Ridgefield town plan: Revised draft goes to meeting Tuesday
If the transition from Ridgefield’s past to Ridgefield’s future is mapped out anywhere, that meeting place for Ridgefield’s hopes, theories and the ever-changing reality may well be the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
After working to revise the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development for more than a year, the Planning and Zoning Commission will put a draft of the 2020 town plan before Ridgefield’s citizenry at a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 7 p.m. in the town hall annex, near Yanity Gym at 66 Prospect Street.
The meeting is designed to get reactions and input from residents, businesses and property owners as part of the work of updating the Plan of Conservation and Development — “the POCD,” as planning enthusiasts call it — which is designed to serve as a guide to decisions the Planning and Zoning Commission and other agencies make concerning land use, zoning, building and development.
The draft plan is available on the town website at www.ridgefieldct.org/pocd-2020.
Here’s a look at some of the facts and perspectives which the commission and its consultant from Planimetrics, Glenn Chalder, have been blending into the 2020 revision of Ridgefield’s town plan.
After decades of growth, the planners think Ridgefield’s population may start to go down.
“The American Community (ACS) Survey estimated that Ridgefield had a population of 25,125 people in 2016,” the draft plan says. “This represents an increase of 487 people from the 24,638 persons reported in the 2010 Census...
“The population projections prepared by the Connecticut State Data Center (2017) and by Planimetrics both extrapolate past trends (birth rates, death rates, net migration) into the future. Both projections suggest that Ridgefield’s population may decrease in the future in terms of the number of residents.
“This is a change from the projections included in the 2010 POCD and in direct contrast to the ACS estimate of a growing population.
“Whether Ridgefield’s population is increasing or decreasing may not be known until after the 2020 Census is completed and reported. Of course, it must be remembered that these are estimates and projections and variations can occur, especially further into the future.”
Some of the plan’s projections are based on the age of residents at various points in time.
“By comparing the number of people in one age group in the Census to the number of people 10 years younger in the prior Census (10 years earlier), the dynamics of migration in Ridgefield can be evaluated,” the draft plans says. “The following patterns have been evident over the past 50 years or so:
“Ridgefield tends to attract young families aged 30 to 50 who bring school age children with them...
“Ridgefield tends to lose young adults (ages 15 to 30) who may go off to college or to find their place in the world... Ridgefield tends to lose empty nesters and older residents (ages 50 and higher).”
Construction of housing in Ridgefield has been slowing in recent decades, the planners observe.
“According to the U.S. Census, Ridgefield had about 9,420 housing units in 2010,” the draft plan says. “Housing growth has slowed from an average of about 235 units/year in the 1960s to 54 units/year in the 2000s (and perhaps even slower since 2010)...
“Ridgefield has a diverse housing stock containing single-family detached homes (about 80 percent of all housing units) and other types of housing (townhouse, apartment, etc.).
“The percentage of single-family detached homes in Ridgefield is about double the state average. About 85 percent of the housing units in Ridgefield are owner-occupied. This is also higher than the state average (67 percent).
“In terms of housing occupancy, Ridgefield has more residents per housing unit than the state average although fewer residents per housing unit compared to nearby communities,” the draft plan says. “Average household size has been decreasing over time in Ridgefield and elsewhere due to a variety of socio-economic factors.
“What this means,” the planners say, “is that the same number of housing units contain fewer people and/or that many more housing units are needed to contain the same number of people.”
Ridgefield’s median sales price for housing is higher than the state average — and fairly similar to prices in other nearby suburban communities, according to the plan.
Although sales prices decreased after the housing peak around 2006, sales prices have been trending slightly upwards recently, the plans says.
The plan document contains a “Median Sales Price” chart for nearby towns, based on 2016 figures.
The 2016 median prices, by town, are: New Canaan, $1,373,100; Westport, $1,087,700; Weston, $857,700; Wilton, $812,100; Ridgefield, $673,900; Redding, $603,300; Danbury $286,400. The statewide median sales price for 2016 is listed $269,300.
