Residents offer cautious support, hearing to be continued
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
A lively and lengthy discussion took place Tuesday night at Suffern Town Hall as residents, elected officials and a prospective developer shared information and debated divergent viewpoints about the proposed zoning change and subsequent development of Suffern’s urban renewal district bordered by Orange Avenue and Chestnut Street.
As originally envisioned in the urban renewal plan of 2008, the blighted parcel consisting of 7 lots bounded by Orange and Chestnut, totaling about 1.7 acres, would be rezoned to permit as many as 60 housing units per acre with a mandated parking allowance of at least 1 spot per unit. With the support of the Suffern Planning Board, Orange Avenue Developers, the current development corporation, is seeking to construct a 111 unit multiple dwelling on 1.49 acres with a minimum of 1 parking spot per unit on site and a second optional spot off site. In order to do so they are applying for a brand new zoning designation, a “Transit Development District.”
At the public hearing, David Smith of VHB Engineering and Joshua Goldstein representing the developer described the proposed construction as a state of the art luxury rental offering one and two bedroom apartments ranging from $1500 to $2500 per unit. Additionally the building would include a gym, a community room and a 2500 square foot roof deck for the enjoyment of the tenants. Smith and Goldstein both pointed to Suffern’s changing demographics, including the increase of both aging baby boomers and young “millenials” more interested in improved lifestyle than homeownership. Village planning consultant John Lange stated that a preliminary planning survey revealed the construction would not place any additional strain on village resources or services, although he did admit that the increase in traffic would definitely impact the already difficult traffic issues within the village.
Some residents, like village fixture chef Marcello Russodivito, enthusiastically supported the change without reservation. Most of the villagers, however, applauded the development while voicing concerns about the size and scope of the project, the choice of rentals over condos and most of all, the increase in traffic problems. While Jon Paul Molfetta, a longtime resident and real estate broker explained that in today’s market rentals make more economic sense, others like Jack Rosenberg voiced the belief that homeowners make better and more responsible neighbors. Jim Giannettino, the Suffern Republican mayoral candidate, voiced the common theme that the building was simply too massive, and that most residents would support the current plan if the scale were reduced.
The overwhelming concern for most homeowners, however, was the acknowledged exacerbation of an already intolerable traffic sitution within the village. Many speakers described how they cannot even get out of their driveways or off their blocks during peak hours and days of the week, let alone when there’s a problem with the Thruway. Addressing this concern, planner Lange assured the residents that the Village Board was working on a solution, not just in light of the proposed zoning change and development, but as a much needed plan overall. The Planning Board was considering options, including reducing the number of traffic lights within the village and lowering speed limits so as to keep traffic flowing at a regular pace, but the full report would not be completed until November.
Some residents voiced suspicions about the Village Board’s ulterior motives or ability to actually achieve the promised urban renewal. Mayor Dagan LaCorte assured the audience that this has been an ongoing process of over 10 years and that nothing was happening without public input. Trustee Patricia Abato, Democratic candidate for mayor, sharply responded that she at least has not made up her mind about anything, and that she has closely examined the developer’s plans and demanded answers to such concerns as whether the project will remain a market rate rental project and whether the builders will keep to the building limit of six stories or 70 feet high.
After two and a half hours of input, Abato pointed out that more time was needed for the Board to review all the information and the residents’ concerns. The Board ultimately decided to continue the public hearing on Tuesday, October 22 at 7:30 pm. Information about the proposed zoning changes and the Orange Avenue development proposal can be found on the village’s website at www.suffernvillage.com.