Ridgefield parking lot expansion approved

A project to realign Ridgefield’s Main Street has a start date of spring 2022, but some business owners are concerned about the impact the plan will have on their storefronts.

A project to realign Ridgefield’s Main Street has a start date of spring 2022, but some business owners are concerned about the impact the plan will have on their storefronts.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

More village parking!

Reduced — from 56 spaces down to 38 — but he town’s long-planned parking lot expansion is all approved. The plans now head into an estimate-and-bidding process that First Selectman Rudy Marconi hopes will have the project ready for bulldozers and workers in hard hats by the coming of the warm weather construction season.

“I would say in a couple of months we’d start, 30 to 60 days,” Marconi said.

“Of course, we want it done as soon as possible — 38 spots are 38 spots we don’t have now.”

The 38 new parking spaces now planned to be added at the north end of the Governor Street parking lot are fewer than the 50 or 60 town officials had envisioned when they got voters to approve $570,000 for the project back in the 2018-19 budget referendum.

“It’s been reduced through several conceptual plans,” Town Facilities Director Jake Muller told the Planning and Zoning Commission. “We’re now down to 38 total spaces — 36 in the expansion, and we’re looking to pick up two in the existing parking lot.”

Still, the commission approved the plans on a 7-to-2 vote Tuesday night, Feb. 11, after a public hearing at which one neighbor spoke, raising concerns that ranged from flooding to the impact on village wildlife.

“We have hawks, we have foxes, we have rabbits, all sorts of unusual birds,” said Gina Carey of 107 East Ridge.

“Removing that last half-acre of woodlands in the downtown area, I’m concerned what it’s going to do.”

She also worried that converting woodlands to blacktop would aggravate stormwater problems that already trouble the neighborhood.

“When it rains, I’m telling you, it all floods,” Carey said.

The design engineer on the project, Steve Sullivan of CCA engineering, said the new lot shouldn’t add to the drainage difficulties.

“We provided a detention system that significantly reduces peak flows off this site,” Sullivan said.

Before going to the Planning and Zoning Commission, the plans were approved by the new independent Inland Wetlands Board.

“The board was principally concerned with the loss of the wooded buffer adjacent to the stream,” wetlands board Chairwoman Patricia Sesto said later. “In accordance with the state statutes, we pressed the applicant to demonstrate the alternative they preferred was the most feasible and prudent with the least impact to the stream.

“The applicant did a good job of justifying the need for additional parking, the alternative locations explored, and then they made adjustments to the initial proposal in response to the board’s directive to minimize impacts to the wooded buffer.”

Estimate first

Marconi wants to add a step to the town’s usual bidding process, seeking a professional estimator’s opinion.

“We’ve sent it out to get a professional estimate on the cost and see where we’re at — and that would relate to a cost per spot, and whether it’s worth the investment, because there will be more blasting,” Marconi said.

“We want to be sure we have a good number, before we move forward, so that’s why we’re hiring an outside professional estimating firm to take a look at this.

“Then I can tell the board this is what the approximate cost is going to be, and we’re moving forward — so everyone is aware what we’re spending for these 38 spots,” he said.

The permit procedure was longer, and more costly, than initially anticipated.

“We had to spend extra money to do all of the permit process, and I want to be sure the money we have left covers the cost of installing 38 parking spaces and getting the job done,” Marconi said.

Marconi was fairly confident the cost estimate would be acceptable, and the town could just move forward with the parking lot.

“It’s obviously a smaller project — it’s not 50 to 60 spots, it’s 38. And the area being impacted is being reduced significantly, so we’re hoping we’ll be absolutely fine. But I want to be sure,” he said.

What would happen if the estimate — or the bids that followed — came in high and exceeded the money available?

“That would be up to the Board of Selectmen,” Marconi said.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time.”

A loop

The new parking lot will be a northward expansion of the existing lot parking lot off Governor Street, between the RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club. It will take up land behind the Casey Fuel building.

“This is a one-way, loop parking lot, with angled parking,” Steve Sullivan, the design engineer, told the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing.

Sullivan said the plan would involve a four-foot retaining wall.

The plans also show 25 sizable trees, many of them trees that are already there.

“We were able to save a lot of trees,” Sullivan said.

An effort was made to minimize bulldozing and earth-moving work.

“It is less than an acre of total disturbance on the site,” Sullivan said.

He said he expects the disturbed area will be just over eight tenths of an acre, he said.

Facilities Director Jake Muller said the town was also seeking approval to use a rock crushing machine on the site, which would allow rocks excavated to be reused and would reduce the number of trucks coming and going during construction.

Lighting fixtures would be a maximum of 14 feet high, and would be similar to those the town used on the outdoor lighting put in at the Schlumberger property. The plan also calls for replacing the lighting fixtures in the existing roughly 60-car lot, so they all match.

Business district need

Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli said the commission’s staff supported the project, since the shortage of parking had for years been a source of concern among Central Business District merchants and landlords.

”The staff is in favor,“ Baldelli said, referring to “the positive impact this would have in the CBD zone, in terms of parking.”

Baldelli’s written staff report says:

“The Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), supported by the 2009 Ridgefield Center Study by Milone & MacBroom, offers recommendations for downtown Ridgefield which include ‘reconfiguring and expanding parking’ and ‘upgrading municipal parking lots with lighting.’

“In the POCD public survey,” Baldelli’s report adds, “61% of residents felt that the town should find ways to add more parking downtown for employees and visitors.”

The 2009 Ridgefield Center Study had put the number of parking spaces in the village at just over 1,500. Parking has increased some — but not substantially — since then.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said that while the official reduction in the number of spaces during the many changes to the plan was 18 — from 56 to 38 — the original hope was for something like 66 spaces.

“This is, I believe, the seventh revision since we started back in 2018,” Muller said.

Mucchetti also told commissioners that since the project had previously been approved by the new independent Inland Wetlands Board, any changes the commission required to the design of the lot would mean the town would have to take the plans back for another wetlands approval.

The commission obliged by approving the plans without changes.

“It’s a hell of a lot better than the plan that first came to us,” said Commissioner John Katz.

The review process took longer and cost more, and the town ended up with fewer new parking spaces than were initially envisioned.

“A lot of work,” Marconi said. “Originally, the hope was maybe to get 60-plus, 65, but when the plans came out it was at 56. Right now, after the Inland Wetlands Board review we’re down to 38.”

But the first selectman wasn’t complaining.

“The Inland Wetlands Board, it was the first permit to be presented and they did a good job,” Marconi said. “They did the job we elected them to do, and we’ll move forward.

“Did it take longer? Probably. But there was not an immediacy to the project.

“Should we have had more parking spaces years ago? That’s been a debate,” Marconi said. “But we do have 38 coming on, and that’s the important thing. And all the boards and commissions did a good job.”