Ridgefield Winter Club: Zoning battle looms, owner aims to keep piece of Pinchbeck’s history
Ponds don’t freeze the way they did 40 years ago.
At least that’s Bud Brown’s assessment.
“I remember them freezing solid enough to skate on safely … there were no parents or guardrails, you were very free,” Brown told The Press this week.
The 15-year Ridgefield resident is pushing to build a private winter sports club at the site of the Pinchbeck Nursery on Peaceable Street. Dubbed the “Ridgefield Winter Club,” the unofficial proposal has drawn both the support and ire from neighbors and the extended community.
While the Pinchbeck Nursery lies in a residential zone, the Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC) would be allowed to operate there if it obtains a special permit from the town’s Planning and Zoning Department.
Residents opposed to the club’s location proposed an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations, which would eliminate “private clubs” from the list of permitted uses for special permits in a residential zone.
That matter will go before a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 5.
While Brown did not say when he would submit a formal plan for the club to the town’s zoning office, he stressed that he wants to make sure all of the community concerns about the project are addressed.
On Monday, Aug. 7, he walked the site and shared his vision of preserving some the property’s history.
“I want to keep this building here as part of the history of the nursery,” Brown said, gesturing to a stone greenhouse almost completely grown-over with ivy.
“And there’s going to be an apple orchard here for privacy,” he added, standing by the roadside.
Critics of Brown’s plan have been particularly vocal, with neighboring residents of the proposed site on Peaceable Street emerging as the loudest opponents.
“Let’s keep our neighborhood peaceable,” reads the main page of a website created by Peaceable Neighbors Alliance (PNA). “An ambitious private sports club threatens to alter the Peaceable Street neighborhood with traffic, noise, lights, and environmental stress.”
Jeff Hansen, an Old South Salem Road resident who helped filed the application to remove “private clubs” from the list of permitted uses by special permit in residential zoning, spoke to The Press this week about Brown’s plans.
“The proposal seems a little strange,” he said. “There are other commercial zones that are in the woods.”
‘The silent majority’
When asked about other sites that might cause less contention among town residents, Brown said only that they had looked at other sites, but had determined the Peaceable Street site seemed like the best location.
The hubbub raised around the RWC was enough for Brown to recently enlist the help of Public Strategy Group Inc., a Massachusetts-based public relations firm, headed by Al Maiorino, who got his start working on political campaigns.
“Our approach aims to educate and identify citizen advocates,” Public Strategy’s website states. “Community members that all too often would otherwise remain as the ‘silent majority.’”
Brown was quick to point to a ‘“silent majority” in his interview with the Press.
“Since our launch, we’ve had great feedback,” he said, pointing out that the Facebook page started for the the RWC had garnered 300 likes.
Maiorino quickly put out a press release on behalf of the club, citing some of the community concerns posted on the PNA website.
“The RWC will use proven lighting technology to keep all of the light on the RWC property,” Maiorino wrote. “[RWC] will use measures intended to eliminate any potential noise effects outside of the property lines; keep all parking on-property; and care for the local environment.”
Brown acknowledged that part of the RWC’s appeal to residents is its status as a private club.
Though Ridgefield already has one skating rink— the Winter Garden Ice Arena on Prospect Ridge, Brown took pains to point out how his winter club would offer a different experience.
“I think we’re very different,” Brown said, pointing out that the Winter Garden skate rink sells hourly time on the ice, whereas the RWC will have a business-model based on membership.
Brown would not give an estimate as to how much a membership to the Winter Club would cost, though he speculated that it would depend on the number of members who signed up.
Brown’s proposal estimates around 275 club members.
Residents of Peaceable Street are less than thrilled with the proposed club’s private-membership status.
“A members-only club contributes no value to the larger community,” the PNA website reads.
Working at the club
One of Brown’s selling points for the project is the promise of new jobs.
According to the RWC official website that launched in late July, as many as 20 new jobs could be brought into the community.
Brown said that a majority of those new jobs would likely be seasonal work, not full-time positions.
When asked about potentially hiring high school students, he said that there would be “various opportunities for all those [age] demographics.”
For his part, Brown is optimistic about the project’s future, despite the initial opposition.
“I appreciate all the concerns,” he said. “I hope to get more.”