'We came up short:' Ridgefield Winter Club withdraws special permit application
A “firing range” of hockey slapshots proved to be loud enough to stop the Ridgefield Winter Club from being built at 340 Peaceable Street — for now.
The club, which submitted plans in July 2018 for an outdoor ice rink, an indoor clubhouse, and other maintenance buildings that would total more than 18,000 square feet on the nearly six-acre property, withdrew two special permit applications Wednesday, Dec. 12, before its eighth and final public hearing in front of the Ridgefield Planning and Zoning Commission.
“We did not enter into this decision lightly,” attorney Robert Jewell told the commission at Wednesday’s hearing.
Jewell said that his client, Ridgefield resident Bud Brown, has spent over $50,000 in fees to pay for the town’s experts to review the proposed skating rink.
He said the special permit application for the club was withdrawn because it “came up short” in showing evidence that the private club would not have a significant impact “in regard to noise.”
“We came up short and it’s not fair to the commission, or the applicant, or anyone else, to let this important application rest on failure on our part,” Jewell said.
In addition to withdrawing plans for the ice rink and clubhouse, Jewell said that his client would be withdrawing a second special permit application for 40-foot light poles at the proposed site.
Both light and noise were concerns voiced repeatedly by neighbors throughout the public hearing process. Across eight hearings, 50 residents gave feedback to the commission — 45 residents spoke against the Ridgefield Winter Club, five spoke in favor.
At an earlier public hearing, Old West Mountain Road resident Catherine Neligan said the sound of hockey pucks hitting the boards would sound like a “firing range.”
She held up a hockey puck at one point during her comments, and said a hockey player could propel it at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour when shooting on a goal.
“Imagine the sound if you could throw it at the stage floor at that speed,” she said.
Neligan wasn’t the only critic of the application’s sound plan.
Acoustic consultant Peri Chain, hired by the commission, said the club’s sound proposal complies with both state and town ordinances but “may still have an impact on abutting residents.”
Chain, who works for Milford-based SH Acoustics, told the commission at its Nov. 27 hearing that the applicant wasn’t required by law to meet her company’s recommendations; but said that the special permit should be approved based on the condition the club provide frequency data that prove the limit of its loudspeaker doesn’t extend past its proposed lot boundaries.
“The dispersion of sound from the rink’s speakers hasn’t been specified by the applicant,” Chain said.
At the next meeting on Nov. 29, Edward Potenta of Potenta Environmental Consultants LLC, received cross-examination from commissioners.
“I’m going to be unusually frank,” Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said. “I’m not comfortable with the fact that the facility has to be built before [the sound levels] can be tested.”
“I can’t believe it’s going to be quieter than it is now,” with the addition of an outdoor rink with music and activities, she added. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
Despite the last-second decision to pull the two special permits in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Jewell said his client “will submit revised applications” to operate the club at 340 Peaceable Street.
He expects that resubmission process to begin after the Inland Wetlands Board makes its decision on the club’s plenary wetlands application. Ridgefield’s nine-member zoning commission currently acts as the town’s Inland Wetlands Board performing separate functions.
“We would anticipate that, since the special permit application would be before the Planning and Zoning Commission only, the public hearing will be more focused and concise and should require significantly less time than the combined application hearings that commenced on September 4, 2017, and are still continuing today,” Jewell wrote to Mucchetti in a letter before the Dec. 12 meeting.
Mucchetti confirmed that if the club resubmits an application for special permit, the hearing process for the special permit starts over from scratch.
‘Questions that need to be answered’
Some of the members of the audience — about 70 of whom turned up to what was the eighth and final hearing for the club Wednesday night — seemed frustrated by the turn of events
“On the way over, we heard some new news that the applicant withdrew his plan,” said Peaceable Street resident Tim Zaccagnino, one of four members of the public who spoke at the Dec. 12 hearing. “In light of what just happened, I think you’ve got a bunch of questions that need to be answered.”
Tom Beecher, the attorney for the combined board and commission, explained that there are “two major aspects” to the club’s application to build and run the club.
The first half — the planning and zoning side of the application — “would allow the actual use of the recreational facility on this property — including lights on high poles, as well as excavation,” Beecher said.
“The second major component was an application to the Inland Wetlands Board,” Beecher said, “to do certain work on-site and to improve drainage … It’s a completely separate application to a completely separate board.”
“Even if the board approves the wetlands application, they can’t actually construct because they don’t have a special permit application to construct what was originally applied for,” Beecher said.
Neighbors opposed to the site didn’t buy that.
“To me, it renders looking at the wetlands application null and void,” said Joseph Msays of Old South Salem Road. “Because how can you take an application into consideration when the source that impacts the wetlands has been withdrawn?”
Jewell argued that the application before the Inland Wetlands Board would have no impact on the wetlands.
“We could not possibly show you something that has less of an impact on wetlands or watercourses, because we have no impact on wetlands or watercourses,” Jewell said.
Jewell suggested the process of splitting the application into two halves is a sign of how applications for new developments will happen in the future.
“This is a pretty good preview of how all future applications where there are both wetlands and zoning approvals will be processed,” he said.
“I think we’ve demonstrated quite clearly that there will be no negative impacts,” Jewell added. “The only people who disagreed were the people who were being paid specifically to disagree with those conclusions.”
After closing remarks by Jewell, the Inland Wetlands Board voted to accept an intervention pleading by Old South Salem Road residents Jennifer and Jeff Hansen, which alleges the club will harm vernal pools used by wood frogs.
“This is not the stage where the board needs to determine whether there will actually be unreasonable pollution,” Beecher advised the board members.
Voting to accept essentially qualifies the intervention as “raising issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the board,” Beecher explained.
Commissioner John Katz said the board should “follow counsel’s opinion.”
Seven members of the board voted unanimously to accept the intervention. Board member Bob Cascella has recused himself since the first hearing over a professional conflict. Mucchetti announced at the start of the meeting that new board member Cathy Savoca would also be recusing because she had not reviewed the seven previous hearings.
Jeff Hansen said he was pleased by the board’s decision to accept the pleading.
But Hansen, who has organized the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance in July 2017, seemed upset by the prospect of the club re-submitting an application for a special permit.
“Will someone please tell attorney Jewell and his client that the RWC might be a great concept for its members — it just doesn’t belong in a residential zone?” Hansen said. “That was the case in March 2017, and it’s the case today and will be the case in January (or a later month) if he reapplies.”