Property values, children\u2019s safety, tax assessment, water and septic, traffic, lack of community support, and land use violations \u2014 those were some of the reasons residents gave at Tuesday night\u2019s Planning and Zoning public hearing as they spoke in opposition to a proposed drug rehabilitation facility at 162 Old West Mountain Road. The commission heard from 11 speakers during the public comment period that followed a presentation from the applicant, Mountainside, which has submitted a two-part application to amend the town\u2019s zoning regulations to add a new special permit use for an \u201cExtended Residence Care Facility\u201d within the town\u2019s R-AAA residential zone and establish a facility on four parcels of residentially zoned land. Twenty-four additional speakers who had signed up to give public comment went unheard during the hearing, which was continued to Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at East Ridge Middle School. \u201cWe will not conclude tonight,\u201d Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti told the 170-plus person crowd before the hearing began. \u201cWe have 35 names on the list. We ask that if you don\u2019t speak tonight, then hold your comments and we\u2019ll pick up right where we left off on Feb. 7.\u201d Despite Mucchetti\u2019s announcement, several residents, growing impatient during the 90-minute presentation, interrupted Mountainside Vice President Matt Eakin and the applicant\u2019s engineer. \u201cWe don\u2019t want you here,\u201d one man in the crowd said. Another man, a local Realtor, stood up and said the applicant was wasting the commission\u2019s time. Both comments drew a round of applause from the room. \u201cThe applicant is entitled to present application,\u201d said Tom Beecher, the commission\u2019s attorney. \u201cThey could take all night and we couldn\u2019t stop them,\u201d Mucchetti reminded the crowd when it became hostile again moments later. \u201cIt\u2019s state statute. Let the applicant finish.\u201d Parking and septic Two elements of the application that came under the scrutiny of the commission were parking and septic. Mountainside seeks 17 beds at the facility, and a 15-space parking area to accommodate staff members working on-site. Eakin said that only staff members would be driving onto the site, and that the only way patients would come on and off the property is through Mountainside transportation. \u201cWe want a 17-bed residence, nothing more,\u201d he said. \u201cWe are open to suggestions from the commission on how to cap it so we can put to rest the speculation of widespread expansion.\u201d Before the total of number of beds is determined, though, the applicant will have to await the results of a state audit of the project\u2019s septic system plans that estimates 150 gallons of septic usage per day per resident. \u201cIs that enough for 17 beds, a full kitchen and a full-time laundry service?\u201d Commissioner George Hanlon asked. Commissioner Mark Zeck wondered if there were enough parking spots on-site to accommodate visitor vehicles or ambulances. Eakin, who stressed earlier in the meeting that Mountainside\u2019s clientele would be working professionals older than 40 years of age with college or master\u2019s-level degrees, said that weekend visits would be allowed for only two to three patients and that his company \u2014 owned by New York-based venture capitalist firm Artemis Partners LLC \u2014 was committed to its policy of not allowing open visitations during the week. \u201cNo picnics, no parties \u2026 it\u2019s going to run the same way every day,\u201d he said. \u201cThe more people on-site, the less confidential it becomes and then our mission is compromised.\u201d As for emergency medical services, Eakin said that no narcotics would be dispensed on-site and that he expects a \u201clow number\u201d of ambulance visits. \u201cHow can we be assured you won\u2019t be changing your plan to allow narcotics?\u201d Zeck asked. Eakin said he wanted to work with the commission on how to address that concern. \u201cWe are applying for exactly what we want to do there,\u201d he said. \u201cWe\u2019re not trying to sneak one in. We\u2019re open to any discussions.\u201d Withdraw or deny Peter Olson, a land use and conservation attorney representing residents Chuck and Fran\u00e7oise Lampe, was the first person to speak and listed 10 reasons why the commission should deny the applicant. He called the application \u201cambiguous,\u201d \u201cwholly inadequate,\u201d \u201cnonsensical,\u201d and \u201cimpractical and unenforceable,\u201d warning the commission that the terms of the special permit \u2014 if approved \u2014 could easily be violated. \u201cA limitation on the number of beds based on three beds per acre bears no rational relation to the proposed use, allows this applicant to expand its use beyond that presented here tonight,\u201d he said. During his 20-minute presentation, Olson urged the commission to deny the zone regulation change because it is \u201cspot zoning.\u201d \u201cSpot zoning singles out for special treatment a lot or a small area in a way that does not further such a plan,\u201d he said. \u201cThe Mountainside proposed regulation change is plainly spot zoning. The regulation specifically identifies the four parcels of land which Mountainside proposes to purchase as able to take advantage of the regulation change, to the exclusion of all other parcels of land in the town.