Ridgefield’s town plan, with emphasis on sustainability, gets good reviews
With sustainability identified as a major focus for the town’s future, a draft Plan of Conservation and Development for Ridgefield got positive reviews from a crowd of about 40 citizens and town officials who turned out to share reactions to the 10-year revision of the town plan.
“I’d like to compliment the emphasis on sustainability,” said Ben Oko, a former Conservation Commission member who represented the Ridgefield Action Coalition on the Environment (RACE).
He was one of a dozen people to offer reactions to the draft plan at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 7.
Oko suggested that the “hazards mitigation” section of the plan contain a map locating various hazards to be mitigated.
“We have to be able to show we’re planning for mitigation in the future,” Oko said.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi urged the commission to make sure the plan accommodates the town’s recently revived effort to put together a “demolition delay” ordinance that could increase protection of historic buildings that are such a major part of the town’s character.
“Main Street is a number one priority,” Marconi said.
He pointed to New Canaan’s more and more dense development as an example to be wary of.
“If you reflect on New Canaan, with the in-filling — it has changed the community,” Marconi said. “...We’re on the precipice now of seeing Ridgefield become that.”
In trying to limit continued dense development under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, he said, the town should look for ways to encourage units in the Casagmo and Fox Hill condominium complexes to become “deed restricted” as affordable so they can count toward the town having 10% of its housing stock meet state affordability standards — which would mean 8-30g doesn’t apply in town.
Pricewise, Marconi said, most of the units in the big condo projects already fall within the affordability guidelines.
“All we need is the deed restrictions,” he said.
Perhaps the town can look into offering tax incentives for people to deed-restrict their units, he said.
“We need to work outside the box to reach that affordable housing 10% goal,” he said.
5G on poles
Marconi also warned that the push for “5G” cell phone service might result in utility poles around Ridgefield having large ugly mechanical additions on top.
“Five-G, it’s coming and it’s going to be an issue,” Marconi said.
“We’re going to be looking at antennas on every other if not every single telephone pole in this community,” Marconi said.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is supporting telecommunications companies’ push toward more and faster data availability though 5G as a national priority.
“The FCC said: Go for it. Peddle to the metal,” Marconi said.
Marconi said the town’s experience with the post office project might show a way to put regulations on the books ahead of time, and try to maintain some control over equipment added to the utility poles.
“We can establish zoning regulations now, today,” he said. “...The federal government is exempt from zoning regulations, but they want to be a good neighbor.”
Overall, he liked the revised town plan.
“I think it’s a good document, and we need to move forward with it,” Marconi said.
Barbara Hartman of Craigmore Road North said she wanted to “congratulate the commission and the professionals” on the job they’d done putting the revised plan together.
She did have some suggestions.
“I’d encourage the commission to go for the most renewable, sustainable plan we can put forward,” Hartman said.
As a resident of the Lake Mamanasco area, she urged attention to environmental protection of water resources.
“The lake is definitely nutrient loaded,” she said. “...I don’t think it’s just our lake. It’s every lake.”
A possible solution would be to “adopt a septic system ordinance, where septic systems can be inspected” and faulty ones repaired.
“We have a lot of houses on Lake Mamanasco on 40-foot lots,” she said.
“We’d like to strongly encourage the Planning and Zoning Commission and town to put in more details around affordable housing,” said Lori Driscoll of Barnum Place.
“We’d like to encourage P&Z and the town of Ridgefield to take a more proactive approach,” she said. “...A fresh look at how to work cooperatively with builders, solutions to address our need for affordable housing, yet preserve our environment.”
Open space, cluster housing
Erik Keller of the Conservation Commission applauded the draft plan’s continued emphasis on preserving open space — Ridgefield has about 25% of its land area in open space, and the plan reiterated the goal of preserving 30% of the town’s land as undeveloped.
But he questioned a couple of the strategies the plan lays out for pursuing that goal.
In particular, he thought the plan should call for a reconsideration of the cluster subdivision approach known as “Planned Residential Development” or “PRD” subdivision.
