Peaceable neighbors begin case against Ridgefield Winter Club
The gloves finally came off at the second public hearing for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club at 340 Peaceable Street after experts — peer review consultants representing the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission and specialists hired by neighbors of the site — criticized the project’s potential impact on neighbors, both human and amphibian.
Dr. Michael Klemens, an ecologist expert for neighbors of the club, said the site is surrounded by a “robust” population of tree frogs that will lose their natural habitat if the club re-routes stormwater off the property and into the nearby Mill River.
“In my professional opinion, the Inland Wetlands Board cannot approve this application because it is woefully incomplete,” Klemens told the commission, which in Ridgefield also serves as the wetlands board. He said the applicant would not have enough time to gather data on the impact on wood frogs by Dec. 13, when the public hearing must close by state law.
“The application simply has to be denied, or at the very least withdrawn,” said Attorney Peter Olson in his closing remarks at the end of a hearing that ran for more than three hours. Olson represents Jeff and Jennifer Hansen, whose property abuts the site of the club on Old South Salem Road.
He presented Klemens as an expert in his case to deny the application, one of six experts — two from attorney Olson, and four peer-review consultants for the town — who spoke Tuesday night.
Around 100 residents showed up to the hearing, but the meeting closed before any members of the public could speak. Opposition to the club has gathered steam for more than a year, since Ridgefielder Bud Brown first announced his idea to build the Winter Club on the site of a former nursery on Peaceable Street.
Olson argued that the application is “defective,” because the club is asking for a special permit for a recreational use, not to operate a private club. Under the town zoning regulations, he said, a recreational use only applies to natural recreation areas like baseball fields, not man-made structures like the club’s proposed skating rink.
He also raised issue with the club’s parking arrangements, which he said would be inadequate if the club ever includes spectator seating, or holds hockey tournaments.
“Listen to the people in the community who are telling you this is not an appropriate use in a residential neighborhood,” said Olson.
Donald Poland of Planimetrics, a peer-review consultant for the town, raised the issue of “activity creep,” or the club’s amenities growing in the future — things like the planned bar and food area, the potential for private parties, the club’s plan to include bowling lanes and golf simulators.
“Does what is simply a membership club grow into something else over time?” he asked.
Poland suggested a full outline of the club’s activities should be given to the commission as a condition of approval.
Todd Ritchie, a senior project manager at Wright Pierce and Olson’s second expert, said he had 35 comments on public safety and health related to the plan.
He questioned what would happen to the wastewater from the proposed hockey rink, as the paint used on the ice is not recommended to be disposed of through a stormwater system.
He also asked about the club’s plan to dispose of ice shavings.
“Those shavings tend to include some not so nice things — blood, hair ... maybe someone got sick. That happens,” said Ritchie.
Trucks and traffic
Peer review experts for the town said they questioned the number of trucks coming and going from the club, both during construction, and after the club is built.
Chris DeAngelis, a partner with Cabezas DeAngelis, an engineering and surveying firm, said he believes a large rock outcropping in the middle of the site will need to be blasted out, rather than ripped out with a backhoe as the plan currently entails. He recommended the club include a hauling route for the several hundred truckloads needed to remove some 6800 cubic yards of earth for the foundations.
Kermit Hua, of KWH, a transportation engineer for the commission, asked whether the planned driveway would have include enough room for a large delivery truck to pass without edging into the opposite lane. He also suggested that landscaping around the entrance and exit should be pruned to maintain sightlines for drivers.
Commissioner Bob Cascella was not in attendance because he recused himself from hearing or voting on the application.
The next public hearing is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in the East Ridge Middle School auditorium. Additional meetings are planned for Oct. 30, Nov. 13, Nov. 27, and Dec. 12.