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Rethinking retail

Planning and Zoning is looking at changes in what's allowed in the area around Routes 7 and 35.

A thoughtful redesign of the commercial zoning along upper Route 7 is a good idea — some property owners would argue it’s long overdue. But the Planning and Zoning Commission must move cautiously in expanding commercial uses allowed.

The commission has started to rework the zoning in the area — basically, along Route 7 from Haviland Road north to the Danbury line. The centerpiece of the plan is to permit retail uses allowed decades ago but removed in the 1970s amid concern that the area could become a “commercial strip” like Federal Road between Danbury and Brookfield.

Commercial property owners in the area have long complained that the existing zone is too limiting. It’s hard to find tenants, and the tight rules discourage redevelopment to improve properties.

Looking for more nonresidential tax base and to encourage improvements in the area, the commission is working on zone revisions that could lead to real changes.

A few questions arise.

First, will allowing more retail out on Route 7 be bad for the village? The question, raised Tuesday night by commissioner Michael Autuori, needs to be answered before new business zoning is approved. Is all the business development in the Copps Hill area already hurting Main Street commerce?

If more retail does make sense — and it may — how big is too big? The commission is considering a limit for retail developments of 20,000 square feet — roughly the size of the building that houses Walgreens and a liquor store. Feedback on this is needed from both the public and people in the development business.

What’s wrong with residential? Some commissioners oppose allowing apartments above ground-floor stores. This village-style development can work nicely. Why not allow second-story apartments and require that they meet state affordable standards?

Modest-sized mixed-use developments seem an attractive solution to the area’s lack of vitality. But this should be done carefully. Any zone changes will likely be in place through weaker and stronger economic conditions, for years to come.

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  • CMcQuilken

    From the article:

    “First, will allowing more retail out on Route 7 be bad for the village? The question, raised Tuesday night by commissioner Michael Autuori, needs to be answered before new business zoning is approved. ”

    To me, this comes across as P&Z acting like a protective lobby group for current Ridgefield stores. I didn’t think P&Z was supposed to consider the economic impact of a zoning proposal. Safety issues — yes. Regulation issues — yes. How one store might impact the profit margin of another store — no. Free markets and all that.

    Could this possibly have been a factor when denying Stop and Shop’s application for a new lower-cost gas station? Just asking.

  • Wayne

    Ridgefield residents, you all need to take an interest in Route 7.

    When a company needs to make change, whether a small independent or fortune 500 company, we all conduct our own form of “study”. If you’re a large company, its history and needs are reviewed with teams of professionals, decisions are made based upon, at a minimum, historic facts, recent and current trends and future anticipation and more.

    Most companies move forward with the help of intelligent minds collaborating. My concern is that I don’t see that happening in Ridgefield. I see this discussion taking place in a vacuum.

    Before a change is made to any one area of our town, we must study our needs, the impact of its residential and commercial component and new and current trends or lack thereof. We must study and consider the needs as a total community. We also should be reviewing the communities around us, their successes and weakness just as we do in business. Which are the bright minded towns?

    There are plenty of brilliant minds both on Route 7, Branchville, Danbury Road and in the Central Business District to call upon.

    The planning & zoning commission must look to the rest of the community.
    What does our tax assessor have to say and what are his concerns? Town leaders, residents and the business community need to speak out.

    I am opposed to more retail on route 7.

    Wayne Addessi
    38y Main Street

  • http://janrifkinson.blogspot.com Jan Rifkinson

    “Safety issues — yes. Regulation issues — yes. How one store might impact the profit margin of another store — no. Free markets and all that.

    Could this possibly have been a factor when denying Stop and Shop’s application for a new lower-cost gas station? Just asking.”

    The only reason cited for denying the gas station application was traffic safety.

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