Wetlands board approves Winter Club, denies intervention by neighbors

The Inland Wetlands Board voted 4-3 to approve a new drainage system, as well as related grading and paving work in the upland review area near 340 Peaceable Street, for the Ridgefield Winter Club Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The approved wetlands application does not allow developer Bud Brown to begin building his private skating club.

The outdoor skating rink, clubhouse, and parking lot that Brown envisioned on roughly six acres of former nursery land on Peaceable Street will require a special permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission — made up of the same nine members as the wetlands board.

Cathy Savoca, who joined the board in December, abstained from voting Tuesday night. Fellow commissioner Bob Cascella has been recused from voting on the Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC) application since its first public hearing in September.  

Brown withdrew two special permit applications to run the private club in a residential zone on Dec. 12. He also withdrew an application for 40-foot lights that would have illuminated the skating rink. The withdrawn applications came after the Planning and Zoning Commission grilled the club’s acoustic expert in late November for suggesting the RWC would need to be built before noise from the club could be calculated.

Attorney Bob Jewell, who has represented Brown through eight public hearings last year, was seen congratulating his client as the decision was announced Jan. 8.

“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Jewell told The Press shortly after the wetlands board meeting, which drew around 60 residents to the Board of Education conference room in the town hall annex.

Board members Joe Dowdell, Mark Zeck, and Charles Robbins voted against the RWC’s wetlands application.

“In my 13 years on the commission, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of property that has ever been scrutinized like this one,” said Vice Chairman Joe Fossi.

Out of five environmental experts, “there was only one who found that the conduct would have an unreasonable polluting effect there,” he added.

Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said she thought the revised wetlands application responded to concerns raised by the town Conservation Commission, and from peer review for the town.

Intervention

The decision also denied a legal intervention filed by Jennifer and Jeff Hansen, neighbors of the proposed club who live on Old South Salem Road. The Hansens’ intervention alleged that the proposed club would threaten vernal pools and a habitat for wood frogs.

Dr. Michael Klemens, an expert hired by the Hansens, claimed an environmental study by the club was insufficient, because the study had not been conducted in the spring when the frog populations breed.

“I’m just disappointed in the four members of the board who didn’t seem to understand our argument that the vernal pools within 750 feet of the property need to be studied in the springtime,” Jeff Hansen said after the Jan. 8 meeting.

Zeck, who voted against the application, said he agreed with Dr. Klemen’s assessment that the study had been done at the wrong time of year.

“I believe that his testimony is reliable,” Zeck said.

Robbins, who also voted against the application, said he was “yet to be convinced” the project would not result in pollution.

“Doing nothing is a reasonable and prudent alternative,” he said.

Jewell has said the club plans to submit a new special permit application to build the winter club.

Board member John Katz, who voted in favor of the wetlands application, seemed to allude to that possibility.

“The conclusion I arrived at has nothing to do with any application that may come before us for use of the property in the future. It is a divorced situation, and I’m looking at this clearly through the lens of the standards we must meet both for the intervention, and as the Inland Wetlands Board,” he said.

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