Is the Ridgefield Winter Club a revitalization of a blighted construction yard that will bring jobs to Ridgefield or is it a commercial intrusion into a peaceful neighborhood that will drive down property values?

Residents can voice their opinion of the proposed private skating club during a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at East Ridge Middle School.

It will be the eighth and final hearing for the application, which has received criticism from Peaceable Street residents and other neighbors who have cited noise, light, and traffic as reasons for the commission to reject the project.

So far, 46 members of the public have spoken at the hearings — 41 opposed to the project proposed at 340 Peaceable Street and five in favor of its approval.

Under state law, the public hearing must close by Thursday, Dec. 13 .

The meeting will open with the technical explanation of the commission’s role and timeline for the application from Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti, which by now has become standard routine for each of the previous seven public hearings.

Mucchetti said the meeting will then have a period for public comment from those who have not yet had a chance to speak.

Mucchetti told The Press last week that the commission has thus far received 492 letters about the application.

‘Underhanded’

There was no time for additional public comment at the Nov. 29 hearing, but Conservation Commission Chairman Jim Coyle made a statement against the club at the very end of the hearing.

“Although it is not in our purview as the commission to comment on the [Planning and Zoning] commission’s decisions, it is the sense of this commission that this particular site is not appropriate for such an intense land use, given the bucolic surroundings of the residential land uses and open spaces,” said Coyle. “The Planning and Zoning Commission needs to do the utmost to protect residential land use and open space in Ridgefield.”

That prompted a response from Jewell.

“We had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for conversations between neighbors and the Conservation Commission and Dr. Klemens, and I have the results of them,” he said. “While they do not clearly show illegal ex parte communications, they show attempts to do so, and significant communications that is not part of the record or in the zoning file. So, I wanted to submit those so they are,” he added, handing a folder to Mucchetti.

Coyle walked back up to the podium to respond.

“The material that the counsel is referring to was reviewed by our town attorney to see if there was any information in that that could be construed as inappropriate, if that’s the right word,” he said. “He said that was not the case. And I reject the statements of the attorney here seeming to imply something that was underhanded was going on.”

“I didn’t imply anything,” said Jewell, who was drowned out by cheers from neighbors who appeared to be in support of Coyle.

“Thank you very much!” said Jewell. “Just to clarify for the record, I submitted those for the record because as you know, at the administrative level, if you are going to raise issues on appeal, everything has to be a part of the record.”

Attorney Peter Olson, who represents neighbors opposed to the club, also spoke briefly.

Mucchetti said the club’s team, which has been led by attorney Jewell, will then have a chance to make closing remarks before the public hearing is closed.

Intervention

The hearing will have to close by 10 p.m., Mucchetti said, in order to allow the commission time to discuss and vote on two intervention pleadings submitted by Jennifer and Jeff Hansen, whose property abuts the proposed location for the club.

A vote to accept the intervention pleading does not necessarily sink the winter club application.

“Acting on the intervention pleadings is completely separate from a vote on the applications,” said Mucchetti.  

“It is an administrative action which gives the intervenors standing on the environmental issues they assert in their verified pleading. Acting on the interventions does not affirm the assertions, it recognizes that the issues raised are within the jurisdiction of the IWB and PZC to consider.”