Zoners to review Winter Club light pole permit at next hearing

A new special permit application that would allow the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club to build light poles up to 40 feet high to illuminate its outdoor skating rink will receive review from the Planning and Zoning Commission during the club’s fifth public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 13, at East Ridge Middle School.

During the fourth public hearing on Oct. 30, 32 residents spoke about the proposed private club at 340 Peaceable Street — 29 were against the project, three were in support of it. Residents looking to give feedback to the commission at the Nov. 13 hearing might have to wait until Tuesday, Nov. 27, or possibly Dec. 12 — the final possible public hearing date for the application — to submit testimony. The agenda for the meeting has public comment listed last and to be heard based on “time permitting.”

During the Oct. 30 hearing, residents criticized the club for its potential environmental impact and worried about how its lighting and noise would harm the character of the residentially-zoned neighborhood.

Donald Poland, a land use expert working as a town peer review consultant, was the first person to suggest the Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC) would need an additional special permit for the rink lights.

“The pole heights concern us — forty feet is really high,” Poland said in September.

He explained that with the additional height of the plateau where the rink would sit, the actual height of the poles would be closer to 50 feet.

At the Nov. 13 hearing, the town’s peer review consultants will give testimony on the environmental impact of the club’s application.

The RWC’s attorney and experts will then have a chance to respond to peer review. The club’s experts will also respond to concerns regarding land use, engineering, and traffic that were raised at the Sept. 25 public hearing.

‘Tasty’ frogs

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said the club’s experts also plan to respond to an intervention pleading — a legal attempt to block the application in its tracks — submitted by residents Jeff and Jenn Hansen.

The Old South Salem Road couple have organized a coalition of neighbors opposed to the RWC into a group called the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance.

The pleading claims that the club could adversely affect nearby populations of wood frogs by drying up natural pools of standing water that the frogs rely on.

The frogs in turn help the wetlands by breaking down plant matter — and because they’re “tasty” to a variety of natural predators, said Dr. Michael Klemens, an ecologist hired by the Hansens.

Attorney Peter Olson, who represents the Hansens, argued at the Sept. 25 meeting that the application should be rejected because RWC will not have time to fully study the impact of the club’s development on the wood frog population, which is most active in the spring.

By the numbers

The previous four public hearings have each drawn around 100 townspeople to the middle school auditorium.

Mucchetti said on Oct. 30 that the commission has received 480 letters on the RWC application.

The project will eventually be voted on by only seven members of the nine-member commissioner. Commissioner Tim Dunphy is stepping down to move to Manhattan, and Commissioner Bob Cascella has recused himself from the beginning of the application because of a professional conflict.

Mucchetti indicated that it is unlikely the new commissioner who replaces Dunphy will vote on the RWC, as he or she would have to listen to the recordings of five or six public hearings, which each ran for upwards of three hours.

The commission has a final hearing scheduled for Dec. 12, after which it has 35 days to make a decision on the wetlands aspect of the RWC application, and 65 days to make a decision on the rest of the plan.

As with previous meetings, the Nov. 13 hearing will end at around 10:30 p.m. to allow custodial staff time to clean the room for school the next day.