While the Planning and Zoning Commission prepares for Tuesday night’s public hearing, the applicant — Mountainside — and members of the Ridgefield Neighborhood Preservation Alliance (RNPA) await their turns to talk about the proposed drug rehabilitation facility on Old West Mountain Road.

Matthew Eakin, Mountainside’s executive vice president, told The Press Dec. 27 that the facility would seek professionals over the age of 40 and it would be capped to 17 beds — two major points of contention from the neighbors opposing the project who believe the facility will cater to drug-addicted youth and serve as many as 46 clients.

“Our intention is to have a 17-bed facility. Nothing more,” Eakin said.

“These clients seek nothing but privacy and discretion and would go to another facility or forsake treatment if his or her confidentiality could not be assured.”

Eakin said the project’s top priority is seclusion and that Mountainside would not alter the footprint of the home — the historic Sunset Hall mansion, which is currently on the market and listed at $4,750,000.

He stressed that clients would first be treated at Mountainside’s Canaan detox center and then transferred in an unmarked car by Mountainside’s transportation team to Ridgefield.

“The care we provide each of our clients is the type we would want our families to receive if they were ever in need. The people who work with us are treated like family and fully understand the importance of what we do,” Eakin said. “We see 162 Old West Mountain Road as being a private sanctuary for a select few individuals that require the privacy and seclusion it offers.”

Property values

Gerri Lewis, the alliance’s spokesperson, said granting a special permit for a for-profit enterprise, such as Mountainside, is too large a price to pay “for a facility that would benefit only the very elite, and not the majority of Ridgefield residents.”

She said that a Mountainside luxury resort with clinical oversight would cost an individual $60,000 a month, and that insurance would not be accepted.

“Opponents cite that statistically these types of zone changes lower property values by up to 17% and proclaim that it is not right to take money out of the pockets of residents in favor of putting it in the pockets of a for-profit company that can be located anywhere,” Lewis said.  

Eakin said the opposition’s argument that the facility will cause property values to crater isn’t true.

“Property values in Canaan, surrounding our main facility, have actually appreciated smartly over the last 10 years. In fact, property values have appreciated much more than properties away from our facility.”

Hesitation to buy?

Chip Neumann of Neumann Real Estate said Eakin’s assurance that “based on our track record, property values will not decline due to the facility” is ringing hollow among prospective homebuyers interested in the Old West Mountain Road and Round Lake Road neighborhoods.

“We’ve already heard rumblings from people uncomfortable with going forward on home purchases they had serious interests in,” said Neumann. “In fact, I have a buyer from the past few days who has strong interest in a home close by but is hesitant on putting in an offer as well.” The protection of our residential zoning laws is paramount when it comes to attracting people to Ridgefield.”

Economic boost

Catherine Neligan, another spokesperson for the RNPA, said allowing such zone changes would not be an economic boost for the town.

“The current tax approximates $89,000,” she said, citing Tax Assessor Al Garzi. “Because of the tax structure it is estimated that the tax revenue to the town might not exceed the taxes being paid right now as a residence.”

Steven Gmelin, who lives on Round Lake Road, believes Mountainside’s commitment to the Ridgefield community is shallow.

“You can always argue that there will be more work for our contractors because Mountainside will renovate or add on. You can argue that there will be more people coming and going who might shop in town or even eat out,” he said. “And that would be great, so why not find a commercial location already zoned for a for-profit enterprise? Why do this at the expense of residents who purchased their homes in good faith, believing that their greatest investment would be protected?”

Byron Brooks, another RNPA member, said that this is more than a ‘not in my back yard’ issue.

“Everyone, not just those on West Mountain Road, should be concerned about the precedent this could set. All of Ridgefield should be saying, ‘Not in my back yard, not in anyone’s back yard,’” he said. “The town’s 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development recommends that we promote business development in appropriate areas. A residential neighborhood is not an appropriate area.”

Everyone will be heard

Arguments for and against the zone amendment will be heard by Planning and Zoning at 7:30 p.m. at East Ridge Middle School Tuesday, Jan. 3.

According to Joanne Meder, director of planning, there will be a sign-up sheet for anyone wishing to speak and that is the order in which they will be heard.

Those who have not signed up will be invited to speak after those who are already signed up have been heard.

For more information from the alliance go to www.preserveridgefield.com

For more information from Mountainside, email residents_of_ridgefield@mountainside.com