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Few School Kids, Less Traffic Expected at 'Ridgewood Station', Experts Testify

Testifying on behalf of the developer, experts said they believe the 114-unit development at Ken Smith Motors will generate fewer than 10 school kids. Concerns also remain over parking and traffic.

A newly-proposed transit-oriented development at the Ken Smith Ford site would likely generate few school children while accommodating for parking demand, expert witnesses testified Tuesday night at the planning board meeting.

But Ridgewood planning board members maintained some skepticism and also expressed worry about traffic impacts on the dangerous Franklin Avenue.

Dubbed the plans envision a St. Mark's-inspired 137,000 square foot mixed use development on Franklin and Chestnut avenues, comprised of 114 luxury housing units and just over 7,000 square feet of retail space.

The developer has appealed to the planning board to create an overlay zone allowing for higher densities around the Ridgewood train line, with gradual declines in intensity as properties move further from the train station.

According to Phillips, transit-oriented developments in towns like Montclair, South Orange, Cranford and Maplewood have been fully occupied, get by with about 1.0-1.2 parking spots per unit, generate limited traffic and have few school children.

The target market – young couples and singles who can't afford mortgages in Ridgewood – statistically have fewer vehicles and children, he testified. Two-thirds of the units at 'Ridgewood Station' are 1 bedroom of smaller, he said, which should limit kids. The proposed parking ratio is 1.25 per unit.

Planning board members on Tuesday, however, expressed skepticism on the number of school-aged students expected and parking, while strongly advocating for in-depth studies of pedestrian and vehicular traffic impacts.

"They're not Bergen County, they're not Ridgewood," member Nancy Bigos said of the Essex and Union County comps. "We have had a serious, serious parking dilemma for decades. I'm not convinced if you don't give them space they won't bring a car. I'm a little concerned about that."

Bigos said she believes the proposed development would generate "more than a dozen" school children.

Phillips, on the other hand, said the figure should be between three and nine, though he noted having an affordable housing component could increase the number, as could the desirability of Ridgewood's school system.

There's reason to believe kids will stay away, he said. At the 55-unit Cranford Crossing, no school-aged children are present.

"That amazed me," the planner said. "These kinds of developments are not targeted toward families with children."

The studies available are limited, a point Phillips conceded. There's a 2006 Rutgers study based on census data from the year 2000. Otherwise, empirical data on transit-oriented developments is restricted to studies undertaken by developers, of which there are few.

A major traffic study will also need to be undertaken by the developer in the coming month or two. 

Concerns remain over traffic queueing by the underpass, making a left into the property from Franklin and others were stressed by planning board members.

Dinallo traffic engineer Brian Intindola testified that fewer vehicles are projected to enter/exit the property (at two points) than the previous use.

Intindola's study will also incorporate projected traffic impacts from the other three proposed developments before the planning board – Chestnut Village, The Dayton and The Enclave.

Vehicular traffic is a large-scale challenge on Franklin near Broad Street. But there are very different – and perhaps more critical – challenges on the opposite end of 'Ridgewood Station', at the intersection of Franklin and Chestnut.

Franklin Avenue, particularly near Chestnut Street, is the site of numerous strikes over the years.

Dinallo will need to make significant improvements in that regard, planning board members said. A traffic light may need to be erected there and any intersection along the property will have to incorporate pedestrian crossing mechanisms.

The Ridgewood Station concept has been lumped into the planning board's 16-month process to vote on amending the Master Plan to incorporate a new zone(s) into the downtown. Three other developments – The Enclave, The Dayton and Chestnut Village – are also folded into the planning board's study.

A vote on the elements needed for a new zone could be taken by the planning board in as little as a month, Planner Blais Brancheau said. From there, a draft ordinance would be kicked up to the council for a vote. If the council were to agree to the zoning change, the developments would appear before the planning board for site plan.

Lisa Baney January 19, 2013 at 08:31 PM
Could the town please do a cost-benefit analysis with a projection of tax revenues (using a comparable value or comparable selling price or tax ratables (and/or rents if that affects it -- assuming various levels of occupancy) May our town leaders or Board members PLEASE do this, as long as they keep referencing these and the other developments and overlay zone as a main rationale for taking all these risks of traffic, congestion, pedestrian safety, and possible school budget costs (let's be honest, no one knows for sure about any of these things, and especially if the town "overlay zones" Ridgewood's Master Plan for four of these developments at once? Unless this i known, It confounds me -- and many of the people I talk to around town -- how our Planner could make plans to accomodate all this, or the Planning Board could ever vote on it, or invite any informed public reaction at the hearings? Or if the town somehow won't do it, an open-minded careful media person do their own investigation/projection on this? It is one of the two bases of doing all this (that and promoting more shopping in town, but that two is risked if traffic is affected and current shoppers deterred). Finally, can anyone truly trust the projections of the developers' own optimistic projections on this (no traffic impact, no pedestrian safety impact, no school impact? Are the Planner and Board, even Council, getting all the facts that would drive such a huge, permanent change in town?)
Dan Johnson January 22, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Back in the late 80s, the Ridgewood school system had many more kids than they do now. In other words, don't blame your opposition to development on an increase in kids. And as fas as pedestrians and traffic, bring it on. Anything that will slow down the speeders on Ridgewood Avenue and Franklin is to our good. And maybe even the cops will start to enforce the speed laws after a couple of more people are hit while trying to cross the street.
Gary Rabinowitz January 22, 2013 at 06:32 PM
@ Dan Johnson: awesome comments! As a casual observer, I recall your comment about "embracing change." I guess we can never go back to the 'good old days' of the 50s and 60s, right? Well, if memory serves, Ridgewood & all school districts had many more school kids back then (requiring at least one elementary school to have an 'annex' on Kenilworth Rd). So why stop at the 80s? Arbitrary selection on your part. By your logic, Ridgewood can max out at the peak baby boomer enrollment levels, no? Of course this is a ridiculous suggestion. Every school district 'right sizes' (in today's argot) their budgets, staffing, infrastructure, etc. to the current reality of enrollment, with built in and acceptable variation for things like family size, new development subject to density constraints, etc. So opposition to an increase in kids is quite reasonable. As for your suggestion that to slow down traffic in downtown RW, you need human shields, more traffic and more people, well, that's bold & novel. I think that's called "hair of the dog," (more hair (traffic) of the dog (speeding traffic) that bit you"). Perhaps I too should drink whatever it is you are drinking in your profile picture before I make suggestions!!! Cheers, GXR
Dan Johnson January 23, 2013 at 02:17 AM
Drink up. We had more kids then and it worked. Now we have more administrators and it doesn't work. And our taxes are higher. Drink up. And anything that slows down traffic on Franklin and diverts it elsewhere sounds good to me. Drink up. And watch out for those dogs.
anonymous January 23, 2013 at 03:38 AM
Next planning board meeting regarding the developments in the CBD is Wednesday January 23rd at 7:30, 4th floor Village Hall. Everyone should go and find out for themselves how they feel.

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