Neighborhood opposes open space purchase
Neighborhood opposition citing a familiar litany of fears — increased traffic, declining property values, environmental impacts — appears to have killed a planned one-acre open space purchase.
A petition signed by 30 Craigmoor Road residents has been sent to the selectmen, and prompted the Conservation Commission to withdrawn it request for a public hearing on the purchase of the parcel. The commission also voted to reverse its decision to acquire the site.
The Conservation Commission is moving forward with a separate deal to acquire 14 acres off Bear Mountain Road for open space. The proposal is headed for a July 15 town meeting.
“The Craigmoor community is 100 percent united in our opposition to the town acquisition of the one acre of land and the subsequent access point (and parking lot) it will create to the existing open space,” Dean Williams of Craigmoor Road South wrote to the selectmen.
The neighborhood opposition appears to be focused on the idea that the acre to be purchased would be an “access point” to other open space land.
“The intent of the Conservation Commission to create an access point to an existing five acres of open space between Craigmoor Road and Route 116 will negatively impact for the residents of Craigmoor and nearby Pond Road,” the petitioners say.
They first cited safety and security concerns. “Residents who choose to purchase their home in a cul-de-sac do so because of their desire for safe, peaceful and quiet streets,” the petition says. “Creating an access point for the public to access the open space land will create significantly more outside traffic to the Craigmoor cul-de-sac.
“The Craigmoor neighborhood is currently home to many families with young children who play and ride bikes in the cul-de-sac. By increasing outside traffic to Craigmoor Road, the safety and security enjoyed by Craigmoor residents will be greatly reduced.”
Conservation Commission Chairman Jim Coyle was disappointed to see the purchase — which was to be financed by a $10,000 grant from the Thrift Shop — derailed by the opposition.
“The parcel would have provided Ridgefield residents much-improved recreational access to an existing parcel of five acres of high quality marshland and five acres of conservation easement with existing trails put in by the Garden of Ideas,” he said. “The commission planned to add a trail and bridges, which are welcome additions for families with small children, nature lovers, seniors, and anyone interested in exploring a wetland environment along an easy walking trail.”
The Conservation Commission wasn’t convinced by the neighbors’ worries.
“The petition argues the open space would reduce safety and security of the cul-de-sac neighborhood, reduce property values, have negative environmental impacts, hinder emergency vehicle access, lead to trespassing on private property and have little impact on Ridgefield’s open space goals. The Conservation Commission strongly disagrees with all the points made in the petition,” Coyle said.
“Ridgefield open spaces already include over 15 significant properties that are accessed only from cul-de-sacs or dead-end streets. There has never been an issue with neighborhood safety, reduced property values, or emergency vehicle access,” he said.
“Negative environmental impact is a strange argument,” he added, “seeing that the ‘Conservation’ Commission oversees 5,600 acres of open space with a stated goal of conserving natural space and ecosystem management.”
But the neighbors outlined an extensive list of problems that might follow from the purchase, in part, because of the privacy they find in their cul-de-sac.
Worries over “reduced property values” were high on their list.
“Many real estate studies have shows that cul-de-sac property values are 20-30 percent higher than a comparable property not on a cul-de-sac,” the petition says. “By introducing a town open space access point on Craigmoor Road, the property value for 25 homes will be significantly impacted.
“Not only will this be devastating for the town residents who own the Craigmoor properties, but the town revenue will be greatly reduced by lower property tax collections.”
Other issue they raise include a potential threat to “a rare bog turtle” known to live downstream of the proposed open space land, difficulty for emergency vehicle trying to reach homes on Craigmoor Road, and possible disruption of a nearby historic site — the town’s first grist mill.
The petitioners also argue that the one-acre addition to the town’s open space inventory wouldn’t do much to move the Conservation Commission toward its goal of increasing the amount of open space in town from about 25 to 30 percent of the town’s land area.
Again, Coyle took a different view.
“As Ridgefield has grown, very few large tracts of properties remain to be considered for open space acquisition,” he said. “If we are to add to the town’s inventory of open space, it is going to have to be through carefully thought out small land size purchases such as the Craigmoor Road property.
“Properties like Craigmoor Road would link up to larger tracts of open space already in the town’s inventory. This space is a perfect candidate to add to our open spaces. The commission continues to seek land to fulfill the town’s stated goal of 30 percent open space. It needs to acquire over 1,100 acres to realize this goal...
“The Commission still has an interest in acquiring this property and would be willing to meet with the landowner and the Craigmoor Road homeowners to work out an amicable solution should both parties be interested,” Coyle said.
“Multiple surveys have shown that town residents overwhelmingly consider growing the inventory of open space a top priority for Ridgefield’s future. Open space benefits everyone.”