3 towns and it caused the rates for water usage to be unreasonably excessive to the rate payers of the 3 towns and those rate payers were subsidizing the property taxes of Village residents.
The methodology used by the Village had been accepted by the Local Finance Board of the State in 2004, and the Village continued using that method throughout the years. This litigation which was started in 2010 (and amended in each of 2011 & 2012), finally reached trial in 2017. The trial court decided that the ordinances which approved rate increases in 2010, 2011 and 2012, did not have an adequate factual basis in the record that would warrant the rate increases that were adopted by the Village. As a result, the Court required the Village to hire an expert to calculate what the appropriate rate increases for the years in question should have been.
The Village (while still disagreeing with the Court’s decision that the record lacked an adequate factual basis), complied with the preparation of the rate study by hiring the most qualified expert in the field of water rate studies, Howard Woods. Mr. Woods completed his rate study and has recognized that the Village did not adopt excessive rates during those years challenged by the 3 towns. The three communities decided to appeal the Court’s decision, and that appeal is pending; the Village cross-appealed on those issues raised by Plaintiffs. Their requests to stay the rate study pending the outcome of the appeal has been denied (at least for now) by the trial Judge. The rate study was presented to the Village Council in early 2018. The Village Council adopted an ordinance to adopt rates established by the Woods study, with the purpose of establishing rates for the years of 2010 through 2017.
Affordable Housing Settlement This litigation started in 2015, as a result of the failure of the executive and legislative branches of state government to properly address the development of affordable housing in the state. The Village was mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court to file a Declaratory Judgement complaint in Superior Court, seeking approval of its adopted housing plan and immunity from builders remedy lawsuits while the decision by the Court was pending.
We have concluded our Court mandated settlement negotiations with Fair Share Housing Center, managed by the Court appointed Special Master, Michael Bolan, PP. The effort was to resolve all issues with FSHC and reach an understanding with the Special Master and all interested parties to present an agreed upon Fair Share and Housing Plan to the Court that satisfies the Village's obligation to provide for a realistic opportunity for development of affordable housing within its boundaries. A settlement agreement was reached in December 2018. It now needs Court approval.
I feel we reached a good settlement which will serve the community in the long term, and addresses the obligation all municipalities have to provide affordable housing development. First, it gives us immunity from developers' lawsuits where a developer claims a municipality is not providing its fair share of affordable housing or creating opportunities for affordable housing. Developers who are successful in such suits have the ability to be granted much higher densities than a municipality would normally be comfortable with. The agreement also allows us to maintain the commercial character of our Central Business District. The housing density increases from 12 units to only 18, with a maximum height of 50 feet. Also, the agreement provides the opportunity to create a redevelopment plan for the Valley Hospital site when and if the hospital decides to sell the property to a developer. Redevelopment, combined with the flexibility in the settlement agreement, gives the Village the ability to design the site as we see fit. The Village can identify enhanced design standards for the buildings, be very specific about exactly where we want certain uses in order to protect the character of the area.
The next step is a fairness hearing in Superior Court in February, at which time we hope the settlement will be approved. Thereafter, anticipating approval of the Settlement Agreement, the Village will introduce the necessary ordinances which will be consistent with the approved Settlement Agreement. The matter will return to the Court for Court "certification" of the Village's affordable housing plan.
Here are the details for the Fairness Hearing:
February 25, 2019 at 10:00AM Bergen County Superior Court - Bergen County Justice Center 10 Main Street, Room 323 Hackensack, NJ 07601
Hudson Street Garage Parking in our Central Business District continues to be one of the most important issues for our residents, employees and business owners. We made tremendous progress in 2018 towards building a garage on Hudson Street. While the process took a bit longer than expected, I am very pleased with the direction the project took. We listened to the concerns of our residents, the recommendations of our experts, and have scaled down the design of the garage to 255 spaces in a structure that fits within the footprint of the existing lot and the character of the surrounding structures. The design, by Epic Management Inc., provides the best balance in terms of fit, value and functionality. We also worked with the Planning Board to declare the existing Hudson Street lot as an area in need of redevelopment which allowed us to engage and negotiate directly with construction companies. As a result, we were able to negotiate and save $2.6 million in construction costs and avoid $500k in additional design costs. We explored many different options and spoke to a wide range of contractors from companies that build parking structures for NJ Transit to companies that build large scale structures for the private sector. Residents had the opportunity to attend presentations and discussions regarding the evolution of the project. Construction is expected to begin in late spring and should last 9 months. During the construction phase, commuters who have purchased the yearly Hudson Street parking pass will not be able to access the lot. We will be providing the affected commuters with transportation to and from the station and their home through a ride-sharing app.
