‘Road map for the future:’ Conservationists look at town plan

Open space maintained by the town, reviewing demolition permits to make sure historic homes aren’t knocked down, improving spaces for the performing arts — the first of three listening session for the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development covered a lot of ground.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is currently rewriting its plan for 2020, a job it takes on every 10 years under state law.

“It really is a road map for the future. You’re all guides to help us get there,” said Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics, the company hired by the town Planning and Zoning Commission to rewrite the plan, at the March 5 listening session.

Jim Coyle, chairman of the Conservation Commission, made the case for the town to continue setting aside land as open space.

The town is currently about 1,000 acres short of its goal of having the town be 30% open space, he said.

“I’m not sure exactly what an acre of land goes for in town, but let’s say $35,000 — if we were to meet our goal through purchase, we’d need $35 million … I just don’t see that happening,” he added.

The town has mostly relied on donations of land, and cash donations to the Conservation Commission to buy about an acre of land each year, he noted.

He also suggested the town should support a bill currently before the General Assembly — HB 5254 — which would allow the town to charge a fee on real estate purchases to pay for the purchase and care of open space.

Coyle said the commission could use more help from the town managing its properties.

“Some of us are getting to be old fogies and we’re out there with chainsaws chopping through the woods and snow to try and maintain our properties.”

Historic buildings

Preserving the town’s historic homes and buildings was also raised as a possible goal for the POCD.

John Kinnear, chairman of the Architectural Advisory Committee, suggested the town could use the National Register of Historic Places to protect some properties.

“Is that something the town can apply for, or does it have to come from the property owner?” asked Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Kinnear said he would find out more about the process.

Geoff Harrington, who sits on the board of the Ridgefield Historical Society, said the town should have a more lengthy review process for building demolition permits to allow historical groups to make sure the property is not on the state or national register of historic places.

“That would give everyone a potential early warning” ahead of the demolition, Harrington said.

Currently, the town’s demolition permits have to be reviewed only by the building department.

Harrington said he was also concerned with preserving “the look and feel of Ridgefield” — something Chalder said came up multiple times in a survey of town residents the commission did in the late fall.

“I challenge anyone here to find a more representative town of a New England town like Ridgefield,” said Harrington.

Art spaces, trail

Some of the boards and commissions also outlined plans for future projects.

Mark Meachem, chairman of the Arts Council, suggested the plan should have more emphasis on the arts, given the number of artists and art venues in town. He noted that one of Gov. Ned Lamont’s “new initiatives is to use the arts as a hook to help draw in tourists.”

Meachem said the town also needs to improve some of the performing arts spaces at the schools. “East Ridge and the high school have some timing issues, or some technical issues,” he said, noting that he was concerned that groups that use the schools as a venue could leave for other towns.

He also suggested that efforts to market the town as an arts destination should be better coordinated.

“There seem to be a lot of people who love and support Ridgefield but seem to be doing their own different work,” Meachem said.

Also in the works is the Norwalk River Valley Trail, a portion of which will run through Ridgefield. When completed, the wheelchair-accessible trail is expected to run 30 miles from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Tarrywile Park in Danbury.

Currently, a mile-long section of the trail is being planned for Redding, which will connect with a section of the trail in Ridgefield that runs from the corner of Simpaug Turnpike and Route 7 to Fire Hill Road on the Redding line.

“When we’re done, we’ll have the mile in Redding and the mile-and-a-half in Ridgefield — a beautiful two-and-a-half mile stretch of 10-foot wide, soft surface trail running through that area,” said Charlie Taney, executive director of the trail.

Future meetings

The commission will hold additional meetings on April 2 and May 7, both Tuesdays.

The April meeting will cover topics around development, business and economic plans, and housing and housing needs.

The May meeting will cover infrastructure, including education and recreation facilities and services, police, fire, and emergency services, and public works. The meeting will also cover roadways, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian access, and utility services, like water, sewer, drainage, and communications.

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