Despite continuing concerns from neighbors, the Planning and Zoning Commission has voted to move ahead with a proposed zone change of some 50 acres that stretch from Route 7 to Route 35.
The zone change plan includes the donation of about 19 acres, including the six-acre Little Pond off Route 7, to the town as potential open space.
Commission members voted 8-0 Tuesday night, Feb. 19, to have Town Planner Betty Brosius prepare a formal resolution of approval for the zone change that they will consider and vote upon at a future meeting, probably March 5.
The property includes Pond’s Edge Medical Center at 901 Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7), and also eight acres of undeveloped land off Danbury Road (Route 35), across from Buck Hill Road.
It would be rezoned from the town’s Corporate Development District, or CDD, office zone to the B-2 business zone, which allows a wide variety of non-retail business uses.
The Pond’s Edge Medical Center on the site includes two large buildings with a long history of light manufacturing and office use — as Benrus, then Perkin Elmer, and more recently Silicon Valley Group.
The current owners are a partnership of local doctors who go under the corporate name The Ridgefield Professional Office Complex LLC.
For several years now one of the buildings has been leased to a variety of medical office and health-related uses, but the other remains empty.
The applicants told the hearing that the proposed zone change might facilitate a deal in the works to rent the empty building to a tenant proposing a high-value, low-traffic storage use.
The applicant’s attorney, Robert Jewell, stressed the property’s long period of neglect before his clients bought it.
“It has been for more than a decade nothing but an empty rotting hulk that attracted nothing but raccoons,” he said.
Commissioner Michael Autuori moved approval of the zone change.
“I see balance. I see no change in traffic. I see a more usable zone. I see an open space set-aside. I see a win here,” he said.
Commissioner John Katz seconded the motion. “I see it as a win-win for the town and the applicant,” he said.
That wasn’t the view put forward by several neighbors who spoke earlier in the meeting when the commission continued a public hearing that been started on Jan. 22.
Many were from The Regency at Ridgefield development, which overlooks the site. Several questioned the sort of uses that would be allowed under the B-2 zone that’s proposed.
“B-2 allows all of our commercial and business uses, but not retail,” said commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.
The commission is also considering a proposed plan to allow retail in the B-2 zone in that area, but that is a separate proposal and does not include the Pond’s Edge property.
There were concerns about the additional buildings that could be put up under the new zone, as well as increased traffic and aesthetics.
“I’ve looked at this building since 1975, looked at it when it was Benrus, Perkin Elmer,” said Kevin Jones of 638 Danbury Road. “… How many square feet can be built on these parcels?”
The applicants and their professionals said that the property’s Route 7 parcel, which holds the Pond’s Edge complex, now has about 163,000 square feet of space, which could likely be increased to about 209,000 square feet, given limitations such as parking requirements and setback rules.
The eight acres fronting on Route 35, which are now empty except for a water tower the applicants plan to take down, could be developed under a couple of different scenarios, they said. One would lead to about 54,000 square feet of space and another would allow about 78,000 square feet.
Mr. Jones also had concerns about adding a driveway or access road off Route 35 in an area where there have been numerous serious accidents.
“We know what’s gone on along that section of Route 35 over the years,” he said. “That wouldn’t be a very safe access.”
This concern was echoed later by a couple of commission members. But they determined that requiring that access be from Route 7 wasn’t something they could address in a zone change — it would have to be discussed when an application comes in to actually develop the Route 35 portion of the site.