Missing an opportunity in Suffern
I’ve always loved Suffern and would love to see it really thrive as a retail center for the western part of Ramapo and Rockland. That’s why I think the village administration is making a mistake scaling back a proposed urban renewal condominium project.
Actually, the original plan has been sliced and diced and the newest version calls for a single six-floor building of about 100 units. That’s cut back from seven floors — which seems like a meaningless change — with the project limited to one block opposite the NJ Transit tracks rather than the original three blocks.
According to Deputy Mayor Dagan LaCorte, those changes came about for a combination of reasons — the economy, trying to do something in keeping with the village and a political favorite, keeping people happy.
I understand the economic pressures, although some developers may argue that even given the current climate, a larger project might have a better shot at being profitable. I’m sorry, but sometimes officials can’t be concerned with keeping people happy. That means keeping their jobs and sometimes officials have to do politically risky things just because they are the right thing to do.
That’s how I’ve seen this project. Suffern has done well marketing itself as the restaurant capital of western Rockland, but like in past decades, vacant shops are growing in number.
Some residents want to reinvigorate the village by changing the mix of retail on Lafayette Avenue rather than building. That’s a great idea, but they miss the point that there’s not enough population to attract gift shops, boutiques, shoe stores and other retail outlets that might make it unnecessary to drive to a mall to buy a pair of shoes or slacks.
The urban renewal project as first envisioned might have done the job, but too much has been trimmed for the end result to make any real difference downtown.
What village officials seem to be doing is missing out on a transformative opportunity to increase housing and population density in a positive way — near mass transit. Pump people and buying power into the village and there will be a waiting list for vacancies and for office or residential space along Lafayette Avenue.
This is just the beginning for Suffern. There will be many more critical decisions ahead if commuter rail through the village eventually links to a new Metro-North commuter line proposed to cross a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
That will bring other opportunities to either accept change and become another Ridgewood or resist, holding on to the past, and get swallowed by change with out the benefits it can generate.
That’s going to call for tough choices, some of which will leave residents unhappy — especially if they see opportunity blowing past Suffern for other destinations.