Should Ridgefield expand the boundaries of the downtown sewer district to accommodate a “senior park” envisioned on Danbury Road near the rec center?

Developers Marty Handshy and Jay Metcalfe of Charter Group Partners asked the Board of Selectmen that question at a Dec. 19 special meeting. The goal would be to hook Charter Group’s 30-unit building at 233 Danbury Road — and other senior housing facilities they want to build on adjacent lots — up to the town sewer system.

“My partner and I said let’s run it up the flagpole and see what the interest of the town was,” Handshy said at a special meeting with the selectmen on Dec. 19. “It’s extremely costly, and if the appetite of the town is not strong for this, we don’t want to do it.”

Handshy and Metcalfe already received approval from the town Planning and Zoning Commission to construct a 30-unit condo building with its own septic system at 233 Danbury Road on Nov. 7, a plan which they submitted the plan under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.

But now the partners would like to add six additional age-restricted condo buildings to the site, along with the expansion of the sewer district.

Handshy said he envisions a small “senior park,” which would give older residents easy access to the Recreation Center and Founders Hall complex at 195 Danbury Road.  

In addition to the project at 233 Danbury Road, Handshy’s senior park would include three 15-unit coach home buildings just north of the rec center driveway. Three, three-unit townhouse buildings are also being proposed — one south of Tanton Hill Road, another to the east of the rec center, and one just north of the planned coach homes.

The new buildings would add 54 age-restricted condos, bringing Charter Group’s total to 84 units in the proposed senior park.

The plan includes a new access road to the right off the entrance to the Parks and Recreation Center. The entrance to the rec center would be widened and improved as part of the plan, Handshy said.

Metcalfe, who built the coach homes and townhouses at 77 Sunset Lane with Handshy in 2016, said town agencies have not indicated whether they would support the plan or not.

He said it boils down to two questions — “A) Do they still think that there’s a need for this type of housing in town? and B) Do they think this is an appropriate location for it in town?”

Building the six new buildings will require rezoning the two lots to the south of 233 Danbury Road from two-acre residential to multi-family dwelling development due to the town’s housing density rules.

Sewer or septic?

The selectmen had concerns with expanding the sewer district to cover the proposed project.

“My concern was that a septic system is finite, it has a life, whereas a sewer line does not, and for a building that size are we in fact putting a building in that we’re going to have to eventually sewer someday?” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

The average septic system for a building of that size lasts for about 37 years when properly designed, Handshy said.

The 233 Danbury Road project currently sits just outside of the downtown sewer district, which serves both the Parks and Recreation center and Fox Hill condos.

Because the planned septic is a larger system that will have to serve 30 units, the state reviewed and approved the septic plan before it was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

But after Marconi raised concern about the potential lifespan of a septic system, Handshy and Metcalfe went back to the drawing board to see if the town would support expanding the town boundaries of the sewer district to hookup the new development.

Senior park?

Attorney Bob Jewell, who represented Handshy in his original application before the zoning commission, said the project expansion will be a three-part process.

First, it would be the approval of expanding the sewer district from the WPCA which would allow the projects to be hooked up to the town sewer.

Jewell said the developers will then need a town meeting to approve a new access road to lead from the Parks and Recreation Center to the new development.

The final approval will also come from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which would decide whether to greenlight rezoning of the residential lots for multi-family development.

‘Changed forever’

Selectwoman Barbara Manners repeatedly said she was concerned about the size of the building.

“I love what you did on Sunset [Lane]… but this is not really what I want to see on the entrance to Ridgefield,” said Manners.

But for Marconi, that ship has sailed.

“As far the streetscape, streetscape has been changed forever with this development ...That race has started,” he said. “People can fight and scream and holler, but under 8-30g, it’ll get approved.”

Under 8-30g, the state gives developers leeway to build housing by allowing them to  local zoning laws — things like height and housing density rules — so long as the town cannot prove that the project will negatively impact public health.

In exchange, the developer agrees to set aside 30% of the units to be built  — for example, nine of the 30 units planned at 233 Danbury Road — as affordable housing.  

Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark suggested leaving developers who show up with an 8-30g application to pay for the cost of designing and building a septic system might deter some.

Marconi wasn’t so sure.

“It’s not going to be a deterrence, it would have been here,” he said.

Back to the drawing board?

Selectman Steve Zemo, himself a builder who had two smaller 8-30g age-restricted units approved earlier in December near the police station, suggested Handshy and Metcalfe should throw out the 30-unit building and go back to the drawing board.

He asked if the developers would consider applying to rezone the lot from residential to multi-family dwelling development. That way, “they could get rid of the affordable units and that bulky building,” said Zemo.

“They’d have to start over completely and come in for a rezone,” said Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Rebecca Muccetti, who attended the Dec. 19 selectmen’s meeting. She indicated the commission only does on rare occasions.

But scrapping the project and returning with a new application to rezone and build under the town zoning regulations — not 8-30g — would mean Handshy would essentially walk away from the money he’s already invested in the project, which he indicated was over $100,000.

“Cost of doing business,” said Zemo.

Handshy told the selectmen that he’s been a town resident since 1963.

“As a longtime resident of the town I don’t want to do anything that’s not popular,” he said. “I plan on staying here for a while, I don’t want to be run out of town.”