Boys & Girls Club hearing draws criticism and praise, extension
At 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night, town residents who packed into the small conference room beneath the Planning and Zoning offices seemed to agree on only one thing — that the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield is held in high regard.
Rezoning the club’s residential lot as part of the Central Business District — well, that proved to be a harder pill to swallow.
“There are a lot of negative consequences involved in this,” said Assistant Planner Adam Schnell.
He questioned whether the expansion of the business district “is in line with the town’s goals.”
But members of the Planning and Zoning Commission said repeatedly that they had nothing but praise for the Boys & Girls Club.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this town that doesn’t have a very high regard for the Boys & Girls club,” said Planning and Zoning Commission member John Katz.
Chief among the concerns of residents was the fear that the club might someday leave its current location at 41 Governor Street, leaving a business-district-zoned lot ripe for an unknown developer to snatch up.
But attorney Bob Jewell, who represented the Boys & Girls Club at the hearing and presented the plan to the commission, argued that the town had a right of first refusal to buy the property first.
Jewell indicated that he wanted to extend the hearing, on behalf of the club, to a later date.
The Planning and Zoning Commission appeared ready to vote on the issue, but Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti conceded that the hour was late. The hearing had been preceded by a hearing over a proposed B&B that ran over the two-hour mark.
The commission scheduled the hearing extension for Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli asked why the club could not simply apply for a zoning variance, as it has in the past, when it puts forward its expansion.
“Almost all of the churches and schools in residential zones, whenever they want to make a change, they have to apply for a variance,” Baldelli said.
But Jewell said variance laws have tightened significantly in recent years, and that forcing the club to apply for a variance would put an undue strain on its funding.
“When you apply for a variance, you can’t just apply,” Jewell said later in the hearing. “You have to come with an architectural plan. It’s just awfully speculative for a charitable organization to have to do that.”
In the process, he explained, the club might spend the money to have plans drawn up — only to be denied a variance and not be permitted to build after all.
The commission also noted that there had been some neighborhood opposition to the rezoning.
In a letter sent to the commission by residents whose homes abut the Boys & Girls Club, neighbors said rezoning the lot would mean “seven contiguous acres” could one day “be highly sought after for eventual retail or commercial development.”
Jewell later voiced frustration with neighborhood opposition to planning and zoning applications on the whole.
“This all seems to play into the political mess that we saw with the application for the West Mountain treatment facility,” Jewell said. “I’m thinking of the phrase we used to use in the Army, but …”
“Please don’t say it,” Mucchetti interjected.
Jewell gave the military-alphabet designation for the phrase instead.
“Charlie Foxtrot … there’s nothing objectionable about [those words],” he said, to muffled laughter from the hearing’s audience and commission members.
Not all the neighbors were opposed.
John Johnson, who lives nearby on Prospect Street, said he would support the zone change.
“It’s nice and quiet, we have nice woods, nice wetlands. My cats live in there, it’s great,” said Johnson, about living near the club.
“With everything Mr. Jewell said about the town being able to have right of first refusal — I can’t see not supporting this.”