Ridgefield grain building to be turned into businesses and apartments — including 2 affordable units

RIDGEFIELD —  The addition of affordable housing units was among a handful of special conditions recently approved by the town's Planning & Zoning Commission for the construction of a mixed use commercial and residential building at 34 Bailey Ave.  

Other special conditions that were approved for the project at the old S. D. Keeler grain elevator building pertained to affordable parking spaces, lighting, and high density development.

"It's a very significant project," Commission Chairman Robert Hendrick said. "Things like this don't happen in Ridgefield very frequently at all — that we get a brand new out-of-the-ground apartment building with retail in the center of the town. It's very, very rare."   

When completed, the project — which has been in discussions for well over a year, will include three commercial units on the first floor totaling 3,600 gross square feet along Bailey Avenue and 25 residential units above, with mainly two bedrooms between 850 and 1,100 square feet.  The project includes 44 parking spaces on the north and east sides of the building.

While the project was approved in June with a vote of 8-1, it took time to work through the conditions, Hendrick said. 

The applicant is attorney Robert Jewell and the project developer is Patrick Downend, who developed a number of other apartment buildings in Ridgefield and across the state. They couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday. 

"The applicant gave some extensions to the hearing process because we needed to have more input, more discussion," Hendrick said.

Construction is expected to begin in the coming months and will take about 18 months to complete, he said.

Special conditions

One of the conditions for approval pertained to the inclusion of affordable housing units. 

Hendrick said while the applicant is not required to put any affordable housing into the building, they volunteered to put in two units.

He added when an applicant is coming for a special permit, "one of the things we do is we look at all the special permit criteria in terms of judging the project. And one of those criteria is that the project should support our plan of conservation and development, which has affordable housing as a goal for Ridgefield. They did that ... to help strengthen the application."

After months-long delays, Ridgefield selectmen are expected to vote on the town's affordable housing plan on Oct. 19.

Another condition is nothing that's considered "high density" may be constructed in that location.

"For example,  a bowling alley or theater — things that bring a lot of people because there's not enough parking," Hendrick said. "Putting those kinds of high density businesses aside,  it could be more or less anything. It can't be a restaurant also, just because it's a density requirement."

Another condition involved parking. 

The developer sought a 60 percent reduction from the normal parking requirement — a request that's allowed in the central business district where visitors may park in one spot and frequent multiple businesses, Hendrick said. However, that regulation was designed for commercial retail, not a development like this one. 

"It wasn't created necessarily for residential units, where people tend to park and stay," he said.  

Instead, the commission required at least 34 of the 44 spaces designated for residents only.  

"The tenants in the commercial space don't use the parking overnight," he said, adding the number of residents peak overnight. 

"You kind of need the max number of residential parking spaces in the middle of the night whereas in the daytime, presumably, a lot of residents go out," he said.

Another condition on the project involved exterior lighting, which is lighting in the parking areas and walkways.

"There were some sensitivity about the amount of lighting and the intensity of the lighting," Hendrick said. 

"There are new, super white lights and if they're LED, they're not necessarily consuming a lot of energy electricity-wise, but they're super white and a lot of people consider them kind of unnatural to look at," he said. 

Instead, Kelvin lights will be put into the development because they will offer a "little bit more of a soft light or even a slight yellow," Hendrick said.

"It looks like an incandescent light," he said. 

Another condition pertained to making the rooftop air conditioning units on top of the building less visible.

"It's actually a little bit of a valley so as you approach the building, you'll be approaching from almost above. So you'll actually see that top and the roofline pretty easily," he said. "We had some sensitivity around the air conditioning units that would be on the roof and we made a condition to require them to be fully screened — to basically have it hidden."

He added it's "best practice when you're doing a building to do your best to hide those."

Hendrick added the project is "interesting and relevant" to many people because "it's the first in a while that a truly residential and commercial mixed use building is coming out of the ground in the CBD (center of the village district.)

"The Bailey Avenue front of the building will have some commercial slash retail spaces, but the rest of it's apartments and Ridgefield hasn't seen really much of that, if any, in quite a while," he added.