Thousands in fines for Valley Hospital, neighborhood group

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2008 at 11:57 am

Wednesday, August 6, 2008BY BOB GROVESSTAFF WRITERThe Ridgewood Planning Board is charging Valley Hospital and opponents of its expansion thousands of dollars for participating in special public meetings about the divisive issue.

A neighborhood group opposed to the plan has paid about $4,000 in fees. Valley’s final bill is still being tallied, said Barbara Carlton, board secretary.

The board initially charged Valley $5,000 and the neighborhood group $7,000 for six special meetings where the two groups presented their sides, Carlton said.

Those amounts had to be recalculated because of bookkeeping confusion over escrow accounts set up when Valley and the residents group applied to the planning board, Carlton said.

This is the first time the board has used an ordinance the Village Council passed in 2007 to charge applicants a $2,000 fee for each special meeting, Carlton said.

The fees pay for charges by the board attorney, engineer and other professionals, Carlton said.

Other expenses include the costs of a sound technician and space rental, if the meeting is held outside the village council chambers, she said. Planning board members are non-paid volunteers.

Valley is reviewing the fee assessment but feels it has been fair, said Megan Fraser, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

“We know that special meetings require additional resources,” Fraser said. “[We] believe that a special-meeting fee is a legitimate request when such a large application comes before the village.”

The residents, however, said they should have been charged less because their counterproposal to the planning board was much simpler than Valley’s and did not need as much discussion time, said Peter McKenna, a member of the group.

“Concerned Residents objected to the special-meeting fees because the meetings were really to discuss Valley’s proposal, and our proposal was barely mentioned,” McKenna said.

“If a citizen unrelated to Concerned Residents said they opposed [Valley’s proposal], the bill was getting charged to our escrow account,” he said.

The board’s reduction of the residents’ meeting fees included a $1,000 refund from board attorney Gail Price, “which was very nice,” McKenna said.

Many municipal boards in New Jersey have similar ordinances allowing them to charge for special meetings, Price said.

In general, the bill for a special meeting does not go to residents who are objecting to a proposal before a planning board, said William Neville, vice president of New Jersey Planning Officials, Inc. “The burden falls on the applicants,” Neville said.

The Planning Board has held several special meetings in the past year to consider Valley’s proposed $750 million plan, which would expand its size 67 percent by adding a parking deck and replace two older buildings with three new ones. Hospital officials say they need to build to survive.

Concerned Residents of Ridgewood, a grass-roots group of people who live near the hospital, opposes the plan for safety and aesthetic reasons. The group says the new buildings, which will be much higher and closer to the street, will be out of place in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Valley’s request to change the village master plan involved extensive testimony that required the planning board to schedule the special meetings, which were open to the public.

The next planning board meeting to discuss Valley is 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood.

E-mail: groves@northjersey.com

  1. Those are not FINES they are fees to cover the expenses of meetings. Not the same thing. And completely appropriate.

  2. If one party runs out of money to defend its position, while the other party has at least another $2000 in the kitty, should the more well-heeled party expect to get what it wants from the planning board, by default, at the next scheduled meeting?

    I have another question too. Why should an organization comprised of actual local homeowners and taxpayers be forced to pay even close to half of the expenses of these meetings, being as how corporate entity and non-person Valley Hospital is the party that is looking to get something from the planning board, and the homeowner/taxpayer organization is more or less assuming the role of the Village of Ridgewood in defending the integrity of the town’s charter?

  3. I am surprised that the taxpayers are treated the same as the tax exempt entity – especially when the tax exempt entity is the one requesting the major change to the neighborhood.

    In the future, the taxpayers should be given more time for their side of the story. They are paying after all.

    If I attend one of the meetings and speak against Valley will the homeowners group be charged for my time? I am not a member of the group but I am opposed to the change to the Master Plan.

  4. How can charges of that magnitude be fair? The tax payers pay more than the large entity proposing expansion? It sounds unconstitutional and it puts another road block in the way of the individual. I have not posted on this issue before but I now feel that whether expansion is right or wrong, the process needs to be fair and it obviously isn’t.

  5. I will be sending my contribution to the CCR today…

  6. How can we help out the CCR?
    I thought the Village worked for us??? Valley should pay for their meeting since they don’t pay any taxes. Tax paying citizens who are against the expansion should be able to make their point without being charge these additional fees.

  7. 3:37 Email the mayor and the village council members. Let them know that you don’t think these charges are appropriate. Ask if New Jersey Transit was charged $2,000 per meeting in June when they presented at special meetings to Village Council about the train station renovation. I think these charges and this ordinance (which was passed in last August after citizens began to organize against the Valley expansion) is a blatant attempt to shut down opposition by making it too expensive to protest. In fact, the charges have suceeded. Concerned Residents pulled their proposal from consideration by the planning board. They couldn’t afford it. Shouldn’t our elected and appointed representatives listen to all points of view and not just the views of those that can pay?

  8. nice to see the tax payers get charged to use village services ? WTF! Looks like its time for a new council!

  9. I don’t think that concerned citizens should pay a fee, when they are speaking out against something that was already paid for. Whenever any proposal is put on the table, anyone who is a resident should have the right to comment and let their opinion be known, that way the village council and planning board (who were voted to represent us) can represent or collective opinion.

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