In a list of strategies to “protect natural resources” the draft plan says: “Maintain the Planned Residential Development provisions in the Zoning Regulations (Section 4.1) to enable more flexible residential development patterns which can help preserve important resources.”
“That is a cluster development type regulation,” Keller said. “We think there may be more optimal ways…”
Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti replied that by clustering new homes — rather than cutting up an entire parcel in two- and three-acre lots — the PRD subdivision rule allowed larger areas to be set aside to remain undeveloped.
“It was a way to encourage more open space,” she said.
Don Ciota of the town’s Commission for Accessibility went right to his commission’s principal concern.
“As we make this plan, we need to consider accessibility,” he said.
“The time to consider accessibility is right from the start.”
Trying to work in accessible accommodations after something is already built is the wrong approach, according to Ciota.
“It gets very expensive,” he said.
“This is a fantastic document,” said Dwayne Escola of Catoonah Street.
But Escola advocated a greater emphasis on “reduction of fossil fuel emissions” — something, he noted, that is called for by the state.
Gov. Ned Lamont had asked the state Department of Energy to come up with a plan to move Connecticut to “100% green” electricity generation within 20 years — by 2040.
“In the next 10 years, it’s going to be one of the hottest topics in the world,” Escola said.
“...If we want to keep the world we love,” he said, “...we need to get rid of all fossil fuels.”
“The sustainability area is huge,” said Lynn Noyes of Circle Drive East. “...We’re at a tipping point in Ridgefield, right now … The next 10 years could be crucial in what Ridgefield looks like and what it becomes.
“For me, the heart and soul of Ridgefield is the neighborhoods,” Noyes said
She extolled her own Circle Drive area.
“Children can play and everyone knows everyone, and would help everyone — but not bother anyone,” she said.
People focus on Main Street, and it is great, she said, but what drew her to Ridgefield were the comfortable, family-oriented residential areas.
“We moved to Ridgefield — it was one of the few towns that had old-fashioned neighborhoods,” she said.
The family neighborhoods theme was taken up by Arum Thachi of Turner Hill, who said his area had “17 kids under seven years old” and another four children expected in the coming months.
While the commission was right to focus on seniors — a growing segment of the town’s population — it should also keep younger families in mind and plan “different areas, where kids can come and play,” Thachi said.
Solar panels, container farms
Jeffrey Hansen of Old South Salem Road, who’d led neighborhood opposition to an ice rink proposal, was supportive of the plan’s “sustainability” goals.
He applauded language in the plan targeting “nonresidential uses in residential zones.”
He suggested the plan consider whether things like “container farming” and the need for regulation by the town.
“Do we address things like ground-mounted solar panels?” Hansen asked.
“I congratulate everyone,” said Sanjay Tripathi, who had come before the commission a year or so back after being offended by the erection of solar arrays near his property line.
“Look back at the last five or 10 years of issues that have gotten everyone all riled up,” he told the commission.
He spoke, in part, on the plan’s effort to highlight affordable housing as an issue.
“We all agree affordable housing is important,” he said. “But for any of use who have been stuck in traffic, we’ve seen the downside of it.”
Lori Mazzola of Ridgefield Voters United submitted a petition that she said had gotten more than 300 signatures in just 48 hours.
Among the issues she wanted the plan to address were: “No commercial enterprises in residential zones; protect our neighborhoods from excessive traffic, disruption, obstruction of views and the like; reapply to the State for 8-30g exemption; limit height of building construction to include 8-30g in coordination with State; written assessment of traffic impact before building approval presented to the public; written assessment of sewerage system impact before building approval to include how much capacity remains after each hookup; Planning and Zoning and Conservation Commission must have joint meetings at least once per quarter; what needs to be changed to accommodate our aging population to include such ideas as separate parking or traffic free zones, more handicap parking, transportation, housing changes and other suggestions from Commission on Aging.”
The draft town plan is available for reading online on the Planning Zoning Commission’s section of the town’s website: Ridgefieldct.org.
Comments on the pan can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The commission goal is to have a formal public hearing in May, and have the plan adopted by the end of June.