Ridgefield debates affordable housing or open space for town-owned Prospect Ridge

The Meadows off Prospect Ridge Road and Halpin Lane is the town's only affordable housing project for families. The others, Ballard Green and the Congregate Housing facility, are for senior citizens.

The Meadows off Prospect Ridge Road and Halpin Lane is the town's only affordable housing project for families. The others, Ballard Green and the Congregate Housing facility, are for senior citizens.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — Close to 200 people have signed a petition to deed restrict 12 acres of land on Prospect Ridge as open space. The land, however, is still being studied as a potential site for affordable housing.

The town received a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Housing to study the feasibility of the land on Prospect Ridge as a development for affordable apartments.

The earmarked plot is adjacent to an existing Ridgefield Housing Authority Development. To date, the town has used $3,000 from the grant to examine the site’s suitability as housing and found that about five acres could be developed into a maximum of 70 affordable units.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the Ridgefield Conservation Commission has always considered the roughly 22 acres of Prospect Ridge as open space, but under strict definitions of open space, it shouldn’t be counted. For land to be officially termed open space, it must be preserved or protected through the deed.

According to the Ridgefield land records from the 1980s, the state conveyed the land to the town under the uses of recreation, conservation or open space, and the land “shall not be converted to any other uses” except with the approval of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Ridgefield counts 5,650 acres in its inventory of open space, of which about 350 acres was acquired over the past 20 years. Ridgefield Conservation Commission Chairman Jim Coyle said even though the acreage at Prospect Ridge has always been in their count and considered open space, they’re reexamining what the title says.

“Decades ago nobody thought too much to whether we should save land as open space,” he said. “If someone donated land to the town without any further explanation we feel it’s not really protected.”

The commission has reexamined the land uses for town-owned properties and what’s protected in writing and what’s not. The group has assembled a list of 90 parcels — totaling about 1,100 acres — that have been considered open space in practice or that would be a natural fit and hoping to create a townwide open space declaration for everything on the list, Coyle said.

Coyle said the commission removed the Prospect Ridge parcel from its declaration list because there were too many question about the intended land use.

“We’ve been carrying it as open space for decades and in this exercise we’re going though, this anomaly came up with Prospect Ridge,” Coyle said. “Nobody thought about Prospect Ridge and whether it’s open space or not until this activity with affordable housing.”

Dave Goldenberg, chairman of the Ridgefield Affordable Housing Committee, said the body is going to continue with the study after the town files its affordable housing plan with the state.

Goldenberg said he feels the desire to deed 12 acres on Prospect Ridge as open space is part of an effort to undermine the committee’s work on affordable housing.

“There was organized opposition to this before we even started studying this (Prospect Ridge),” he said.

There’s still more to consider before any development plans could solidify, though, including studying the impact on the environment, traffic, schools and any relevant factors.

“I’m an open space advocate as well but we have to have a more thoughtful approach to manage housing growth in this town — do we want projects jammed down our throats or do we want to promote housing on our own terms?” Goldenberg said.

The Meadows off Prospect Ridge Road and Halpin Lane is the town's only affordable housing project for families. The others, Ballard Green and the Congregate Housing facility, are for senior citizens.

The Prospect Ridge land in question was included in the first draft of the affordable housing plan, which many residents took issue with and some worried the town was implying it would commit to building the apartments there if that affordable housing plan got approved.

Marconi said he’s confused why Prospect Ridge keeps coming up in affordable housing and open space discussions because there’s still so many steps to take with the feasibility study and permission from DEEP for land use.

He said the Affordable Housing Committee and the Board of Selectmen should be discussing what the housing goals are, rather than specific sites.

Goldenberg said during the committee’s meeting Monday night, they’ve removed any specific reference to parcels of land from the plan, per the feedback they’ve received from residents, the Board of Selectmen and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“It was a very productive session where we reviewed all the feedback and decided how to incorporate it,” he said. “I think we’ve addressed most, if not all, of the concerns.

mdignan@hearstmediact.com