‘Increased use’ slows down Old Quarry projects
Traffic, medical waste, and overdevelopment were some of the concerns raised during Tuesday night’s public hearing for a proposed assisted living facility and mixed-use building at 55 Old Quarry Road.
The five-acre property, owned by Selectman Steve Zemo, is being subdivided to create Old Quarry Commons — a self-storage building with eight two-bedroom apartments on the second floor — on one acre of land, and Solana Ridgefield, an assisted living and memory care facility with 86 rooms and 98 beds, on four acres.
Zoners approved the subdivision Tuesday, but asked for Zemo and attorney Bob Jewell to return for a continued public hearing Tuesday, May 2, for both applications.
Six residents took swings at the proposed site plans.
One argued that the project could lead to a potential lawsuit from discontented residents because of its location next to the town’s sewage treatment plant.
Jewell said that was highly unlikely, pointing out that the sewage plant is in plain sight and tenants would be fully aware before signing a lease.
Also troubling both residents and zoners during the hearing were the proposed separate entrances for Solana and Old Quarry Commons, something that could create a “safety hazard” for drivers exiting or entering the site.
Zoning enforcement officer Richard Baldelli added that current Solana plans had too much storm water retention, and that the town engineer wants to avoid possible flooding in the area.
The top concern among public speakers, though, was overdevelopment.
As multiple speakers pointed out, Solana and Old Quarry Commons are not the only projects that might be adding activity to the Old Quarry Road neighborhood.
Last month, the Board of Selectmen approved two leases on former Schlumberger property — one for the Ridgefield-based theater company ACT of Connecticut, and the other for the New Canaan-based furniture design firm BassamFellows — after working on them for more than a year.
The town’s goal for both buying and leasing the former Schlumberger land was to control its use and preserve the integrity of Ridgefield.
Town Engineer Charlie Fisher was at Tuesday’s meeting presenting pre-submission concepts for both ACT and BassamFellows, and spoke about that goal.
“We’re going to be improving the infrastructure by paving parking lots and adding 44 new spaces to the existing 80,” said Fisher.
“What we plan on doing is looping driveways together to allow circulation throughout the site.”
The zoners liked the idea.
“Thumbs-up reaction,” said Commissioner John Katz.
However, residents were concerned that these projects, combined with Solana and Old Quarry Commons, might cause too much commotion for the little street.
“I’m only here just because it seems like we’re sort of developing the last little spot of green in there,” said resident Steven Kinney. “Are we essentially open to developing every last square inch?”
Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti countered that the town always knew these parcels were going to be developed.
“We are starting to be aware, and as a town, we need to start thinking about how we’re going to address increased use,” she said.
She reminded residents and commissioners that both properties — Zemo’s and the town’s — were bought with the expectation that they would again become active.
Jewell said engineers will look into a shared entryway before the next public hearing.
Mark Maberry, execute vice president of the Atlanta-based company trying to develop Solana Ridgefield, addressed the commission’s concerns regarding medical waste, parking, and ambulance traffic that the facility could create.
He said the plans include 55 parking spaces, accounting for 25 employees, 10 of whom would be full-time, and knowing that most of the residents would no longer drive themselves.
“I can count on one or two hands how many assisted living residents have had a car in all the years I’ve done this,” he said.
“Not all of our employees drive themselves, but even if they did, that would account for 25 of our 55 spaces. The rest would be for visitors — and we hope we’ll have a lot of visitors and in a town like Ridgefield we think we will, but it’s rare to see the parking lot full.”
He also explained that the medical waste would be low, since it is not a medical facility.
“We do have medical waste, I suppose, like any single-family home with seniors,” he said.
“And that’s dealt with separately than regular Dumpster waste.”
He expects about seven ambulances a month to be coming in to Solana.
“If we have 98 residents which would otherwise be living somewhere else — most of them in town with stairs and throw rugs,” he said, “they’d be moving into a building designed with a lot of safety features and trained staff to do triage and an emergency call system.”
Neighbors in the area voiced concern about all the activity that would be happening on the road, and the two years of continuous construction on the site.
“Is this a done deal?” asked resident Karen Beck.
“I don’t know whether or not we need this kind of facility — the traffic is a really big deal.”