Flooding problems, historic concerns raised for nine-unit Ridgefield project

The proposed nine-unit apartment building at 5 North Salem Road was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

The proposed nine-unit apartment building at 5 North Salem Road was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Macklin Reid / Hearst

Endemic flooding problems of neighbors on New Street were raised as concerns for redevelopment of 5 North Salem Road with a nine-unit apartment building, when the revised plans were presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We have drainage issues, flooding,” said Christina Ungaro, of 82 New St.

She was worried storm runoff from the North Salem Road site would flow down to New Street properties behind and below it.

“The drainage issues are real,” Ungaro said. “This is on a hill. They have the benefit of gravity. We have the disadvantage of gravity.

“For us, it’s a legitimate environmental problem.”

Ungaro was one of three citizens to speak when the proposed development was discussed at a second public hearing session on Tuesday, Oct. 29. The hearing, which had begun in late September, was extended to a third session planned for Tuesday, Nov. 12.

The plan is to remove two older houses — one of them a 120-year-old Queen Ann-style Victorian — and put up a nine-unit apartment building on the half-acre site.

The development is proposed under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing statute, so three of the nine planned apartments would have to meet state affordability standards for at least 40 years. All of the units are expected to meet ADA access standards.

Commission members seemed to welcome most of the revisions made since the first hearing session.

The proposed apartment building was redesigned to echo the look of the Queen Ann-style house on the site — with a front porch and bay window on the ground floor facade, and siding giving way to fish-scale shingles toward the top of three- and four-story front gables.

“Your intent was to try to preserve the existing look of the house,” commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti told the development team representing property owner Kung H. Wei. “The effort was worth it. It’s a big improvement.”

Historic concerns

When the plans were initially put forward at a Sept. 24 hearing session, the proposal had been criticized by members of the Historic District Commission, the Ridgefield Historical Society, and the town’s Architectural Advisory Committee. They’d noted that the property is part of the Titicus Hill Historic District, and mourned losing the 120-year-old Queen Ann Victorian that presents its facade to the intersection of North Salem Road and Route 35.

Speakers had also protested plans for 19 parking spaces on the front of the lot.

The revised plans had the building closer to the front of the site, with five parking spaces in front of the building and nine behind, for a reduced total of 14. During back-and-forth discussion at the Oct. 29 hearing, the number of parking space in front was reduced by one, so the revised plan would have four spaces in front and a total of 13.

Ungaro, the New Street neighbor, said that while she appreciated that the redesigned facade would look better from North Salem Road, the rear view that New Street neighbors would get was “an imposing structure, four stories high.”

Other speakers reiterated Ungaro’s stormwater concerns.

“Has anyone on the board — or consultants — done a walk-through of any of the back yards on New Street?” asked Lori Mazzola of Ridgefield Voters United.

“I think you need to walk through all those properties before you approve this,” said Mazzola.

Susan Consentino, a candidate for the Planning and Zoning Commission in the Nov. 5 election who has been attending the commission meetings, asked about arrangements for drainage from the roof — which would be directed into the property’s back yard through an engineered stormwater system and released underground.

Traffic report

Traffic consultant Michale Valente of Frederick P. Clark Associates, who’d missed the initial hearing, gave a brief presentation saying the weekday traffic volume was about 8,000 vehicles a day at the intersection, with a two-way traffic of just under 700 vehicles during morning and afternoon peak commuter hours.

The proposed development, going from four apartments to nine, could be expected to generate three additional trips in the morning commuter hour and four in the afternoon rush hour, he projected.

“Four or five trips added to 7,000 vehicles on the road itself is not going to change how the intersection operates,” he said.

Accident data for 2016, 2017 and 2018 showed 10 collisions over the three years at the intersection of Routes 116 and Route 35, according to Valente.

Discussion between commission members and applicant’s attorney, Robert Jewell, turned to the 8-30g affordable housing law that the proposal was submitted under — severely limiting the commission’s discretion to turn the project down since it is exempt from most zoning regulations.

Of the three units meeting affordable guidelines, two would likely rent for about $1,150 a month to families earning 60 percent of the state’s $96,300 median income, and one would probably be rented for about $1,580 a month to a families making 80 percent of the state median.

The question raised was whether 8-30g, while helping developers get around zoning rules, really works to improve the local rental market.

“What the market is gaining,” Jewell said, “is nine ADA-accessible units.”