Voters accept open space donation on Route 7 in Ridgefield

Photo of Alyssa Seidman
During a town meeting Wednesday night, voters approved to accept the donation of a vacant piece of land along Route 7 as open space. The 7.41 acre parcel is located east of the thoroughfare, and a bulk of it is behind Ridgefield Ice Cream.

During a town meeting Wednesday night, voters approved to accept the donation of a vacant piece of land along Route 7 as open space. The 7.41 acre parcel is located east of the thoroughfare, and a bulk of it is behind Ridgefield Ice Cream.

Screen capture / Google Maps

RIDGEFIELD — The town is one step closer to its open space goal.

During a town meeting Wednesday night, voters approved the donation of a vacant piece of land along Route 7 as open space. The 7.41-acre parcel is located east of the road, and a bulk of it is behind Ridgefield Ice Cream.

The property contains about 5.5 acres of wetlands in its northeastern portion, and its southwestern portion is relatively flat with cleared, maintained lawn, according to an environmental report by SLR International Corporation in New Haven. Abutting properties include Ullman Devices Inc. to the south and Pamby Chrysler to the west.

Open space is defined as land a town conserves for the sake of maintaining biodiversity, scenic beauty and a place for outdoor activities. The Conservation Commission aims to make 30 percent of Ridgefield’s overall land open space, and about 26 percent is currently occupied by open spaces, Commission Chairman James Coyle said.

The Board of Selectmen discussed the possibility of reserving the frontage on Route 7 for commercial development with the intention of generating non-residential tax revenue. The consideration retained 5.41 acres of the parcel as dedicated open space.

Resident Linda Lavelle, who voted against the donation, said she didn’t see the advantage of accepting the parcel as open space since it primarily comprises wetlands. She argued that Route 7 could benefit from small business development, thus alleviating the tax burden on residents.

Resident John Katz argued that Route 7 is the perfect place for open space since “so little of it” exists there.

In an email to the Board of Selectmen, attorney David Speranzini, who represents several of the property’s owners, signified that his client wished to donate the entire parcel — including the Route 7 frontage — as open space in perpetuity. The designation, he added, may also include passive recreation features such as a ball field, playground and/or a dog park.

A provision for safety

The allowable uses were recorded with the Conservation Commission. Selectman Bob Hebert said if a park or picnic area were established on that portion of the parcel, it could provide additional safety to customers of Ridgefield Ice Cream.

The curve in Route 7 north of Route 35 is referred to by local police as the “Carvel Curve,” as it’s been the site of many accidents over the years. In the late ’80s, the state reduced the severity of the curve in conjunction with widening the road to four lanes, but accidents still occur there.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi is interested in making that area safer for motorists and pedestrians by eliminating curb cuts, installing a guardrail or erecting an interior road in front of the business. Those actions, however, would require cooperation from the state.

“Our concern is that if there is an accident, a car may spin out of control into people waiting in line,” he added. “Why wait for the accident to happen before something’s done?”

Open space

In an earlier interview, Coyle said the Route 7 parcel provides “ecological continuity” relative to the rest of the town’s open space properties.

Though a slim margin away from its 30 percent goal, Coyle acknowledged that reaching the threshold is “aspirational.” Last year the commission was eyeing a 30-acre parcel in Ridgebury to designate as open space, but the property owner wanted $1.3 million, Coyle said.

“We were at half that amount,” he added. “In cases like that you’d need to get the town citizens to commit resources to get a more significant chunk of land.”

For now the commission is identifying state and federal resources to fund the further purchasing of open space properties. In March, Ridgefield received a $42,000 grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to tack on additional terrain to its Bear Mountain preserve.

“Its importance is certainly emphasized on the (town’s) plan of conservation and development document,” Coyle said. “It’s ranked very high, if not number one.”