An “ergonomic technology” company’s plan to relocate from Danbury to Ridgefield has roused opposition from a townhouse complex which overlooks the firm’s Route 7 development site.
“I live there. That’s my concern,” John Tartaglia from The Regency at Ridgefield told a public hearing on plans by Ergotech Inc.
“What am I supposed to do during those three months that they’re blasting?” said Diana Repishti, another Regency resident. “I have a breathing problem. Now I’m being told I’m going to have blasting going on…”
About 40 people showed up for the Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing last Tuesday, July 2, on Ergotech plans for three acres on the west side of Route 7, across from Little Pond, just south of the Route 35 intersection. The 73-unit Regency complex is north and east of the Ergotech site.
Fifteen people — all Regency residents — spoke against the plans. No one spoke in favor.
The public hearing was continued for another session next Tuesday, July 16, starting at 7:30 in the Town Hall Annex at 66 Prospect Street.
Commissioner John Katz noted that the plans appeared to be in keeping with the requirements of the B-2 business zone the property is in, and with the commission’s long-standing goal of increasing the “non-residential” portion of the town’s tax base.
“The Plan of Conservation and Development promotes business development in areas currently zoned for business use,” Mr. Katz said.
Ergotech Inc. designs and builds ergonomic factory equipment that gives workers the ability to easily reposition large, heavy products during manufacturing.
“We provide solutions that make it easier and safer for factory workers to do their job,” Dr. Earl Hagman, a Ridgefielder and a principal in the firm, told the hearing.
“The ergonomic philosophy is to search for solutions to workplace problems and to create a safe, comfortable work place that will reduce the potentials for bio-mechanical injuries,” Dr. Hagman wrote in a paper on file with the application in the planning office. “Workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation an estimated $171 billion each year.”
The firm’s ergonomic equipment is put to a wide range of uses: manipulating huge granite slabs to be sawed into counter tops; maintenance of military helicopters; and the creation of what Dr. Hagman described as “fabulous head shrouds” for Cirque de Soleil performers.
The firm wants to build a 20,000-square-foot light industrial facility on the currently vacant three-acre Route 7 site owned by Larry Leary Development LLC.
About 20 or 25 people would work there in the near future, although Dr. Hagman said the firm’s move is partly to accommodate expected growth. The new building would house 5,000 square feet of offices, 5,000 square feet of light assembly, and 10,000 square feet of warehouse space, with parking for 34 cars underneath.
“We are not involved in any noise generation or pollution,” Dr. Hagman said.
The new building would replace facilities now in Danbury. Ergotech also has an overseas plant.
The B-2 business zone allows “light industrial uses” and Route 7 north of Haviland Road has been zoned for business use since at least 1950, according to Town Planner Betty Brosius’ report to the commission.
The Egotech site is just south of the new Gateway Zone created to allow retail growth in the area. While the area had been studied for inclusion in the Gateway area, it is not part of the new zone or the lawsuit.
Commissioner Katz said he thought the proposal’s compliance with the town plan’s goals were important.
The 1999 version of plan set a goal of maintaining 15% to 25% of the tax base as “non-residential” and the 2010 update of the document admitted that the goal “may no longer be realistic” in view of all the residential growth.
“The overarching goal,” the plan says, “should be to pursue an increase in the commercial component of the tax base according to a more reasonable numeric goal based on historical figures in the 13% to 18% range.”
Neighbors of the site had many questions about the facility. Would it be visible from Regency? Not looking out at the horizon, they were told, but looking down it might be seen from some parts of Regency.
There was debate about whether activities at the site — manufacturing, trash collection, snow-plowing — might be heard.
The rear of the site will remain an acre of wooded hillside, separating the industrial building from The Regency.
“It’s pretty high up,” Ralph Gallagher, Ergotech’s engineer, said of the townhouse complex, “72 feet above the roof of this building.”
Regency resident Kevin Jones wasn’t reassured.
“I can tell you when Ritz Asia gets their garbage removed,” he said, “noise travels up, and it’s not buffered by that hill.”
Huk Cheh, another Regency resident, backed him.
“I can hear traffic on Route 7,” he said, “even though my hearing’s not that good.”
A traffic study from Frederick P. Clark Associates reported the daily weekday traffic volume on Route 7 in the area was 17,153 vehicles, with a weekday peak hour volume of 1,375 vehicles between 8 and 9 in the morning.
Ergotech’s 20 or 30 workers weren’t projected to make a significant impact.
But neighbors’ worries focused on work at the site.
“I’m more concerned with the construction phase,” said Paul Siomkos. “When I hear terms ‘blasting’ and ‘rock-crushing’ — that’s going to be a major nuisance.”
“That’s a big deal, when you start blasting,” Dale Daniels said.
“The blasting doesn’t go on for very long,” said Mr. Gallagher, project engineer.
The planning office file includes a brief report from town Fire Marshal Dave Lathrop, outlining plans for possible blasting.
“During construction if blasting is needed pre-blasting surveys will be requested of homes above the site at Regency to check for the amount of vibration that may be caused by blasting,” Mr. Lathrop wrote. “Our office will oversee all blasting.”
Arthur Levine wanted Regency townhouse owners be protected from mishaps.
“Have extra insurance, in case there was a rock slide, a movement of the mountain,” he said. “I’d prefer to have an insurance company pay, as opposed to everybody suing.”
The application includes a request to use a rock crushing machine during construction, and Regency resident John Tartaglia asked how the machine would compare to equipment at the Tilcon facility visible from Route 84 north of Waterbury.
No one from Ergotech’s development team, the commission, or the town planning staff, nor the could testify to size of the rock crusher.
Mr. Tartaglia responded with incredulity: “You’re going to approve a rock crusher without knowing the details, the size of it?”