Route 7 storage facility wins approval

A storage facility proposed on Route 7 drew opposition from Haviland Road residents. One asked if the trees planted would be as tall as those shown in this rendering.

A storage facility proposed on Route 7 drew opposition from Haviland Road residents. One asked if the trees planted would be as tall as those shown in this rendering.

A self-storage facility planned for a Route 7 site across from Little Pond and below the Regency at Ridgefield condominiums has won approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board.

The project with two self-storage buildings was proposed by Chuck Saber’s Saber Management LLC on just under three acres at 800 Ethan Allen Highway.

The commission voted to approve the plans 5-to-1 at its Oct. 2 meeting, with John Katz in dissent after his motion to deny the application died for lack of a second.

“This particular structure is really at the gateway to that side of town, and this is going to be a serious eyesore for those driving into town from that area,” Katz later told The Press.

But he said his opposition was grounded in the commission’s rules, not just his feelings about the building’s appearance.

“It does not meet the regulations. It does not meet the standards that we set for applications,” Katz said. “I voted against it for that reason.”

George Hanlon advocated approval, given the lengthy hearing process on what is the third application for development of the site that has come before the commission.

“We’ve looked at this piece of property — scrutinized it — more than any since I’ve been on the board,” Hanlon said.

The commission had previously approved builder Larry Leary’s application for a contractors’ yard for the property.

And a few years before the Leary application, a proposal for a light manufacturing facility on the site had been submitted by a Ridgefielder who owned a firm called Ergotech, which had a facility in Danbury. The opposition had been so fierce that the application was withdrawn and the man moved his business and his home to South Carolina, commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti recalled at the meeting.

Hanlon also argued that the proposed storage facility would bring “a lot less traffic” to the busy area — on Route 7, just south of the intersection of Route 35 — than the previously approved plan for a contractor’s yard.

“When it’s completed, it’ll be four or five cars a day,” Hanlon said.

Wetlands approval

The wetlands application met with less opposition, and was approved 6-to-0.

“It is in the upland review area only,” Katz said of the site. “It is not in the wetlands.”

The storage facility project had a public hearing that went through three sessions dating back to mid-summer. The proposal had been opposed by numerous residents of Haviland Road, off Route 7 a short distance south of the site.

Concerns raised by opponents at the hearing had ranged from the building’s size — 77,000 square feet, four stories and about 43 feet high in front, with a “footprint” of 19,200 square feet — to truck traffic anticipated during construction.

Michael Mazzucco, the engineer representing Saber Management LLC, had projected that their might be as many as 1,300 dump truck trips over a three month period — 22 two-way truck trips a day.

Some residents of the Regency at Ridgefield had bitterly opposed previous proposals for the site, but had reached an agreement with the developer concerning this application. The Regency residents agreed not to oppose the self-storage facility and won protections “in perpetuity” against development of portions of the site closest to their condominium complex.

Robert’s Rules

Katz didn’t get a chance to outline his concerns about the application to fellow commissioners. He’d began the discussion by making a motion to deny the application, and no one seconded his motion.

But Katz did not have a problem with that, saying it was proper procedure under Robert’s Rules of Order.

“According to Robert’s Rules, that the way it runs,” Katz said. “You don’t get to speak if you don’t get a second.”

He did clarify for The Press why he thought the project shouldn’t have been approved.

“There are three areas of requirements of a special permit in the regulations that this doesn’t meet,” he said.

Among the failings, he said, is that the two proposed self-storage buildings are incompatible with the neighborhood.

He pointed to language in the regulations saying the “location, size and nature” of a proposed land use must be “in harmony with the development of the district in which it is located.”

Katz cited opinions offered by the Architectural Advisory Committee (AAC) after its review of the plans.

“According to the AAC the proposed building is not in character with the neighboring buildings which are one or two stories — not four stories as this one is,” he said.

Also, neighboring buildings were mostly “bricks and wood, and not sheer concrete” like the storage facility, he said.

“This architecture isn’t compatible with neighboring properties,” Katz said.

He added that the regulations don’t give commissioners discretion to approve projects that they judge as failing to meet the requirements.

“The regulation says these standards ‘shall’ be met,” Katz said. “It’s imperative in the regulation.”

Two commission members — Joe Fossi, who with a business partner is an owner of the property, and Charles Robbins, who lives in the Regency at Ridgefield condominiums bordering the site — both recused themselves from proceedings related to application.