Thoughts on the Gateway?

In its thoughtful, deliberative manner, the Planning and Zoning Commission has done much well as it has worked up a proposed new “Gateway Enhancement Zone” that would allow retail uses in most of the business property along Route 7 from Haviland Road north to Danbury. The proposal has laudable goals and much thought has gone into it. But as it heads into a public hearing next Tuesday, the new zone still raises concerns.

One problem is that re-introducing retail zoning in the area may invite commercial strip development; the other is that adding more retail development along Route 7 could undermine the strength of the town center and the Main Street business district.

The potential benefits of the proposal are substantial. Commission members behind the idea — as well as supporters on the Economic Development Commission and among Route 7 property owners — see revised zoning as a way to spark investment, spruce up the area, generate income for business and property owners, and add to the town’s commercial tax base.

Advocates say the proposal has been refined over the months of discussion to address the concerns. Retail uses would be capped, regardless of how big a property is, at 20,000 square feet — about the size of the Walgreens building on Danbury Road by Grove Street — to prevent “big box stores” from taking over. The zone has design and landscaping standards and calls for review of plans to guard against strip development.

But design standards have limitations — as do developers’ budgets.

Supporters say Route 7 is different from the town center — retail there could capture some of the dollars driving down the highway each day, without siphoning them away from Main Street’s “destination” shopping. But, arguably, the weakening of commercial vitality in the village  parallels the growth of the retail district along Danbury Road.

The Gateway Zone is a far-reaching proposal that needs to be thoroughly aired. Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on its pros and cons at the public hearing Jan. 15, starting at 7:30 in the town hall annex.

Typically, the commission has anticipated the major concerns, but it is far from a consensus as to how real they are, and how they stack up against the intended benefits. On several points of discussion, the commission considered making the new zone more restrictive but opted not to, figuring it would listen to the public’s views at the hearing, then resume the debate. Commissioners don’t have their minds made up, and are genuinely interested in seeing how townspeople feel.

It should be a hearing worth attending.

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  • Wayne

    Ridgefield residents, you all need to take an interest in Route 7.

    When a company needs to make change, whether a small independent or fortune 500 company, we all conduct our own form of “study”. If you’re a large company, its history and needs are reviewed with teams of professionals, decisions are made based upon, at a minimum, historic facts, recent and current trends and future anticipation and more.

    Most companies move forward with the help of intelligent minds collaborating. My concern is that I don’t see that happening in Ridgefield. I see this discussion taking place in a vacuum.

    Before a change is made to any one area of our town, we must study our needs, the impact of its residential and commercial component and new and current trends or lack thereof. We must study and consider the needs as a total community. We also should be reviewing the communities around us, their successes and weakness just as we do in business. Which are the bright minded towns?

    There are plenty of brilliant minds both on Route 7, Branchville, Danbury Road and in the Central Business District to call upon.

    The planning & zoning commission must look to the rest of the community.
    What does our tax assessor have to say and what are his concerns? Town leaders, residents and the business community need to speak out.

    Wayne Addessi
    38y Main Street

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