By Charlie DeLuca
Published: March 2, 2023 at 11:47 AM
Last Updated: March 2, 2023 at 11:47 AM
RIDGEWOOD, NJ – For the second consecutive Wednesday, the Schedler property and issues surrounding it dominated public comments at the village council meeting. Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser was in attendance to review the latest set of plans and answer questions from the governing body as a decision nears on the project that has lasted more than 14 years.
Last week, the overwhelming majority spoke out against the plans to build a large, multipurpose field on the site with a home having historic designation. This vocal opposition was a flip from meetings held earlier this year where parents of children enrolled in Ridgewood’s recreational sports programs lobbied for the addition of a full-size field at the council meeting on January 26. Wednesday evening’s meeting represented somewhat of a compromise between the two sides, as both those who have spoke out numerous times at council meetings against the plans as well as those with young children who would benefit from a full-size field gave comments for the council to hear.
“Obviously there is passionate feelings on both sides,” Mayor Paul Vagianos said after the meeting. “I am so impressed with the people that come, for whom this is such an important issue on both sides, and everyone is respectful – and that is all I ever ask. And after that we are just going to do the best we can.”
In the 14 years since the village bought the property, there has been several inflection points in ongoing progress, with the municipality accepting various sources of state and county grants that limit some of what can actually be done on the site. Additionally, the house on the property received a historical designation, which, again, restricts certain restoration projects due to state law stipulations. Still, Mayor Vagianos is confident that the project has moved past the stalemate phase that has plagued this issue over the past decade and that the council should resolve the issue sooner rather than later.
“Couple of weeks,” the mayor told TAPinto Ridgewood when asked about the potential for a final vote on the plan. “This is not a stalemate. We are going to come to a decision.”
The village council is set to meet next on Wednesday, March 8.
Background: New Jersey Historic Trust
The Village of Ridgewood purchased the property in 2009 and has been rehabilitating the building and grounds for use as a public parks and recreation facility.
The Zabriskie-Schedler House was originally constructed circa 1825 and was the home of farmer John A. L. Zabriskie. The house is an example of a late third-period Dutch-American frame building and exhibits several characteristics of the type including a construction date of c.1752-c.1840, was built by the “Dutch” cultural group, is south facing, follows the Dutch framing tradition, uses a gambrel roof for the main block and gable roof on the wing, uses native sandstone for the foundation material, uses oak timbers for heavy framing members, has interior end fireplaces, and has plaster ceiling finishes at the interior. The house survives as one of the few remaining nineteenth-century frame homes in Ridgewood. Over the course of his lifetime through inheritance and purchases, John Zabriskie tripled the size of his landholdings. Following his death in 1864, the house and property passed to his son, James Zabriskie, also a farmer, who did not realize the same level of success as his father and was forced to mortgage and eventually sell off portions of his property. The Smith family purchased the home in 1908 and over the next century made several changes including adding the south entrance, raising the original gambrel roof at the circa 1840 section, reconfiguring and refinishing the second-floor level, and upgrading the kitchen. A small addition with a bathroom and sun porch were also added during the mid-twentieth century. Florence Schedler, daughter of Carman Smith, lived in the house until her death in 2007.
January 27, 2023
Logan Williamson, Patch Staff
The property was purchased in 2009 for $2.7 million, and though there was debate among council members over what exactly the village’s initial plans and reasons for perceived inaction since then were, Councilwoman Siobhan Winograd agreed that this needs to move forward.
“No matter what the intentions (of previous councils) were, time doesn’t lie and the calendar doesn’t lie,” Winograd said. “The reality is this project has taken too long.”
While the desire exists to move the project along “as quickly and expeditiously as possible,” Council President Paul Vagianos said, he and others listed several outstanding questions, particularly in regard to the proposed field, which is, as of now, smaller than the standard pitch size.
Vagianos asked village engineer Chris Rutishauser, who presented a project update at Wednesday’s council meeting, to spatially lay out in a rough sketch how a full-sized multipurpose (soccer, lacrosse and football) field would fit on the existing site plan for the property. He asked Rutishauser to prepare such drawings to present by either the next work session or the one afterward.
“I want to explore putting a full-sized field here,” Vagianos said, echoing the sentiments of his colleagues on the dais. “If we have an opportunity here that we don’t look at carefully, we may miss it. We are exceptionally low on field space that we need.”
Rutishauser said he thinks the field will fit, yet he would need to adjust the design of the parking arrangement, as it would protrude into that.
Not everyone was in support of changing the field size. Councilwoman Lorraine Reynolds recalled that the proposed field dimensions that exist now were the decision of an ad hoc committee formed in 2017 to propose a development plan.
“This was a hard-fought agreement,” Reynolds said of the group consisting of several community members and leaders. “So, in my opinion, this is the field size that should stay.”
Contrarily, Councilwoman Winograd agreed that the village should look into putting a regulation field in that space, as this provides an opportunity to put a field on high, dry land that is safer in flooding situations, a number of which have occurred in years since the committee.
“I do think the committee did a good job,” Winograd said. “But I also think we can cherry pick what we want to honor.”
Winograd additionally advocated for installing turf there, which, she said, requires less water and intensive maintenance.
However, the turf idea also was not unanimously endorsed by the council, nor was it recommended by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is the entity the village is seeking approval of the site plan from, as the property was listed as a historical resource and therefore must be preserved.
If a turf field was favorably voted upon by the council to be incorporated into plans, then the village would need to request an authorization from a separate body called the Historic Sites Council, which could, engineer Rutishauser said, “delay the process.”
“Candidly speaking, I might prefer turf,” Councilman Weitz said. “But if it adds another year or two to the process, let’s just put grass down. We can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Rutishauser said the engineering department’s goal when the project was taken on was to produce a site plan that SHPO could “approve administratively,” thereby eliminating the need for a Historic Sites Council hearing and quickening the process.
In the past year and a half, he said that he feels his department has done so, though he wants to produce something that the village and council are satisfied with.
“We would like to achieve success at this location,” Rutishauser said. “That is our call.”
He said he would “get to work” on a plan to present to SHPO that would, hopefully, satisfy all parties involved, and that he would inquire into the field size and a few other items that were raised by council members, such as, for example, the types and number of tree species that were to be planted.
When the village and SHPO approve the site plans, the project can go out to bid, Rutishauser said.
“I don’t want to keep going back and forth, and discussing this for the next two or three years, and then another generation of kids does not get to enjoy this place,” Weitz said of the proposed park, which is set to include a walking path and playground. “I like the plan, and I feel very strongly that we just need to build it already. We have been talking about this for 13 years.” —