\u201d Olson said the proposed regulation change also is not in accordance with the town\u2019s comprehensive plan or with the Plan of Conservation and Development. He added that the zoning regulations do not contemplate uses like the one proposed in residential zones. \u201cThe zoning regulations only permit commercial and institutional uses that are traditionally accessory to the residential uses, such as churches, schools and recreational uses,\u201d he said. \u201cThese uses are generally for the public benefit, and are traditionally walkable. The only concession to commercial uses are small-scale uses \u2014 home offices and day care.\u201d The lawyer argued that the regulation, in its current form, constitutes poor planning and does not comply with general statutes required from the wetlands commission. \u201cThe applicant has not submitted an application for permit to conduct regulated activity, nor is there evidence that the commission, acting in its capacity as the wetlands commission, or its staff have determined that the application does not involve regulated activities,\u201d he said. \u201cThe application for special permit and site plan must be withdrawn or denied.\u201d Financial benefit David Matteini, managing director of Artemis Partners, presented the application\u2019s economic and fiscal impact study Tuesday night. He told the room that, if approved, Mountainside\u2019s facility would add $1.3 million to the town\u2019s tax base and $138,000 in annual tax revenue. Matteini said the company would spend $2.4 million to revitalize the property \u2014 without altering the footprint of the historic home \u2014 and that would create 15 new construction jobs, in addition to the 16 jobs associated directly with the facility. \u201cOur proposed residence offers clear economic gains,\u201d said Matteini as he went over a mill rate comparison between Ridgefield and Canaan \u2014 where Mountainside\u2019s five-day detox center is located. The statement drew a mix of laughter and boos from the audience. \u201cOf all the jobs created, not one is guaranteed to go to a Ridgefielder,\u201d said Commissioner John Katz. \u201cThat\u2019s correct,\u201d Matteini said. Tom Reynolds, who\u2019s lived at 122 Old West Mountain Road since 1976, spoke during the public comment period and said that he searched for a good reason the town\u2019s zoning regulations should be changed for the benefit of Mountainside but couldn\u2019t find one. \u201cIt has been suggested that Ridgefield would receive a \u2018tax windfall\u2019 if the property in question is converted to commercial use,\u201d said Reynolds, a certified public account with Reynolds & Rowella. \u201cThis is simply not true.\u201d He told the commission that in speaking with Tax Assessor Al Garzi he found out the most commonly used method for determining a tax assessment is current value, and that this is based on the property\u2019s highest and best use. \u201cFor commercial properties, in addition to the current value method, the assessor can use as alternatives a formula based on income or a comparable sales analysis,\u201d he said. \u201cOf these three methods, the current value based on this property\u2019s use as a residence provides the highest value for tax purposes, and thus produces the highest tax for the town. If the property were to be used for commercial purposes, this change would not alter the current tax assessment, since the highest and best use is still as a residence.\u201d He said the properties in question currently pay $107,000 in real estate taxes. \u201cShould a commercial business be allowed to operate at this location, the real estate tax assessment would remain exactly where it is today,\u201d he said. \u201cSo I come back to my original dilemma: What financial advantage does this proposal bring to the residents of Ridgefield? I see none. There is no financial benefit to our town.\u201d Where\u2019s the support? Catherine Neligan, the spokesperson for the Ridgefield Neighborhood Preservation Alliance (RNPA), attacked the applicant for making six \u201cmisleading\u201d public statements, including that it had any support from the community. \u201cI ask Mountainside to document this support. I also ask our town planner to give us a total count of letters they have received to date supporting Mountainside\u2019s application as well as the total number of letters received to date opposing Mountainside\u2019s application,\u201d she said. In regard to the 17-bed facility, Neligan said the application states something entirely different. \u201cWhy does your application still ask for three beds per acre as of today\u2019s date? Your intention and what you will be allowed to do if your application is approved don\u2019t align, and that should concern us all,\u201d she said. \u201cRidgefield residents don\u2019t want a 46-bed, 39-bed or 17-bed commercial facility in their neighborhoods,\u201d Neligan said. \u201cWe don\u2019t want any commercial beds for rent in our neighborhoods.