Ridgefield subdivision: care of private road becomes an issue
The long winding history and considerable costs of maintaining a private road — Martin Drive — became an issue at a contentious public hearing for a proposed four-lot resubdivision off North Salem Road.
“You’ve got to do something about that road. It’s a problem,” Scott Eckardt of 798 North Salem Road said of Martin Drive. ”...Its a 13-foot road. I’ve measured it myself.”
Kevin Reddington of North Salem Road recalled a tragic incident on Martin Drive from years ago.
“A young boy coming down on a bicycle … was killed on that road,” he said.
Six people opposing the plans for a four-lot resubdivision at 805 North Salem Road spoke at a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 14, which followed a previous initial hearing session on Dec. 10.
The public hearing was continued and scheduled for a third hearing session on Feb. 25.
The resubdivision plans are put forward by Ashlar Historic Restoration LLC, and concern 11 acres owned by D.J. and Deborah Kadagian.
The resubdivision plan would retain an existing house with an in-ground pool and a frame gymnasium on one of the four parcels, while creating three new lots on which to build new single family homes. The area is a two-acre residential zone and each of the lots to be created in the resubdivision would be of two acres or more, conforming with that zoning.
Engineer Ralph Gallagher said the lots would be served by septic systems and wells.
The resubdivision properties would be reached by driveways off Martin Drive, a private road off North Salem Road — between Richardson Park and Tea House Lane, roughly across from Ridgefield High School. Many residences on Martin Drive have North Salem Road addresses.
The applicant’s attorney, Robert Jewell, gave a long history of Martin Drive as a private road under the legal control of a private corporation created among the people who bought lots created in an earlier subdivision — although the history of ownership since then is at times sketchy, with properties changing hands over the years and some residents who live there now seemingly unaware of the arrangement.
“It is a private road,” Jewell said of Martin Drive. “...We have a permanent easement over it, and have a right to use that road.”
The private road is not very safe, said Elizabeth Eckardt of North Salem Road.
“It is frightening,” she said. “I’ve had a couple of near misses…
“We live there. Our children drive up and down that road,” she said.
”Go up there on a rainy night, when it’s dark and the moon is a sliver — it’s frightening,” she said.”...To add three more houses, to add three more driveways — it’s a lot.”
In an exchange that at times had people talking back and forth at each other, Scott Eckardt complained that his efforts to get information about the resubdivision, and the legal status of Martin Drive, and to convey his questions and concerns about the plans, hadn’t gotten a helpful response from the commission and its staff.
“We don’t know what’s going on, and what the rules are,” he said.
He’d requested and been sent town regulations concerning road standards, then was frustrated to learn that they didn’t apply to Martin Drive because it is a private road.
“The subdivision rules apply in this application,” commission chairwoman Rebeca Mucchetti said. “The town road ordinance does not.”
“You need to remember you live on a private road that has no municipal responsibility,” said Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli.
Eckardt was upset that town road standards had no bearing on the application.
“Why would you send me something that doesn’t apply?’ Eckardt asked. “I’m getting pretty perturbed here.”
“What’s happening here, you have a bunch of people sitting behind a desk that have ownership of nothing!” he said.
“...Last time I was here I had 50 questions. No one has answered one,” he said. “Is someone going to answer those questions for me?”
“Are you going to listen to the answer you get?” replied commissioner John Katz.
Kevin Reddington, who’d brought up the fatal bicycle accident, also described his long history of disputing efforts by prior owners — Phil Martin, son of previous owner Francis Martin — to establish that the upkeep of Martin Way was the responsibility of a private corporation made up of homeowners.
Financial responsibility, he thought, would end up in the laps of people living in the homes.
“If it goes to court, the judge would pierce the corporate veil,” he said.
Reddington also said that as someone who’d lived there 40 years, he’d experienced the negative effects of construction along the poorly drained roadway.
“I ended up with eight cubic yards of stone and mud on my driveway,” Reddington said. “...Whoever thinks there was no problems with construction of new houses on this roadway, you’re whistling Diixie!”
Elizabeth Eckardt had a similar tale.
“We’ve spent thousands of dollars, Scott and I, and Craig Foster before he moved, shoring up that roadway,” she said.
She complained that very few of the neighbors shared the costs of road maintenance.
Attorney Jewell asked if the owner of the property to be re-subdivided was among those who did contribute to the private road’s maintenance costs.
“He absolutely is,” said Elizabeth Eckardt.
Open space, runoff
Jewell said a donation of just over five acres to the town, made during a prior subdivision of the property, satisfied the obligation to create open space as part of the re-subdivision now proposed.
“It’s pretty clear the open space requirement has in fact previously been met regarding this subdivision,” Jewell said.
Town Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli agreed.
“I’m satisfied, after review with commission counsel, they’ve satisfied the open space requirement,” Baldelli said.
The development, adding impervious driveways and roofs where there is now dirt and vegetation, would direct stormwater runoff onto Martin Drive. But a stormwater management system designed into the project would mitigate the effects of the runoff in up to a 50-year storm, project engineer Ralph Gallagher said.
“Water flows downhill. All this land flows toward Martin Drive,” Gallagher said. “We do not increase the runoff … Still water will run off and it will run off faster as the storms get larger.”
Some speakers raised procedural issues.
Lynne Noyes of 43 Circle Drive objected to have in Attorney Jewell, who represents the applicants, speak on questions concerning the town regulations.
“What I heard a few minutes ago was Mr. Jewell interpreting regulations,” she said. “I’d like to ask that the commission do that, interpret the regulations, not the lawyer who doesn’t work for the commission.”
“I heard there were papers submitted at 5 today. Is there a cut-off time?” asked Lori Mazzola of Circle Drive.
Information can be submitted up until the end of the public hearing, commission chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said.
“Are any of these houses earmarked affordable?” Mazzola asked.
“None of these houses will be earmarked affordable,” replied attorney Jewell.
Still the neighbors seemed concerned that the procedures related to the subdivision proposal didn’t seem to address what appeared to be their chief complaint: the lack of on-going maintenance of Martin Drive.
“It’s just going to get worse and worse and worse,” Scott Eckardt said. “If somebody dies or gets hurt, something’s going to be done about it.”