The draft plan looks at the percentage of housing units that meet the state’s definition of “affordable.” This is significant since the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law gives developers a means to circumvent most zoning restrictions in towns — and Ridgefiled is one — where less than 10 percent of housing meets state affordability standards.
The draft plan says: “About 276 housing units in Ridgefield (2.9 percent of the housing stock) meet the statutory definition of ‘affordable housing’ as follows: 179 governmentally-assisted units, five rental units occupied by households receiving tenant rental assistance, 28 ownership units where the households received government-subsidized mortgages (CHFA, USDA), and 64 units subject to deed restrictions limiting the rental rate or sales price to be affordable for a family earning 80 percent or less of the area median income.
“As provided in Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes, communities where less than 10 percent of the housing stock meets the above criteria are potentially vulnerable to the ‘affordable housing appeals procedure’ where a qualifying affordable housing development may not need to comply with all of the zoning regulations.”
The draft plan offers the following percentages of housing that meets state affordable criteria: State, 11.3 percent; Danbury, 10.9 percent; Wilton, 4.0 percent; Westport, 3.6 percent; Ridgefield, 2.9 percent; New Canaan, 2.7 percent; Redding, 0.3 percent; Weston, 0.1 percent.
The information, it says, is based on Connecticut Department of Housing figures from 2018.
The plan also has sections looking at jobs and taxes.
“According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, there were 10,797 jobs (annual average) located in Ridgefield in 2017,” the draft plans says. “The number of jobs in Ridgefield has grown significantly since 1960.
“When the number of jobs is compared to the number of housing units (jobs / housing balance), Ridgefield can certainly be considered an employment center in the region.
“...The percent of the real estate tax base that is comprised of businesses is an important con- sideration to many people since business uses typically provide revenue but do not demand as much in services,” the draft plans says — without directly fingering a lack of schoolchildren as the reason businesses are positive contributors to the town’s tax base.
“This revenue is then available to provide services that primarily benefit residents of the community,” the plans says. “...Ridgefield is near the statewide median in terms of percent business tax base.
There follows a “Percent Business Tax Base’ chart of nearby towns showing: Danbury, 25.3 percent; Wilton, 13.7 percent; Westport, 11.8 percent; Ridgefield, 10.9 percent; Redding, 7.5 percent; New Canaan, 4.7 percent; Weston, 1.0 percent.”
“According to digital mapping of the community, about 88 percent of Ridgefield is zoned for residential development,” the draft plans says. “Approximately five percent of the community is zoned for business development. The remaining land area is road rights of way and water bodies.
“Compared to nearby communities, the per capita taxes in Ridgefield are lower than nearby communities (except for Danbury).
After Tuesday’s public meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission will conduct future meetings to review the comments received and further refine the draft plan before considering it for final adoption. The commission will likely schedule a formal public hearing before a vote to adopt the plan — with the hearing and vote expected to come in the spring.
A Plan of Conservation and Development is a vision for the town’s future, but it also has specific uses. It is an advisory document used by the Planning and Zoning Commission and other town agencies to: Protect the resources important to residents; guide growth and change in Ridgefield; identify facilities and services needed or wanted to support the community.
Ridgefielders who come to the Jan. 7 meeting will be in a position to offer feedback and help ensure that the Plan of Conservation and Development reflects community goals as they see them — not everyone’s goals will be the same, of course.
“This Plan is an important document which will be used to guide future conservation and development activity over the next decade and beyond,” Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said in a release on the plan.
The goals and recommendations of the town plan are intended to reflect an overall consensus of what most Ridgefielders see as the future Ridgefield should strive for.
A Plan of Conservation and Development only becomes an official document after a public hearing and adoption by the Ridgefield Planning and Zoning Commission. Once adopted, the plan is used to: coordinate conservation activities, guide land use decisions and regulations, plan public projects, and meet identified public needs — though it remains a document that is mostly advisory, rather than firmly binding.
The plan is intended to guide local boards and commissions and to provide a framework for consistent decision-making with regard to conservation and development activities in town over the next decade or so.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has the statutory responsibility to adopt the plan. But implementing it will be an effort and responsibility shared by the town’s residents and their elected and appointed officials.