An advocate for the special needs population and an activist on land development issues have been added to the town’s Affordable Housing Committee.

The Board of Selectmen voted 4 to 1 on Wednesday night, May 6, to put Sheryl Knapp and Lori Mazzola on the committee.

Knapp told the selectmen she’s “interested in making housing more affordable and more accessible to a more diverse group of individuals.”

She said she’d moved to town in 1995 and had been a renter in Ridgefield Arms years ago.

Inclusion

“My interest in affordable housing,” she said, derives from a “passion for inclusion and access — a mother’s passion.

“I’ve spent much of my daughter’s 20 years advocating for inclusion,” Knapp said.

Over the years she’s become increasingly aware of housing issues.

“It’s part of my just being exposed to the whole disability community,” she said.

Done right, providing housing for people with special needs involves creating a whole web of support — transportation, employment, community, according to Knapp.

“It’s not just about dropping someone in a house,” she said.

The town could benefit from more housing diversity that would allow it to better accommodate not just to people with disabilities, she said, but also people of different racial, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

Affordable housing needs to be accommodated “without compromising the charm and vitality of our town,” Knapp said.

“What I realized is the importance of achieving some sort to balance,” she said.

“I’m excited at the prospect of us being proactive,” she said. “So we can take control of the situation and do the right thing, provide more access.”

Land development

Mazzola is active in Ridgefield Voters United, a citizens group that advocates on town zoning and land development issues.

Among her concerns is the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, which allows developers to circumvent most zoning regulations if 30 percent of the housing units in a proposed project are made to meet the state’s affordability guidelines.

Mazzola seemed skeptical of the state being that involved in local housing and zoning matters.

“8-30g from Hartford is telling Ridgefield how it’s going to be done,” she said. “We the people of Ridgefield need to take that back into our hands.”

There are housing needs that the town should strive to address, Mazzola said, including veterans coming back to town after serving their country, and seniors on fixed incomes.

But she’s wary of state intervention.

“There seems to be this cookie-cutter formula brought down by the state that should fit with every town. And every town is unique,” Mazzola said. “And I think this committee should work on what works best of Ridgefield.”

Knapp, too, expressed concern about 8-30g’s potential affect on the town.

“I’d like to be in a situation where we don’t need 8-30g,” she said.

Affordable Housing Committee Chairman Dave Goldenberg supported both nominations.

“Lori is an active in Ridgefield civic affairs and has a deep understanding of the concerns of Ridgefielders,” he told the selectmen.

“Sheryl has long been involved in the needs of adults with disabilities.”

Selectwoman Barbara Manners moved that the two be appointed to the Affordable Housing Committee, which had several vacancies, and Selectman Sean Connelly seconded the motion.

Selectman Bob Hebert was the dissenter in the 4-to-1 vote to approve the appointments. He said he wanted a better sense of how the two would fit into the work of the committee’s work and its mission.

He seemed concerned there was too much focus on the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.

“The Affordable Housing Committee has a much broader scope than that,“ he said.