Second hearing on Ridgefield Winter Club set for Sept. 25
A second public hearing for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club on Peaceable Street will be held at the East Ridge Middle School auditorium Tuesday, Sept. 25.
The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. to allow for as much time as possible, according to Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.
The meeting will start with a peer review by consultants hired by the town to ensure the application meets state and local regulations.
Attorney Peter Olson will then make a presentation on behalf of Jeff and Jennifer Hansen, neighbors of the site opposed to the club’s development.
The meeting will then pickup where the Sept. 4 hearing left off with, with a presentation on lighting proposed for the club by Mike Mahoney of Musco Lighting. His presentation will include a scale model demonstration of the lights the RWC intends to illuminate the proposed parking lot and skating rink.
There will also be an expert presentations from the applicant on the club’s visual impact and noise.
The meeting will then go into a public comment period that could feature as many as a hundred speakers — or more.
Experts from the club will then have a chance to respond to any questions raised by members of the community or commissioners.
Muchetti said that the commission has received 431 letters about the RWC as of Monday, Sept. 10. She added that the commission hopes to open the Sept. 25 meeting for public comment after the presentations from both sides conclude.
When the commission does make a ruling on the application, it will do so with eight members — Commissioner Bob Cascella has recused himself from reviewing or voting on the application.
The commission has also set aside Oct. 16, Nov. 13, and Dec. 11 to extend the public hearing further.
Olson submitted an intervention letter to the commission on behalf of Jeff Hansen and his wife, Jennifer, at the application’s first public hearing on Sept. 4, citing that the development will have a negative impact on the environment.
The RWC would have “the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing, or destroying the public trust in the air, water, or other natural resources in this state,” Olson said in the letter.
An intervention pleading that accompanied the letter raised specific issue with the fact that the club would be near six “potential vernal pools” (the temporary ponds that form from storm and spring runoff). That could reduce the local population of wood frogs, which rely on the pools.
The club “will therefore likely impact or affect the physical characteristics of the wetlands and watercourses,” the pleading said.
The pleading argued that the club’s proposed stormwater system would divert water away from the pools, and that the on-site septic system would pollute the quality of the water that feeds the pools.
Al Maiorino of Public Strategy Group, the public relations firm hired by the club, downplayed a statement by the club’s land use planner that seemed to suggest the applicant, Bud Brown, might sue if the plan is not approved by the commission.
“We’re not focused on losing … right now we’re just focused on the plan at hand, we’re not focused on if this doesn’t happen here or this doesn’t happen there,” Maiorino said.
Maiorino was responding comments made by Phil Doyle of LADA, PC Land Planners, the land use firm hired by the RWC, at the Sept. 4 hearing.
Doyle said that many of the applications before the commission inspire controversy, and “they end up one way or another in court.” Because of that, Doyle said, the applicant has to put everything on the record, “so the lawyers know that they can defend us.”
Hansen, an Old South Salem Road resident who lives near the proposed club, said he took Doyle’s comments as a threat to sue the town.
Hansen said he believes some of his fellow neighbors might also sue if the plan is approved. “There are neighbors who would do so,” he told The Press in an email.
“We presume the applicant will have to [sue] as it will be clear how the application does not meet the Special Permit Criteria.”
‘Lie and mislead’
Hansen also claimed that experts hired by the RWC provided misleading statements.
He pointed to a statement by the RWC’s architect at the Sept. 4 meeting that suggested the square footage footprint of the main clubhouse would be only 5,000 square feet,” when the engineering report gives a figure of 6,125 square feet.
Peter Coffin, the RWC’s architect from the firm of Doyle Coffin, clarified that the main clubhouse for the club will have a total footprint of about 5,800 square feet. He said the difference between the square footage figures was due to the two decks included in the plans and the overhang of the building’s roofline.
According to Coffin, the total footprint for all the buildings proposed on the site would be 12,887 square feet, which includes a building to store the rink’s ice-finishing machine (similar to a Zamboni) and a single-family house.
Hansen also claimed that the RWC’s land use attorney, Bob Jewell, misled the commission by claiming that there would be two bowling lanes when the club claimed there would be four.
Jewell told The Press Tuesday, Sept. 11, that the proposal has four bowling lanes in the basement. He said he assumed at the time that bowling lanes were defined by the number of ball return lanes, two of which are included in the four lanes of play.
Hansen also claimed that Jewell’s suggestion at the Sept. 4 meeting that the site is currently “industrial” was also misleading.
But Jewell walked back that statement after Commissioner John Katz objected, because Jewell had just pointed out the site sits in a residential zone.
“It is a blighted non-conforming, commercial use — is that better for you?” Jewell responded.
“They believe they have a better chance of being granted the special permit if they lie and mislead,” said Hansen. “It’s very disappointing that they think the commission and the public can have the wool pulled over their eyes that easily.”
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the sequence of speakers that will present at the Sept. 25 hearing. It has been updated.