Jobs, taxes, not too much traffic — it seemed to many town officials just the sort of development Ridgefield’s been looking for.
But bitter opposition from neighbors appears to have caused a local owner to decide against building a light manufacturing facility on Route 7 in Ridgefield.
Town Planner Betty Brosius informed Planning and Zoning Commission members this week of Dr. Earl Hagman’s withdrawal of an application to relocate his Ergotech Inc. from Danbury to Ridgefield.
The firm makes ergonomic equipment — designed to accommodate the comfort of its human operators — for all sorts of purposes, most of them in manufacturing industries.
The company had contracted to purchase a three-acre site on Route 7, just across from Little Pond, south of the intersection of Route 35 and below The Regency at Ridgefield townhouse complex.
The zoning application, scheduled for a second public hearing session in early September, had been opposed by Regency residents.
Ergotech proposed to build a 20,000-square-foot light industrial facility, employing 20 or 25 people.
Ms. Brosius, the town planner, received an e-mail from Dr. Hagman on Friday and forwarded it to commission members Monday.
“It is with regret that I am withdrawing my application for development of Lot G10-0026 of Ethan Allen Hwy in Ridgefield. As a result, please take me off the agenda for the September 3, public hearing,” Dr. Hagman wrote to the planner.
“Thank you for all the assistance and help you provided in the process. I really appreciated that.
“I look forward to working with you again in the near future.”
In her note to commission members, Ms. Brosius wrote: “My understanding is that his decision centers on the expected problems of dealing with the neighbors from The Regency, and trying to satisfy their concerns.”
Mr. Brosius told The Press that she’d e-mailed back to Dr. Hagman, trying to get him to reconsider the withdrawal.
“I told him I was surprised, and if he wanted to come in to discuss the application so we could come to an understanding of what he needed to do to complete the process, I could meet with him,” she said.
“And I felt the commission was looking favorably on his efforts to revise the plans according to the technical review by our consultant.”
Dr. Hagman chose to withdraw.
“He was genuinely upset by the reaction of the Regency homeowners,” Ms. Brosius said.
“He has to remember that if an appeal would be taken of an approval by the commission, it would tie up the project in court for months, even if it would be successfully defended.”
Ms. Brosius expects the commission to formally accept the withdrawal at its first meeting in September.
At the initial public hearing session July 2, about 40 people turned out and 15 of them spoke — all against the proposal, and all from The Regency, a 73-unit age-restricted townhouse complex.
Complaints covered a wide range, but many focused on plans for blasting and rock-crushing during the roughly year-long construction process.
“We all acknowledge that the construction process would be, as any other construction process, a time when there would be noise and rock crushing and typical construction disturbance,” Ms. Brosius said.
“But the completed building and operation of the business would not have been unlike many others in the Route 7 corridor.”
Dr. Hagman did not return phone calls from The Press about the withdrawal.
Larry Leary, who owns the three-acre site where Ergotech was going to build, did respond when asked about the withdrawal — which will likely cost him the sale of the property.
“It’s zoned for what the guy wants to use it for,” he said.
“It’s not a smokestack-type operation. It’s going to bring a few people, employed, to Ridgefield. It’s going to be good for taxes.
“Isn’t that what Ridgefield wants?”
He said it should have been evident to people coming to look at Regency units that they were considering buying next to a business zone.
“They knew what was there when they bought,” Mr. Leary said.
“I don’t know what those people want. It sounds to me like they don’t want anything. They want to live on their little hill up there. Because they’ve got a little bit of money, they can all kick in, and they think they’ve got power.
“They’re threatening my guy, they’re calling his house. They called his wife. Nice people, real sweethearts,” Mr. Leary said.
“I don’t know what they want, if they don’t want that,” he said. “I guess they want their taxes to go up.”
Town Assessor Al Garzi could offer only a ballpark estimate of the taxes the town might have expected from Ergotech’s planned 20,000-square-foot light industrial building and the equipment in it.
“You’re probably looking at $30,000 in real estate taxes, and maybe $10,000 for personal property,” he said.
The Regency would, as its residents had suggested during the public hearing, pay considerably more in taxes, Mr. Garzi said.
“Somewhere between $750,000 and $850,000, collectively, for 73 units,” he said. “It’s a much bigger development.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi was disappointed that Dr. Hagman had withdrawn his proposal for the kind of business development town officials have long sought to moderate the tax burden on homeowners.
He also speculated that a letter to the editors printed in the Aug. 1 Press might have had a role in Dr. Hagman’s decision.
“It’s a shame that he withdrew. I feel, here is a business use that we continue to hope for in our community, and he has decided not to pursue his application at zoning, probably for several reasons, one of them obviously the letter to the editor in last week’s paper, where he was questioned as a resident, as a member of our community,” Mr. Marconi said. “When it becomes personal like that, he felt, ‘This town doesn’t want me’ — which is not true.
“I may give him a call to see if we can try and keep him here. I think that’s a job the first selectman should do,” Mr. Marconi said. “If we can find another location, that would be great.”