Ridgefield P&Z approves resolution for affordable housing project

A nine-unit affordable housing project at Turner Road and Barnum Place in Ridgebury has been approved by Ridgefield's Planning and Zoning Commission.

A nine-unit affordable housing project at Turner Road and Barnum Place in Ridgebury has been approved by Ridgefield's Planning and Zoning Commission.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Planning and Zoning Commission’s first-ever meeting by teleconference was completed in a brisk 50 minutes Tuesday evening and produced a vote in favor of an affordable housing project in north Ridgefield.

By a margin of 7-to-2, the commission voted for a resolution of approval for the project as presented and modified with a condition for peer-review supervision, by an engineer, as the project proceeds.

The application, received last November, is for a nine-unit, multi-family development on a property consisting of approximately 1.17 acres located at Turner Road and Barnum Place. The applicant, Black Oaks, LLC, submitted the application under Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes covering affordable housing.

In keeping with the dictates of the state’s 8-30g statute, the project includes units deed-restricted as affordable. Two will be deemed within reach of households at 60% of the state’s median income, and one unit affordable to a household at 80% of the state median income.

By state statute, 8-30g applications are exempt from meeting all zoning regulations and can be denied only by health and safety issues that cannot be modified. During Tuesday’s meeting, commission members said the applicant had made modifications that addressed health and safety concerns.

Although several commission members mentioned their personal distaste for the project, they said the application met the criteria for approval.

“This project certainly isn’t one I like, but that’s not what I’m here for,” said John Katz, one of the seven commission members voting in favor of the application. “We don’t have anything to go on here that would be solid basis for denial.”

“[The applicant] addressed concerns that the commission and neighbors had,” said Joe Fossi, who also voted in favor of the application.

“Throughout the public hearing process, the applicant worked with the PZC (Planning & Zoning Commission) and public to revise the application to address concerns that were raised,” wrote chair Rebecca Mucchetti in an email to the Press following the meeting.

Those concerns included storm-water management — “the application was modified to add a second water-quality basin to provide additional capacity and detention to address neighbor concerns about potential overflow and road icing,” wrote Mucchetti — and traffic — “[the applicant] added a crosswalk and sidewalks on both sides of Barnum Place, within the town right-of-way, to address public safety concerns raised by neighbors, and conducted additional real-time traffic study assessment to confirm low impact.”

Mucchetti said the applicant had also improved rear access to the building for the fire department and modified a proposed access road to 15 feet to minimize an impervious surface.

“I believe the applicant met the burden,” said vice chair Charles Robbins during Tuesday night’s meeting. “I feel confident approving the project at this time.”

While Ridgefield has had numerous affordable housing projects approved under the 8-30g law in recent years, nearly all of them have been in the village area on or near Main Street — where water and sewer service is available.

The Ridgebury corporate zone — with sewer lines from Danbury serving Boehringer Ingelheim and other properties, and Aquarion water service — is the only other area of town with both public sewer and water lines.

One of the two no votes Tuesday night came from commission member Susan Consentino. “I am not comfortable with this project,” she said. “I’m still concerned about safety at the bottom of the road going across to the [neighborhood] rec center, as well as fire-safety issues.”

“The application was referred to all relevant town departments for review, and the Fire Marshall responded that the project was in compliance and provided adequate access,” Mucchetti wrote in her email to the Press.

Neighbors had previously presented photos indicating the presence of wood frogs in the area of the project and asked the Inland Wetlands Board to exert jurisdiction.

“The board retained environmental consultant Dr. Michael Klemens to prepare an environmental assessment,” Mucchetti wrote. “Dr. Klemens stated that in his professional opinion, exerting jurisdiction would be ‘ill-advised’. At their April 16, 2020 meeting the IWB (Inland Wetlands Board] voted 7-0 to follow Dr. Klemens’ recommendation and did not exert jurisdiction.”

Because there are no wetlands on the property, the project is outside the upland review area. And because no regulated activities were proposed, a wetland application was not required to be submitted.

After Tuesday night’s vote in favor of approval, the application was given an effective date of May 22. A 15-day appeal period follows, and if no appeal is taken the project moves forward through the permitting process. If an appeal is received, the project goes through the court system.

Notes: Along with Katz, Fossi, Robbins and Mucchetti, commission members Joe Dowdell, George Hanlon, and Ben Nneji voted in favor of the resolution. The no votes came from Consentino and Rob Hendrick.