Neighbors oppose ‘skate club’ at former Peaceable Farm site
A country club with an outdoor ice rink, tennis court, and multi-purpose turf field for about 250 members and 90 parking spaces.
That’s what was proposed to the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night during a pre-submission concept meeting for six acres of land located at 340 Peaceable Street — the former Pinchbeck property, most recently known as Peaceable Farm before it closed in 2013.
Although the prospective buyer has not submitted a formal application yet, about 30 residents — wearing pins that read “Say No to Skate Club” — attended the presentation Tuesday but were not able to give public comment.
The commission said it was not inclined to support the plan in this early stage.
“We’ve had 20 letters against an application that has not even been submitted,” said chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti. “A lot of the public is against it.”
Attorney Bob Jewell, who is representing a group of local individuals organizing to buy the land, told the commission that a country club is allowed within the non-commercial, residential zone — and all the buyers would need is a special permit.
“I could come up with a list of very offensive things that could happen here without need for approval,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Zeck voiced his concern about the traffic the club would bring to the neighborhood.
“With 200 members, the size of parking lot you’ll need is definitely a concern, it looks like for the public,” he said, “and it would be an obvious concern for us. …
“Especially in light of demonstrated discontent on this that’s not even an application. I think you’re going to have a tough time.”
The $2-million property that sits on the New York border in southern Ridgefield has been around since the early 1900s, with building beginning in 1890.
In 1903, owner William Pinchbeck opened his nursery on the six-acre site.
After 96 years of being the Pinchbeck Nursery — three generations of Pinchbecks carried on the family business after William — it became Peaceable Farm in 1999.
The property, which also includes a two-bedroom home and a 15,000-square-foot greenhouse built in 1926, has been on the market for almost four years since closing in 2013.
It hasn’t lacked interest, though, according to Jewell.
“I’ve gotten calls over the last couple of years of people looking at various uses for the land, from affordable housing to one that suggested a farm-to-table restaurant,” he told the commission.
“It does not look like the property that’s suitable for that because it’s developed as a commercial property.”
The attorney said that when a prospective buyer presented the idea of a private club, he liked the idea.
“The prospective buyer suggested a private club, which is permitted in residential zones,” Jewell said. “That was an intriguing suggestion.”
The pre-submission concept puts forth the idea of a winter sports club, with an outdoor ice rink and paddle courts.
It also include a two-floor building with locker rooms on the first floor and a dining facility on the second for club members.
Commissioners were skeptical about the use of the club — strictly during winter months.
“Someone who makes this kind of investment will find use for it for the whole year,” said commissioner John Katz.
“Once it’s there, it’s there.”
Jewell said that although the club would be mainly seasonal, there would probably be some use during the summer as well.
He reminded the commission that it would have control over any changes made to the formal application.
‘The elephant’s trunk’
Jewell said that most applications of this nature, including churches and schools, tend to garner disapproval from neighbors.
“A special permit would include everything that’s required; obviously you would have a traffic study as well,” he said.
“It’s not that different from a school or church, and, in many ways, less disruptive,” he said. “And every one of those applications has drummed up quite a bit of opposition as well.”
Katz said a church is not always more disruptive.
“The loudest vocal in there is an ‘Amen’ that would not be true from an ice rink, once the elephant’s trunk is under the tent,” he said.
But Jewell maintained that a country club is within the permitted uses of the land.
“The elephant’s trunk is under the tent because it’s a permitted use in a residential zone — that’s the elephant’s trunk,” he said.