Zoners host debate on ‘private clubs’ Sept. 5

Could private clubs, like the one Ridgefield resident Bud Brown is proposing on Peaceable Street, be banned in residential areas under the town’s zoning regulations?

The Planning and Zoning Commission will debate that question during a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 5, in the Town Hall Annex.

The hearing will center around a proposed amendment that aims to remove the term “private clubs” from the list of permitted uses allowed by special permit in residentially-zoned land.

The amendment, which could block the development of Brown’s Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC) at the site of the former Pinchbeck Nursery, was filed by Peaceable Street residents Jeffrey and Jennifer Hansen earlier this summer.

Before pushing the amendment forward, the Hansens founded the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance (PNA) — a group opposed to the RWC development and future ones like it in town.

“Whether or not the Commission agrees to remove private clubs from permitted uses with a special permit in residential zones, we hope to at least come out of this issue with a specific definition of what types of private clubs should be permitted in residential zones,” Jeff Hansen told The Press this week.

“We can’t leave the door open for entities like skate clubs, Costco’s and gym clubs,” he said. “We have much more suitable commercial land for all of those businesses.”

The PNA opposes Brown’s proposal, which has not formally been submitted to the committee, on the grounds that the club will bring “traffic, noise, lights, and environmental stress.”

The alliance has attracted support from community members outside the Peaceable Street  and  Old South Salem Road neighborhood.

Last week, Ridgefield Neighborhood Preservation Alliance announced it would support the PNA.  

Local realtor Chip Neumann has also joined the opposition.

“Most Fairfield County home buyers make significant financial investment in their homes,” Neumann said Monday, Aug. 28. “Prospective home buyers may view Ridgefield as a less attractive option if the residential-zoned property next door or nearby can become a commercial business.”

The division

The RWC development has already drawn sharp division between town residents.

A Facebook page called “Support the Ridgefield Winter Club Proposal” has garnered nearly 450 likes.

“Given the community support we’ve already received, we look forward to adding the Ridgefield Winter Club to all that our town has to offer,” Brown said. “The Ridgefield Winter Club will create a strong family-focused premier facility that continues to position our town as a desirable place for families for years to come.”

However, outcry against the club has been more vocal.

“The privileged members will have access to a private club at the expense of the residents living on Peaceable Street and Old South Salem Road,” wrote Linda Bauer in a letter published in The Press last week.

“Since there are 25,000 residents living in Ridgefield and this private club is for only 275 members, how is this for the community?”

The unknown

Hansen also contends that Brown’s club would use far more than the estimated 3,500 gallons of water per day.

When asked about the water issue, Richard Baldelli, director of Planning and Zoning, said that he “can’t comment on a plan that’s not here.”

“Certainly, we’ll review the engineering plans once they are submitted to P&Z,” Baldelli said.

Hansen argues the potential cost of having the Winter Club fail financially is too great.

“Mr. Brown would inevitably have to ask the town to extend the scope of the enterprise to something unpalatable (thereby further damaging the quality of life in that neighborhood),” Hansen told The Press. “Or, the club would go out of business and leave a ruined neighborhood in its wake.”