Planners weigh sustainability options
Solar farms and driverless cars — it’s not science fiction, but the future the Planning and Zoning Commission is having to consider as it works to update the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
While commissioners mostly focused on the results of a survey on what the community is concerned about, discussion at its Jan. 2 meeting kept circling back to how the town can factor sustainability into its 10-year update of the town plan.
“It is an evolving term,” said Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics, the firm hired by the commission to help rewrite the town plan. “The generally accepted definition was put forward by the United Nations committee and talks about the ability of each generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
In his report, Chalder pointed to Ridgefield’s continuing efforts to acquire more open space. He suggested the updated plan should advocate for programs to “conserve energy, reduce water consumption” and “reduce costs of living.”
Besides protecting the environment, including language about sustainability in the town plan would also benefit Ridgefield by earning the town points with Sustainable CT, a private company which certifies towns based on their commitment to greener initiatives.
“Do you have to do anything or can you just include the language?” asked Commissioner Joe Dowdell to laughter from the commission.
The town currently has a “bronze” certification from the organization, and is working toward a higher certification, Chalder said.
The recognition also allows communities to “access opportunities for new funding,” according to the organization’s website.
Assistant Planner Daniel Robinson pointed out that “facilitating” alternative energy is becoming increasingly relevant for communities — particularly solar power.
“I know that that’s a big topic here,” he said.
“Well it hadn’t been, but because of one neighbor complaining against another neighbor it is now,” said Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.
She was alluding to a house under construction off Canterbury lane, where two frames to hold 65 solar panels have drawn the ire of neighbors.
She noted that the town has “several” standalone solar structures that have not drawn attention.
“There’s going to be a lot more,” said Commissioner George Hanlon, noting that New Milford has a planned 20-megawatt solar farm.
Some communities, like Bridgeport, have considered putting solar farms on brownfields — former commercial or manufacturing sites with contamination that makes further development difficult and costly.
“The problem is they can’t afford to lease space in Ridgefield, the land is too expensive,” Hanlon told The Press.
Commissioner Mark Zeck asked that the town energy task force — a group set up to look for ways to save on energy use and cost — meet with the commission.
The town currently has solar panels installed on the roof of Farmingville Elementary School. Plans have also been discussed to put solar panels up at Ridgefield High School and Branchville Elementary School.
Dowdell said the town plan should also look at the number of charging stations available for drivers of electric cars.
There are currently three town-owned parking areas with car charging stations —one behind town hall off Bailey Avenue, another at the parking lot that serves the Ridgefield Playhouse, and a third at the Branchville train station.
Dowdell pointed to companies such as ChargePoint that will install the charging stations, and charge users a fee to offset the cost. The car manufacturer Tesla also offers “destination chargers” for businesses and towns, Dowdell said.
Commissioners also brought up the prospect of driverless cars, which could eventually reduce the need for parking.
“Malls are not going to need that massive blacktop, because driverless cars will change all that,” said Commissioner Bob Cascella.
“The car will just come back and get you,” Hanlon said.
“It might not be your car,” Cascella responded. “It’s like the Jetsons.”