THE RIDGEWOOD VILLAGE COUNCIL’S
PUBLIC WORKSHOP MEETING
JULY 13, 2016 at 7:30pm
Dear Mayor, Council and Mr. Rogers:
Below are two articles, from today’s WSJ and Bergen Record, on Monday’simportant NJ Appeals Court ruling on Affordable Housing (AH) that will: (1) substantially lower the overall number of AH units required by municipalities under AH laws, and (2) may cause further delay in defining the actual obligations of municipalities under AH laws. In the Record article, even Kevin Walsh, the Fair Share Housing advocate (whose threatening of “hearsay” letter was wrongly permitted to be read into the Planning Board’s record by attorney, Gail Price – as if it represented a legal determination – scaring some Board Members and improperly influencing votes) indicated the forthcoming delays from this ruling, saying: “it requires further studies.”
In short, this ruling and these articles support what I, and other members of CBR, tried to convey to the Planning Board and Village Council during the past couple of years of overstated AH ‘threats’ proffered by Mrs. Price: that the Affordable Housing/COAH matter is, despite her puzzling advice, very unsettled and will continue to lack real clarity, potentially for years to come. It’s been that way since the 80s. No Legislature wants to fully effect the laws because they recognize their often impossible demands on NJ’s municipalities. However, conversely, no legislature, or legislator (other than Christie), has effectively sought to rework them or strike them down due to the obvious political implications.
These laws are just too flawed, resulting in the tumult and dysfunction of the past several decades. Fact is: there are no clearly defined AH numbers for Ridgewood right now. And there’s a chance there may never be. Given this, our representatives need to govern planning based on “what is right for Ridgewood now and in the future” and not “what minimizes builder’s remedy lawsuits.”
I firmly believe Mrs. Price wrongly influenced the Planning Board decision on the Multifamily Ordinances by alleging that a “Yes” vote was needed on the Master Plan changes, enabling development at the excessive levels sought by developers, to avoid potential developer lawsuits based on recent AH court rulings. As many anticipated, these rulings have now been lessened, and to some degree, called into question. Unfortunately, Mrs. Price never properly educated the Board on how dysfunctional the AH/COAH laws and politics have been (and very well will be), and that until such time as an unlikely final verdict is delivered, they should be wary reacting too quickly to threats from developers.
The implications of Monday’s ruling serves to underscore the unwise, biased and, unacceptable for Ridgewood, process undertaken by the prior Planning Board and Council. While we can and should promote fitting and proper development (and proper “development process”) in Ridgewood, which does add affordable units to our housing base, we should never have done this in the manner – fraught with bias and influence – that occurred over the past four years.
Beyond this, I believe there are certainly other ways Ridgewood can more properly and proactively plan to meet future AF/COAH requirements. These ways may be more creative and better for both Ridgewood and those truly needing AH than those put forth by the developers. I look forward to discussing my thoughts on them with you. I have been in the multifamily business for two decades, have managed many properties with affordable and moderately priced units, and am happy to share my experience.
Lastly, it is important to note that if members of the prior Planning Board and Village Council voted out of fear of lawsuits, they already got one: and sadly it’s from their own Residents, the very people they were elected or selected to properly represent. It’s a suit that alleges decisions based upon conflict of interest, outside influence, and improper representation and, most importantly, seeks to correct the serious mistakes in planning, representation and judgement made by the prior Council and Planning Board.
While the AH/COAH laws truly lack clarity, what is clear is that Ridgewood’s Residents demand proper planning and process. There is a much better route than the one taken by the prior Planning Board and Council.
Dave Slomin, Resident
Follow up _________________________________________________________________
Dear Mayor, Council and Village Attorney Rogers,
My July 12th email provoked feedback from a good number of fellow Residents and representatives various Ridgewood citizen groups, including responses to my letter and the linked articles with concern that pro-development attorneys may contend the appellate decision does not “change anything.” As the agenda indicates tonight’s Council meeting will address litigation in closed session, I wanted to make sure my comments were placed in the proper context, asMonday’s ruling does impact things here in Ridgewood.
My point is that the ruling exemplifies the significant dysfunction and lack of clarity that continues to exist (as it has for several decades) in the Affordable Housing definitions and determinations at the State level. This highlights the Planning Board attorney’s failure to properly advise the Board on how to address these issues. Mrs. Price, as a professional land use attorney, was well aware of this dysfunction and should never have counseled our Planning Board as she did. By proceeding as if the now reversed lower court decision was new “scripture,” and by either misunderstanding and/or misapplying other standards, the Planning Board attorney wrongly influenced the public debate and Board members’ votes. Necessarily, therefore, the Village Council proceeded under a flawed process and construct.
I do understand that whether State rulings ultimately determine that Ridgewood owes 50, or 100, or 500, or 1,000, or 100,000,000 affordable units, we are well short of that number and need to provide some additional AH units. From that singular perspective the ruling has a more limited impact. However, that is not the issue at hand. Rather, the issue is the defective and conflicted process in our municipal governance effecting the passage of recent pro-development ordinances. As such, what the appellate court’s decision signifies to me – as a multifamily real estate professional, with several decades of experience – is that the law has been and will be in a state of flux for some time to come. That no one can predict with certainty what will happen should definitely have been strongly conveyed to the Planning Board and Village Council prior to their votes. It was not. That is why the willingness of the prior majorities on the Council and Planning Board to side with those speculating with our downtown is so particularly egregious. Rather than react and surrender to an imagined obligations, or cave to the potential of developer lawsuits, Ridgewood should have performed correct and proper master planning with proper construct and counsel. There were so many things wrong and biased in their failed excuse for “planning.” You have the opportunity to begin the process of correcting this and protect Ridgewood from reckless overbuilding now and in the future.
Thus, I urge the newly constituted Council to address all pending litigation in view of the voters’ mandate. And you do have a clear cut mandate. Mayor Knudsen and Deputy Mayor Sedon both won their council seats in a landslide two years ago. And in the recent election, not only did Councilmembers Voigt, Hache and Walsh win in another landslide, but they routed the candidates heavily promoted by Aronsohn, Pucciarelli and Hauck to promote furtherance of development at the excessive scale and density recently passed. Then, subsequent to these elections, Residents next defeated the oversized garage by a vote of 2 to 1. These were not just victories. They were repudiations. They represent the voices and the clarity with which Ridgewood Residents speak and vote once we know the truth. Residents have spoken. You know very well what your constituents want. The recent votes leave no questions whatsoever. Your actions need to reflect the mandate we gave you.
Now is the perfect opportunity for the Village to move forward in acknowledgement of the serious issues raised by litigation in the housing and hospital lawsuits. With these suits, along with the garage referendum matter, you need to rectify Ridgewood’s core problems. Let’s show progress by first openly acknowledging that serious mistakes were made by the prior Council and Board Members. We all know it… our votes showed it. A perfect starting point for that is to recognize the legitimacy of the issues raised by our fellow citizens’ lawsuits, and settle those lawsuits as strong representatives of your constituents and not as officials fearful of outside interests. Then, let’s redirect the Village’s resources to focus on the developers with either settlement talks or continuing litigation, whatever is required to do what is truly right for Ridgewood. If you do what’s right, you will have our endless support. If any shortcuts are taken, Ridgewood’s divisions will sadly remain. And it’s time to end our divisions.
Lastly, please note I am including Mayor Knudsen in this email, as I entered her email incorrectly in my email of 7/12.
I look forward to your response.