Two hearings on Winter Club scheduled this week

Peaceable Street resident Harold Saxton delivers testimony to the Planning and Zoning Commission during Tuesday night's public hearing for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club located at 340 Peaceable Street.
Peaceable Street resident Harold Saxton delivers testimony to the Planning and Zoning Commission during Tuesday night’s public hearing for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club located at 340 Peaceable Street. “This is not the village ice pond,” he told the commission. “This is a business." — Steve Coulter photo

The sixth and seventh public hearings for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club at 340 Peaceable Street will be held Tuesday, Nov. 27, and Thursday, Nov. 29. The controversial application will receive its final and eighth public hearing Wednesday, Dec. 12 — the day before the Planning and Zoning Commission is legally required to close the hearing.

The Nov. 29 hearing was added to the commission’s schedule so the applicant could respond to a real estate analysis study that neighbors of the project have submitted for review. At that same hearing, the commission will also review an intervention pleading put forth by Old South Salem Road residents Jeff and Jenn Hansen.

“We will close the seventh pubic hearing at 10 p.m. and act on the intervention pleading,” explained Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti during the club’s fifth public hearing on Nov. 13.

“No new information can be presented at the final public hearing on Dec. 12,” she said.

“At that hearing, we will listen to just one hour of public comment before hearing closing remarks,” she added.

Attorney Robert Jewell, who is representing the club, requested the commission deny the intervention pleading at the Nov. 13 hearing.

“A motion to intervene is allowed to anyone if they have facts sufficient enough to prove unreasonable pollution to air, water or natural resources,” he said. “In this case, they’ve failed to show environmental impact to air or water quality. We feel there is no pollution created from this application and that we’ve dispensed of most of their alleged facts.”

Jewell also took exception to the unusual public hearing process this application has received.

“Usually, the applicant is able to complete his or her entire presentation at the first public hearing, or at least before peer review questions are submitted,” Jewell explained at the Nov. 13 hearing. “Because of public interest, the hearings have been moved to this room [East Ridge Middle School’s auditorium] and each session has had to end at a specific time for the custodial crews to close down the school. … We still haven’t had time to respond to questions voiced during the second and third hearings. It’s important that we get that on the record.”

The fifth hearing was largely dominated by Jewell and four environmental experts, who testified the club’s impact to neighboring wetlands were minimal.

“We’ve gotten to the point where people believe this is an ice arena for hockey — that’s never been the case,” Jewell said. “It’s nothing like Winter Garden in town or the Brewster Ice Arena.”

Public comment

Through five public hearings, 39 residents have spoken about the proposed private club — 35 have opposed the project, four have voiced their support of it.

“I ask the commission to look at where this application falls short,” said Peaceable Street resident Katherine Daigle at the Nov. 13 hearing.

Daigle pointed at environmental concerns raised during a Sept. 25 hearing, an increase in traffic to the residential neighborhood and the club’s potential light and noise pollution — all which Jewell and various environmental experts had dismissed earlier in the hearing.

“There are numerous blind driveways, on this road,” Daigle told the commission, “and it’s often used as a shortcut for commuters.

“It’s already a speedway, and a dangerous one at that,” she added. “A demand for ice time — moms and dads driving their kids to get there on time will create an even more precarious situation for our neighborhood. Our windy roads are not designed for a further increase in traffic.”

She was skeptical of the club’s hiring of a public relations firm and adding other costly, preventative measures, like a lighted driveway and high wooden fences.

“It’s a veritable fortress, and they’re trying to hide the obvious fact it doesn’t belong in our residential neighborhood,” Daigle said. “All of these band-aids won’t work and that’s because this is application is not a compatible use.”

Most pressing for Daigle and three other speakers who gave testimony at the Nov. 13 hearing was the club’s business plan.

“The scope of the business is lacking,” she said. “Why is there a bar in a residential area? Why is it open seven days a week, from 6 in the morning to 11 at night?”

Earlier in the meeting, Jewell testified the rink would be closed by 10 p.m. He also stated hockey activities wouldn’t start until 9 a.m.

He also argued that presenting a business plan to the zoning commission was irregular.

“I’ve never once presented one in front of a zoning commission and that’s because a business plan has nothing to do with zoning regulations or land use regulations,” Jewell said. “Nowhere under the zoning regulations does it require an applicant to reveal his or her income tax status and that’s because it’s irrelevant information.”

Remaining schedule

Following the hearing’s closure, the commission is expected to take a holiday break in December before beginning deliberations on Jan. 8.

“There will be no votes taken before the hearing closes, the only vote is on the intervention” Mucchetti explained. “We will have 35 days to deliberate as the Inland Wetlands Board and we have 65 days as the Planning and Zoning Commission before making a decision. We must decide on the wetlands part of the application before the zoning part.”