Should the town embrace the potential for denser development offered to builders by the state’s affordable housing law — trying to guide it to better serve town needs — or wage a determined resistance, battling on through a series of retreats as one site after another fills up with houses, condos, and apartments?
The question underlies the selectmen’s discussion in December with developers proposing to build senior housing on Danbury Road near the entrance to the Recreation Center and Founders Hall.
With 30 units approved under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, the developers sought an expansion of the sewer district so the project could be enlarged by 54 to a total of 84 units — with the added units possibly built under the town’s multifamily regulation, dodging 8-30g’s requirement that 30% of units meet state affordability guidelines.
Talking with the developers, the selectmen saw some benefits to this sewer district expansion. There’s a senior population that would be well served. It would enlarge the town’s tax base. Multifamily projects work better on sewers than on communal septic systems, especially in the long haul of many years — and a communal septic system is what’s currently planned for the developers’ approved 30-unit building.
There are also concerns.
The biggest is traffic — it’s hard to think of a stretch of highway in town where more cars would be less welcome. Or pulling out into traffic would be more problematic. One obvious solution would be a traffic light — but who wants another traffic light in a short stretch of Danbury Road that already has two?
There’s an aesthetic aspect that kind of play two ways. The developers’ coach home project on Sunset Lane is nicely done, overall. Still, it’s hard to see how this entryway to Ridgefield’s central commercial areas would be improved by adding three-story,15-unit buildings to the landscape.
But the structure the developers already pushed through using 8-30g is 30 units, and less attractive. The selectmen proposed — although the developers resisted — the notion of dropping or substantially reworking that structure as part of the larger development plan that would be possible with the sewer expansion.
Enlarging the sewer district could also be seen as a precedent, an invitation to other developers to put forward higher density, more lucrative proposals.
And development itself — Ridgefield’s growth from quiet village to traffic-filled suburb — is something the majority of town residents have long been grumpy about. People move to town not just for the schools but the rural illusion — the forested hills, the houses nestled in the woods, the winding roads lined with overhanging trees.
Yes, growth is inevitable. Former Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission member Nelson Gelfman acknowledged this by saying the commission makes two kinds of decisions: those that speed up development, and those that slow it down.
The push of time’s bulldozers is relentless. Change cannot be stopped. But it can be slowed down. And who would blame us for trying to drag our feet?