Statement from South Orange Village in response to tree clearing at 167 N. Ridgewood Rd.
(Updated December 9, 2021) On December 1, 2021, in response to concerns of excess tree clearing, the Village issued a stop work order on the subdivided lots of the Squier House property (now known as 165 N. Ridgewood Rd., 167 N. Ridgewood Rd., and 201 N. Ridgewood Rd.).
The stop work order allowed the Village to assess the situation by reviewing approved site plans and making site inspections to compare approved plans to the actual tree removal and site disturbance on the properties. Our review yielded that:
- A total of thirty-eight (38) trees were removed from the three properties. Twenty-three (23) of these trees were approved for removal via Planning Board site plan approvals (with a replacement plan for 9 trees).
- The fifteen (15) trees removed without approval were cleared from the northernmost property adjacent to the stream on the lot now known as 201 N. Ridgewood Rd. These trees were located in a Riparian Zone. Accordingly, the Village immediately notified the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as they restrict site disturbance within Riparian Zones without prior approvals. Our Village Engineer will remain in contact with the DEP. The outcome of the DEP investigation will be made available to the public.
See Engineer's Tree Removal Exhibit here*
In accordance with New Jersey State Uniform Construction Code (NJ UCC), the Village imposed the maximum allowable fine of $2,000 for violation of site plan approval. Per NJ UCC, the developer was released from the stop work order on two of the three properties upon payment of the fine. The stop work order on 201 N. Ridgewood Rd. remains in effect.
South Orange Village is requiring the developer to reappear before the Planning Board, answer questions of its members and the community and submit revised landscaping plans. A date for a hearing has not been scheduled and will be publicly noticed in compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act.
Additionally, in response to this situation the Village is comprehensively reviewing internal processes and working with board professionals and community stakeholder groups to identify ways to improve coordination between our boards and developers, appropriate advisory groups and communication of plans to the general public. This will include a review of best practices in other communities, required site plan documentation and site inspection procedures.
Background of Property
In December of 2020, the Planning Board received a minor subdivision application from Ampere Parkway LLC for 167 and 201 North Ridgewood Road (Case No. 275). The application was an “as-of right” submission meaning no variances were requested or required. A lot line between Lots 37 and 38 was approved in connection with a plan to construct two new structures and demolish the existing private home which had fallen into significant and costly disrepair and sat on the market for 20 months.
Upon approval of the minor subdivision, members of the South Orange community and historic preservation activists coalesced and urged the Board of Trustees to intervene given the historic nature of the property and work with the private developer and interested stakeholders to identify a creative way to preserve the property, also known as the “Squier Farmhouse”, while also acknowledging the property rights of a private landowner.
The resulting collaboration brought together the developer, Village President, Board of Trustees, administration, Historic Preservation Commission, Historical and Preservation Society, Meadowlands Park Conservancy, residents of the Lower Wyoming and West Montrose neighborhoods, and the voices of 680 stakeholders who signed a petition to preserve the Squier Farmhouse.
The outcome of the community effort was a proposal of a 3-lot subdivision plan which included the rehabilitation of the Squier Farmhouse (Case No. 281). The application was approved unanimously by the Planning Board after hearings and testimony. The resolution of approval and conditions can be found here.
* Engineer's Tree Removal Exhibit was created in response to the situation by the South Orange Village Engineer using a block/lot survey provided by the developer.
(December 2, 2021) South Orange Village issued a stop work order immediately upon learning of the situation regarding tree clearance at 167 N. Ridgewood Ave. During this time we are working to thoroughly assess the situation and develop an appropriate course of action.
Prior to any site disturbance on any construction site within the Village proper channels and processes must be followed. In this case the planning board review and approval process mandated a tree preservation plan and site disturbance limits as conditions of approval. These plans and conditions were reviewed for consistency by Village Planning, Engineering, and Building departments prior to the issuance of building permits. Field inspections were completed by the Village Engineer to ensure adequate site protection measures were taken, including tree preservation measures. Unfortunately, in a swift and unexpected action, trees were removed by the developer without warning, without tree removal permits, and without adherence to the planning board's conditions of approval.
Village President Sheena Collum, added, "We share the community's concern and sadness over this situation. The preservation of our tree canopy is a priority with our community, the Village administration, the Board of Trustees and myself. We are currently looking into all available options and are in conversations with the developer. We promise to do everything in our power to remediate the situation and achieve the best possible outcome. We will provide an update on impacts to local, county, and state approvals and the course of action taken to remediate."