‘Much needed’ additional parking approved at Ridgefield Recreation Center

RIDGEFIELD — Users of the Recreation Center and Founders Hall will soon have more space to park thanks to a recent approval from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The unanimous decision — with one commissioner absent and one recusing from the vote — will add 30 new parking spaces dedicated to the facilities, which are located off of Danbury Road.

“This has been part of the strategic and master plans for a number of years,” Parks & Recreation Director Dennis DiPinto said. “Prior to COVID, it’s routinely pretty congested in here — parking is not a new issue.”

While the cost of the project is unclear, DiPinto said, “We expect this will likely be seen in our proposed capital budget over the next two or three years.”

The department has had to add auxiliary parking areas near the center in order to accommodate visitors, and is developing 20 auxiliary spots on the south side of the facility, DiPinto said.

The design for the 30 additional parking spaces will have no effect on the regulated wetland areas that surround the campus, DiPinto said. He also noted that the project would integrate permeable pavers and stormwater management.

“Most of the new parking is actually gonna be on surfaces that have already been earth disturbed,” Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli said. “It’s a little bit of a rearranging of the existing parking layout and a little bit of an expansion.”

The 30 spaces will be added to the eastern side of the parking lot, closer to Founders Hall, Baldelli said. He added workers would widen the roadway there and rearrange lampposts, but won’t add any.

“It’s completely compliant with the parking regulations,” he said.

The Recreation Center has shared a campus with Founders Hall since 2001, DiPinto said. Grace Weber, the executive director of the senior center, said the additional parking is “much needed.”

She described instances in the past where members would attempt to visit Founders Hall only to turn around and leave because they couldn’t find a place to park.

“Having additional spaces anywhere in the lot will ease things up,” Weber said. “With the pandemic, the use of both places (has) changed a little bit, but we’re expecting it to be bouncing back soon.”

Since Founders Hall resumed in-person programming for its fully-vaccinated members earlier this year, class attendance has gone up, Baldelli said.

DiPinto acknowledged that while COVID has taken a toll on the center’s membership over the past two years, he hopes it will return and exceed pre-pandemic numbers in the future. Recent improvements to the Wellness Center, such as new flooring and exercise equipment, could potentially draw in new members.

DiPinto hopes to see the expanded parking area in use “within three years.” And while visitors may have to wait a little bit longer, the lot will ultimately be “a safer place to accommodate cars,” he said.

Weber agreed. “Having this great campus (is) a resource to the community, in particular to Founders Hall,” she said. “It’s (important) to have safe parking accessible for our members.”