Election 2017: Planning and Zoning Commission candidates answer questions

There eight candidates — four Republicans, three Democrats and a petitioning write-in candidate — competing in two separate races for six seats on the nine-member Planning and Zoning Commission.

Seeking five open four-year seats are three candidates from each major party, plus the write-in candidate. The Republican candidates for four-year seats, all incumbents, are: Rebecca Mucchetti, Stephen Cole and George Hanlon. The Democratic candidates for the four-year seats are Charles Robbins and Joe Fossi, both incumbents, and Joe Dowdell. The write-in candidate is Bob Cousins, a registered Republican who is running unaffiliated. To vote for Cousins voters must fill in a “bubble” on the ballot on the “Write-In Votes” line on the ballot, then write his name. Voters can choose five, and five of the seven will be elected.

Voters also get to choose in a separate one-on-one match-up with Republican Bob Cascella and Democrat Charles Robbins, both incumbents, competing to fill a two-year vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Robbins is on the ballot for both two-year and four-year seats. If he won both races, he’ have to resign from one of the two positions, which the commission would then fill by appointment with another Democrat.

The Press posed two questions to all the candidates. Their answers, within word limits, appear in the order they were received.

  1. As a Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board member, what kind of balance would you seek between allowing growth and limiting development? (150 words)

BOB CASCELLA (R): I would like to strengthen our regulations. The Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board have regulations that list specific criteria that must be followed in each of the zones for any type of development. Personal philosophy aside, if an application is submitted that meets or exceeds the regulations it will probably be approved.

I have requested that the commission have additional meetings in 2018 to discuss and possibly fine tune our regulations. This request was accepted and agreed to at our October 17 meeting. I believe we need to better define allowable uses throughout the regulations. I want to eliminate gray areas and bolster the town’s authority in the approval process.  In this process we should focus on staying vigilant on residential and in town commercial development. I believe enhancing Route 7 development through our regulations, should also be a priority.

REBECCA MUCCHETTI (R): Balance is achieved through thoughtful and deliberative evaluation of each application the commission and/or the board receives to ensure adherence to our regulations, and conformity with the Plan of Conservation and Development.  Almost 30% of town land is deed restricted open space, and 95% of the remaining 70%, is zoned residential, leaving only 5% of the town zoned for commercial development. Therefore, nearly all applications submitted are for re-development on lands already disturbed, and for uses allowed in the zone.

Additionally, our combined review process ensures that, when present, wetlands impacts are prioritized as part of every development application, and issues must be addressed before development is approved. By statute, the IWB, following wetlands regulations, must act before the PZC, which ensures no project is approved that causes harm to our wetlands or watercourses. Once the IWB is satisfied, the PZC, following zoning regulations, may decide.

CHARLES ROBBINS (D): The actions of the Planning and Zoning Commission are to a large degree governed by the local Conservation and Development Plan, as well as our zoning regulations. There are, however, numerous instances where housing and commercial/retail developments are presented to the commission for review and action. Each application must be reviewed based on how it adheres to the zoning regulations, as well as to the guidance set forth in the Conservation and Development Plan. As a member of the commission, I believe it is my obligation to strike a balance between growth and limiting development. Ridgefield has witnessed significant growth during the past 20 years, an expanded cultural and retail presence, and a commercial/corporate tax base that helps support the myriad of activities that we have grown to utilize and enjoy. I do look to strike the correct balance, but not inhibit economic and educational development, cultural activities, nor any other activity that would allow Ridgefield to continue to flourish as a residential and commercial destination.

GEORGE HANLON (R): The moratorium on 8-30-G (State Mandated) ends October 2018. The success of the last five 8-30-G’s, is a clear indicator that there is a need for both affordable and market rate apartments in Ridgefield. When the commission works with developers, we can achieve architecturally attractive buildings that allow our town to maintain our small town character.

We have seen a recent increase of “in-town” housing – this means that smaller houses are being built on smaller lots. This also means that all drainage from areas north of Branchville Road and east of High Ridge Ave. drain to the “Great Swamp” in Farmingville. It is imperative that the commission and board identify proper engineering solutions to protect properties downstream, like Casagmo, from these drainage issues.

As a commission our priority is to utilize our existing zoning and wetlands regulations to ensure orderly growth and balance development while maintaining Ridgefield’s small town charm.

JOE DOWDELL (D): I love to walk around in town and visit the shops and restaurants, and I want to support the businesses that make our charming town what it is. I don’t like seeing empty storefronts. It pains me to see another shop or restaurant close its doors, and I support exploring new and creative ways to help businesses succeed here.

We can have healthy growth and change, but some development should be limited. If a proposal could negatively impact the traffic, environment, appearance, or safety of an area, it should be limited, especially in residential areas. We must listen to community members and carefully plan for the future, so the town can thrive while limiting the possible burden of new development. Ridgefield has a small-town family-friendly feel with a strong sense of community. Maintaining that feedback loop with the community is critical in giving the town's elected representatives their direction.

