Ridgefield Winter Club: Neighbors file appeal on wetlands approval
The battle at 340 Peaceable Street isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Ridgefield Winter Club won approval for a new drainage system at the site from the town’s Inland Wetlands Board in January — a decision that the Peaceable Neighborhood Alliance (PNA) has decided to appeal.
“We are very disappointed that four members of the board failed to recognize their statutory obligations to protect the fragile wetlands on and surrounding the 340 Peaceable property,” said Jeff Hansen, an Old South Salem Road resident who founded in the PNA in June 2017 to oppose the proposed private skating club at 340 Peaceable Street.
“The ecosystem is more vulnerable than ever,” Hansen said. “We saw a drought in 2017 that trapped fish in the small puddles that remained in the Mill River. In contrast, 2018 brought repeated flooding – culminating with two floods of Old South Salem Road, where the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club plans to divert a large amount of drainage from their development site.”
Attorney Thomas Beecher, the legal counsel for the wetlands board and Planning and Zoning Commission, said that the appeals process “will take a bit of time” as a judge will have to review the transcripts of eight public hearings that took place in town last year.
“The administrative appeals are handled quite a bit differently from civil appeals,” Beecher said. “At some point in March or early April, a Danbury judge will issue a scheduling order... [The PNA] will have to prove that in some way the board erred in coming to certain conclusions or erred in how they handled the process.. Of course, you can allege anything but you’ve got to prove it.”
The appeal alleges reasonable likelihood of pollution of wetlands as the club would divert storm-water drainage and meltwater. The facility’s operations will affect wildlife in the area, including wood frogs which serve as important biological components of the wetlands on and near the proposed development site, Hansen said Monday, Feb. 4.
“Wood frogs prevent eutrophication of wetlands by cycling nutrients out of wetlands into surrounding uplands,” he said. "The vernal pools surrounding the property were never studied by the applicant.”
“If the town’s peer review consultant, Ed Pawlak's, testimony that supported the testimony of the esteemed Dr. Michael Klemens were accepted over the applicant's experts, this application would not have been approved,” Hansen argued. “The wetlands board had a legal obligation to weigh the credibility and expertise of the various witnesses in reaching their conclusion. Instead they ignored the extensive testimony provided by the Town (Pawlak) and PNA (Klemens) and chose to rely solely on the applicant’s experts.”
Beecher said that he didn’t expect a quick ruling to be made on the case.
“By the time a judge decides this case, I would expect it would be roughly a year,” he told The Press Monday.
Beecher emphasized that the PNA’s appeal will not stop the club from filing a special permit application with the Planning and Zoning Commission, which is made up of the same nine members as the wetlands board.
Developer Bud Brown had previously submitted a special permit application in the summer of 2018. After eight public hearings, he withdrew the application in December.
“There’s nothing that would stop [Brown] from filing an application for special permit,” Beecher said.