Zoning commission to host third Ridgefield Winter Club hearing Tuesday
The third public hearing for the Ridgefield Winter Club (RWC) — a proposed private skating club at 340 Peaceable Street — will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 16. It will begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of East Ridge Middle School.
Rebecca Mucchetti, chairwoman of the town Planning and Zoning Commission, said that the RWC will open the meeting to conclude its presentation to the commission. Experts hired by the club will present on the club’s sound and lighting plan and its visual impact to the neighboring community, Mucchetti told The Press Wednesday, Oct. 3.
At last count, the commission has received 467 letters both for and against the application. Residents have also voiced their opinion in letters to the editor of The Press. Mucchetti said that of the letters the commission has received, about 90% were form letters, and have come from as far away as Cos Cob and Chicago.
The Oct. 16 hearing will run until 10:30, Mucchetti said, because the hearing is the only item on the agenda.
Peter Parsons, the town supervisor of neighboring Lewisboro, N.Y, is also planning to speak at the meeting.
“It’s already totally chaotic,” Parsons said about traffic conditions just over the state line, and near the proposed home of the RWC. “So far the only comment I’ve heard is that dealing with New York DOT is impossible — that’s not a satisfactory answer.”
He’s especially worried about the intersection where Peaceable Street, Smith Ridge Road, and Route 35 converge just over the New York State border.
Speaking to the Press on Monday, Oct. 8, Parsons said he wants to know if any trucks carrying rock and soil from the excavation for the clubhouse need to be routed through New York.
He said he also has concerns about what would happen when the RWC’s outdoor rink melts in the spring, and whether runoff from the club would affect the Mill River, which runs through Lewisboro.
In New York towns, the supervisor serves as the chief administrator and fiscal officer on the town board, a role similar to both the first selectman and chairman of the Board of Finance in Ridgefield.
Provided there is any time left over, the meeting will then go into public comment for the remainder of the hearing.
The commission will also have to rule on two legal interventions put forward by attorney Peter Olson, a land-use lawyer hired by Jeff and Jennifer Hansen, neighbors who oppose the club’s approval.
Mucchetti said a vote on the pleadings is tentatively scheduled for an Oct. 30 hearing.
In early September, the Hansens filed two intervention pleadings with the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board — in Ridgefield, members of the commission are also elected to the wetlands board. With slight variations, both pleadings claimed that the proposed club would negatively impact surrounding wetlands by possibly harming nearby populations of wood frogs.
At the last public hearing for the RWC, on Sept. 25, Olson had ecologist Dr. Michael Klemens make the case that the club’s development could be detrimental to nearby populations of wood frogs.
“The allegations overlap,” Olson explained, between the purview of the commission and the wetlands board.
He said the commission could reject both pleadings — over his objections — if they decide the pleadings do not meet the criteria under the law.
Attorney Bob Jewell, the RWC’s land-use attorney, said they would “address the allegations” made by Dr. Klemens on Oct. 30, as the club has been asked to hold off on answering questions or making rebuttal arguments until then.
He also said that the club does not need another special permit application for field lighting, a suggestion that was raised on Sept. 25 by the commission’s peer-review expert, Donald Poland, because the zoning rule that was raised applies only to parking lot lights.
“The section they cited is one that I actually wrote for parking lot lights for a few projects ... not field lighting,” Jewell told The Press.
He said the rules were found to not apply on a previous application he put forward for field lights at Tiger’s Hollow and the Little League field.
In a statement, RWC founder Bud Brown said that the club appreciates the commission’s “thoughtful and continued review along with the ongoing positive feedback and strong support we have received from the Ridgefield community.”
“We look forward to replacing an old commercial property with a freshly-landscaped and unique, wintertime premier facility that will enrich our community and help fill a void in our town for families who want the opportunity for recreation and social events — and simultaneously deliver a wide range of benefits, including new jobs and increased tax revenue,” Brown said.
Commissioner Bob Cascella has recused himself from reviewing or voting on the RWC application.
That leaves eight commissioners who will have to render a decision on the club. Mucchetti clarified that in the event the motion is split evenly with four commissioners voting for approval and four against, the motion automatically fails.
The commission has scheduled additional hearings for Oct. 30, Nov. 13, Nov. 27, and Dec. 12. The Dec. 12 meeting is the only meeting scheduled on a Wednesday. Under state law, the commission will have to close the public hearing on the RWC application by Dec. 13. The commission then has 65 days to decide on the club's planning and zoning application, and 35 days to decide on the club's wetlands application.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story said the commission had until Dec. 13 to render a decision. The public hearing must close by that date under state law, but the commission then has an additional 65 days to vote on the RWC application before the Planning and Zoning commission, and 35 days to vote on the RWC application before the Inland Wetlands Board.