\u201d The RNPA spokesperson took exception to Mountainside\u2019s suggestion that Fairfield County has \u201ca clear need\u201d for a live-in treatment facility. Citing statistics Sig Ackerman, the president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Neligan told the commission there wasn\u2019t an unmet demand for treatment in this region, including Ridgefield. Silver Hill currently has 129 beds for addiction and mental illness and uses an average of 81 per day \u2014 capacity for an additional 48 patients, according to Ackerman. \u201cIt seems to me that Silver Hill may have our county\u2019s needs covered when it comes to a live-in treatment facility and for half the price of the $60,000 a month that Mountainside plans to charge its clients,\u201d Neligan said. But, if Ridgefield decides that it needs more treatment resources and\/or more prevention measures in our town, let\u2019s meet those needs in an appropriate location. Let\u2019s start this conversation as a town, but not one directed, engineered and manipulated by a for-profit player like Mountainside.\u201d Property values Neligan provided the commission with a study that details a decrease in value of up to 17% for homes in that are neighbors to such facilities. \u201cMountainside\u2019s example of the few homes in the immediate vicinity of its extremely rural Canaan facility is ridiculous and misleading,\u201d she said. \u201cSimply put, the population density of Canaan is only 33 people per square mile, while Ridgefield has 675 people per square mile. \u201cYou can\u2019t compare \u2018apples\u2019 and \u2018elephants.\u2019\u201d She was one of six speakers who talked about property values. Rita Jedrziewski, who\u2019s lived at 258 Old West Mountain Road for 16 years and has been looking to sell her home, said she reached an agreement with a prospective buyer in October but was \u201cblindsided\u201d by the Mountainside news a few weeks later. \u201cIt delayed the contract signing and the closing,\u201d she said. \u201cMy property, which has always been an asset, has turned into a liability,\u201d Jedrziewski said. \u201cJust the potential of it has threatened my ability to sell my house \u2026 it\u2019s a stressful situation.\u201d Bruce and Wendi Preston also spoke and noted that they\u2019ve had trouble selling their home \u2014 something they\u2019ve been forced to do because Bruce is legally blind and needs out-of-state medical care. \u201cIf this application is approved, it will really hurt us financially,\u201d Wendi said. \u201cThis is not what we planned for.\u201d Safety Joe Huleatt, who purchased his house at 155 Old West Mountain Road the same day Mountainside filed its application, said he wanted to give a voice for the kids in the neighborhood. He told the commission that he and his family had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world but chose Ridgefield as \u201cour place to call home\u201d because of town\u2019s safety rating and great schools. \u201cThis was a no-brainer for us,\u201d he said. \u201cThe zoning in this area gave us enough space for the kids to play and throw a ball, and not have to worry about busy streets or strangers around our house. We thought we had found the perfect neighborhood.\u201d The home buyer said he felt betrayed when he heard Mountainside was applying for a commercial use of a property across the street. \u201cThere is no way on this green earth I would have purchased this property had I known there was a commercial use property across the street that will bring excess of 200 strangers a year to my neighborhood,\u201d Huleatt said. Instead of getting to know the neighborhood and schools, Huleatt and his wife have been considering security systems and surveillance cameras and other protection devices, he said. \u201cIf this commercial use application is not thrown out, potentially my kids and my neighbor\u2019s kids would be catching their school bus across the street from a facility catering to strangers who have no interest whatsoever in our neighborhood and no security to prevent them from walking out of the facility whenever they choose.\u201d The final speaker of the night, Maggie Watson of Sharp Hill Lane, shared a personal anecdote that touched on the inherent safety risks associated with rehabilitation facilities. \u201cMy son was treated in three different centers,\u201d she said. \u201cThe patients there are not stable \u2014 they\u2019re unpredictable and they\u2019re dangerous. \u2026 \u201cIt\u2019s a very difficult environment, no matter who is being treated,\u201d Watson said. \u201cAddiction does not discriminate.\u201d Watson shared with the room that her son relapsed several times before committing suicide. \u201cThe national recovery rate is not very high,\u201d she said. \u201cRehab centers do not belong in any residential area. They\u2019re not appropriate or safe.\u201d Unrest The meeting closed at 10 p.m. and the frustration from the audience was still palpable. \u201cHow many more nights spent away from our children to put up with this?\u201d one resident asked as Mucchetti was trying to ask the client for a 35-day extension that would allow the commission time to conduct a third public hearing in the middle of February. \u201cDo they get to commandeer the meeting again?\u201d said Reynolds about the scheduled Feb. 7 hearing. \u201cThey had their opportunity to present tonight.\u201d Several residents voiced strong opposition against Mountainside making another presentation at that hearing. \u201cWhy can\u2019t they sign a sheet and wait to speak like the rest of us?\u201d a man in the crowd said. Mucchetti said that the applicant has the right to present information that the public requested, including a property value study that has not yet been completed as well as the state-audited septic plan. \u201cObviously there\u2019s a lot missing in their application,\u201d said Reynolds.