STEPHEN COLE (R): All discussions on supporting growth should start with the caveat that protection of the environment is paramount in any discussion.

Residential homeowners rightfully have an expectation that Planning and Zoning decisions, while carrying out the regulations, will be sensitive in maintaining the environment and landscape that homeowners invested in.

Growth for growth’s sake is not acceptable whether at the commercial or residential level. I support development that meets our regulations with the exception of affordable housing where there needs to be a better meeting of the minds between the community and developers with the objective of protecting our historical heritage.

There is no numerical number – no percentage – when talking about balancing growth and limiting development. Each individual project needs to be evaluated based on its meeting our regulations, guidelines and protection of our environment.

JOSEPH FOSSI (D): Most of the Commission’s work these days involves redevelopment rather than new development. The balance I strive for is enough flexibility to allow a property owner to adapt the property use to changing demographics and consumer preferences, while at the same time not increasing density or traffic.

Done thoughtfully, it’s possible to assure the redevelopment is in harmony with our Town’s overall character and landscape.

As for new development, we are constrained, as we should be, by the zoning and wetlands regulations. The proper balance is found in applying those regulations fairly and intelligently while respecting basic property rights.

COUSINS (U): As a 13 year resident with a family here having owned two homes, I am aware of the balance between homeownership, businesses and that delicate balance. I aim to review and consider each case fairly based on the regulations. My concern is that we have let business development usurp residential rights and allowing creep to infiltrate neighborhoods. This promotes business over residents and residents I know feel their concerns are not being heard. Despite the application’s validity, the incongruity of the business in a residential neighborhood should not be overlooked.

  1. What makes you a good choice for the Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands Board? (75 words)

BOB CASCELLA (R): I am a strong advocate of giving back to the community and I believe I bring a distinct perspective to this role. My background in construction, development and commercial real estate is an asset to the commission and the board. I have the expertise to understand the wide scope, and often overlooked nuances, of building and development. Furthermore, my many years of public service allow me to focus on the big picture of each application.

REBECCA MUCCHETTI (R): Experience, knowledge, fairness and work ethic. I have been a commission/board member for 16 years, elected chair since 2004. I am honest, thoughtful, and hardworking. I study all applications and come to every meeting with an open mind, prepared to understand the matters being discussed without bias or predetermination.  I respect the obligations of the multiple roles as commissioner, board member, and chair, and work hard to ensure that I perform all to the best of my abilities.

CHARLES ROBBINS (D): I have lived in Ridgefield for 33 years and have seen considerable change. Upon retirement, I made a definite choice to become actively involved in the future of our community. With a Master of City Planning degree and an appreciation of local development issues, I am currently using my skill set as a valued member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as working with our first selectman on special projects affecting the growth and development of Ridgefield. I look forward to continuing to serve as a Commissioner of Planning & Zoning; and will dedicate my time and experience to ensure that responsible plans are enacted.

GEORGE HANLON (R): I have been a commissioner for 10 years. As a successful small business owner in Ridgefield for 50 years, I served on the Economic Development Committee, Arts Committee, volunteering most of my adult life in Ridgefield. With my experience, integrity and common sense I will make intelligent choices for the future of Ridgefield. We can maintain the beauty of our town as it is today, in the future and when I moved here in 1957.

JOE DOWDELL (D): I’m an engineer at a company that works with governments and electric utilities to make the power grid more efficient and reliable using renewable energy and "smart grid" technologies. Our town is a wonderful place to call home, and I want to make sure it stays that way. If elected, I will serve my friends and neighbors by listening to their concerns, and will use my knowledge and experience to maintain Ridgefield’s appeal.

STEPHEN D. COLE (R): I would cite that my 30 year career at Kraft General Foods as vice president, gave me multiple skills in problem solving, decision making, fairness and common sense.

As a four year incumbent on the current board/commission and as school board president for four years in Illinois, I have become very sensitive to issues in the community I serve. Should I be reelected, I will continue to make decisions that will contribute to the success of Ridgefield.

JOSEPH FOSSI (D): I was born and raised in Ridgefield, I care deeply for the town and have served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for 12 years.

I’m a licensed contractor in the State of Connecticut and Westchester County, I bring to the commission a deep understanding of all aspects of easement, zoning, and wetland regulations, plus extensive experience in all phases of construction, topography, grading, blueprint reading and review, drainage, and site planning.

COUSINS (U): I have a great respect for facts and do not emotions cloud my judgement. That being said we cannot ignore people’s passion for their concerns and feel they are being summarily dismissed. We should treat everyone fairly and in be respectfully considerate. Citizens should come away assured their voices are being heard and give them a valid understanding as to why a decision was made and so transparently to ensure people become more knowledgeable.