Peaceable neighbors: ‘We must fight’ Winter Club proposal

Put your money where your mouth is.

That was the defiant stance taken by neighbors of 340 Peaceable Street this week as they continued to protest Ridgefield resident Bud Brown’s plan to build an outdoor, seasonal skating rink and multi-purpose clubhouse on the former Pinchbeck property.

“We find ourselves in a position in which we must fight to protect the quality of life for our families, our neighbors and all of Ridgefield’s residents, and we do so at our own personal toll and financial expense,” said Jeff Hansen, who started the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance last summer to oppose Brown’s proposed Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC).

Brown’s property sits in a residential zone, and he will need a special permit approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission to build the club.

Brown said this week that the club’s application is in keeping to the letter of the town’s zoning regulations.

“Ridgefield’s zoning laws have served our town well for decades, and the RWC was specifically designed to comply with all of them,” said Brown. “Like the town’s ball fields and recreation centers, neighborhood pools, and the ice rink, current Ridgefield planning and zoning regulation defines them as recreational facilities that are permitted in residential zones by special permit, and have always been allowed in order to improve the amenities offered in town and the quality of life.”

Hansen argued the club’s amenities — including outdoor lights, a bowling alley, a restaurant and bar, and the associated noise — would be disruptful.

“This neighborhood is simply nature separated by sporadic housing, which you can see from aerial photography quite easily,” said Hansen. “The peace and tranquility in this section of our town is what has drawn its residents here. We chose to give up town amenities of water, town septic service, and proximity to shops and restaurants in order to live in a quiet, more rural setting.”

Hours, lights

The plan, submitted in a tome-like three-inch binder, calls for the construction of an ice rink and a 12,500-square foot clubhouse.

The rink and clubhouse will be open seasonally from November through March, according to their PR firm. The club will be closed entirely for the summer months of June, July, and August.

For the months of April through May and September through October, the clubhouse will be open on a reduced schedule and the rink will be closed.

During the winter months, on weekdays the rink will open at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. for hockey, and the ice will close at 9:45 p.m. or earlier. On weekends, the ice will open at 8 a.m. and close by 9:45 p.m. or earlier.

The clubhouse will close by 11 p.m.

Brown said the club would take measures to mitigate light and noise.

“With no travel hockey included in the RWC program, attendance at the RWC will largely consist of members and their guests, and with our plan for about 95 parking spaces, we’ll keep parking on the property and off the streets,” he said.

“The RWC will use the latest state-of-the-art LED sports lighting technology and, by incorporating proper aiming angles and internal and external controls, we will reduce the ambient light to an absolute minimum. The RWC will be landscaped with a combination of berms, fences, along with a rink and building design that – from the ground up – is intended to eliminate any potential noise effects outside of the property lines, per town code.”

He also said the club would use less water — around 3,500 gallons per day — than the nursery, which he said currently uses anywhere from 11,000 to 22,000 gallons per day with one acre of planting.

‘Private club’

Other neighbors said they are concerned by the lack of a definition for private clubs, which are allowed by special permit, in the town’s zoning regulations.

“After almost a year and a half of living under this looming threat, we still don’t know the cost of a membership or who the financial investors and the builder of this project are,” said Matt Grossman of the PNA.

Brown said the membership costs are still being worked out.

“Over the next 3-5 years, the RWC expects to offer a total of approximately 275 family memberships as part of its plan to transform the old, deteriorating Pinchbeck Nursery into a strong family-focused winter destination for our residents. We look forward to finalizing the membership costs in the near-term,” he said.

In September of last year, Hansen and other neighbors to the site applied to amend the zoning regulations and remove the phrase “private clubs” from the rules governing special permits. That effort failed after the commission voted it down.

“Without a definition for ‘private clubs’ in our zoning regulations (or exclusion of for-profit enterprises), if our P&Z Commission were to approve the Winter Club as an allowable business in a residential zone, then what happens next?” said Catherine Neligan, also a member of the PNA.

“The house next door to yours could be the location of someone else’s new and lucrative business idea. This sets a risky precedent. If Ridgefield residents don’t speak up now, they may regret that decision in the future.”