255 parking spaces
3 stories with open fourth level
All parking is head in, 90 degree, with no parallel parking
Stall dimensions: 8'-6" x 18'-0"
All parking within the structure is on flat areas
Central Business District Our CBD is crucial to the vibrancy of our community. I am proud to serve as the Village Council Representative to the Central Business District Advisory Committee (CBDAC). We are very fortunate to have a hard working group of volunteers serving on this committee. It is a true cross-section of our community. The committee is comprised of residents, business owners, and commercial property owners. Thanks to the work of the CBDAC, we allocated funds from the municipal budget to be dedicated to the beautification of our Downtown. This included purchasing the new LED snowflakes, Ridgewood Downtown banners, and funding for the completion of the Van Neste Square lighting project. The CBDAC hosted several Business Community Forums for both business owners and commercial property owners. The forums generated a direct and open dialogue with our business community. The feedback from these forums helped drive all of the new ordinances for the Central Business District. Next, we will be helping with the Master Plan Visioning Process by hosting two roundtable discussions with commercial property owners and realtors.
Street Lighting Improvements In late 2018, I met with representatives of PSE&G to discuss necessary improvements to the lighting throughout our CBD. The current lighting is drab and insufficient, particularly at and around crosswalks. There were several pedestrian/motor vehicle accidents that occurred during evenings last year. The safety of the residents and visitors who frequent our CBD is of great concern to us.
While we have collaborated with PSE&G on the many issues related to inadequate lighting such as outages, and broken lamps, we are now asking for more significant improvements. We have a very busy CBD in which there is significant pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The confluence of both, exacerbated by poor lighting, can possibly create a hazardous condition.
PSE&G has listened to our concerns and we are working closely together to ensure it deploys whatever resources are necessary to address all street light deficiencies in the Village, particularly the need for brighter lighting in the CBD. We are committed to work with PSE&G to make the necessary improvements which will hopefully prevent any further pedestrian accidents and loss of human life. I am happy to report that on January 7th, the Village Engineer approved the first work order. Schedler Property -Park The Village Council rescinded the 2015 resolution that included a 90 ft. baseball diamond and a 120 x 75 yard multi-purpose field. To be clear, a 90 ft. diamond refers to the distance between the bases, not the depth of the outfield. The 2015 plan would have led to the clear-cutting of most of the trees on the property and the athletic fields component would have taken up more than 4 acres (total size of the property is 7 acres). The Schedler property presented a few challenges, some of which were immediate and some required some planning into the future. There were numerous dead trees, hanging limbs and leaning trees that had to be removed immediately since they posed a liability. The cleanup was completed in late 2017. In order to move forward on planning for the future use of the property, the Village Council created an ad hoc committee to propose a development plan. The ad hoc committee met regularly and also reached out to residents and sports groups for input regarding their respective needs. The ad hoc committee presented its recommendation to the Village Council in December 2017. Clickherefor the presentation. The new plan is significantly scaled down compared to the 2015 plan. It strikes a balance between the needs of the neighborhood, and sports groups, while taking consideration of historical preservation and passive recreation. The new plan does not include a baseball diamond and the proposed 50 x 75 yard multipurpose field only takes up a little over ¾ of an acre. The plan includes parking, a playground, walking trails, and bathrooms with a built-in overhang that can provide shelter from lightning. The Village Council voted to adopt this new plan in 2018. Later in the year, our Engineering Department brought in free landfill from multi-family housing developments and Ridgewood Water repairs to create a berm and level out the land.
-Zabriskie-Schedler House Hearings were held on the pre-approval of bidders for the historic house. The scope of the work included the replacement of the roof, as well as interior restoration of the house including replacement of doors and windows, plumbing, HVAC, and renovation of the kitchen. Preliminary work was done for the submission of the Zabriskie-Schedler House into the National and State Register of Historic Places, which will be considered by the State in March this year. The Village applied for, and received, grant funding through Bergen County Historic Preservation grants. We received 50/50 matching grants of $116,725 (Phase I), $200,000 (Phase IIa) and $75,650 (Phase IIb), for a total in grant funding of $392,375, which will be matched by the Village. The Village also applied for a Community Development Block Grant for the ADA ramp into the house from the parking lot.
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Ramon M. Hache Sr Councilman Village of Ridgewood 201-670-5500 Ext. 201