Planners deny Boys & Girls Club zone change
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to deny an application by the Ridgefield Boys & Girls Club that would have extended the town’s Central Business District (CBD) to include the 6.75-acre property on Governor Street where the club currently resides.
As the commission handed down its decision Tuesday, Jan. 2, Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said she had been against the change when it was in the pre-application process, and that she was against it at the end of the hearing as well.
Allowing the residentially zoned club to expand into the CBD “is truly an introduction of commercial use into a residential zone, and for that reason it does not have my support,” Mucchetti said.
The commission spent the better part of 2017 explaining to the public what is — and what is not — a commercial enterprise in a residential zone, she said. But if the rezone were to be approved, she said, the club could in fact turn around and create a business at its current location.
“If the Boys & Girls Club wanted to sell things, if they wanted to open a restaurant, they would be allowed as of right,” Mucchetti said.
Commissioners also expressed concern about what would happen if the Boys & Girls Club ever left the property. Several commissioners feared that a commercial development could snap up the lot, and harm the character of the residential neighborhood that abuts the club.
Attorney Bob Jewell, who represented the club at the hearing, argued that in that case, the town would have right of first refusal to buy the property from the club before any developer.
Up and out
The property was most recently valued at around $8 million, Jewell said.
That high price concerned Commissioner John Katz, who suggested that were the club ever to close or leave that location, the town might not be in a position to come up with the cash to buy the property.
The high cost would also ensure that any developer who bought the lot would likely build big, in order to recoup the cost of investment.
“It’s a matter of opinion, but anyone who’s going to spend $7 or $8 million on this property is sure as hell going to build up as well as out,” Katz said.
‘Not necessary yet’
Vice Chairman Joe Fossi also opposed the application.
“I don’t think every option’s been looked at,” he said. “I think we’re being asked to do something that’s not necessary yet.”
He argued that the club should exhaust every other possible option before rezoning.
Commissioner Mark Zeck echoed Fossi’s words.
“We’re causing ourselves to be stretched because of how we revere [the Boys & Girls Club],” he said.
Coming up with an alternative plan is not the commission’s job, added Commissioner Tim Dunphy.
He expressed disappointment in the club for not coming up with a more creative solution in the time between the first public hearing on the application, on Oct. 17, and the commission’s decision on Tuesday night.
Neighbors of the club, while offering nothing but praise for the club itself, were also less than enthusiastic about the prospect of living with the CBD in their back yards.
“I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why the town needs seven more acres in the CBD,” said Kevin Kingman of 109 East Ridge Road.
He asked that the commission consider creating special zones for churches, schools and non-profit clubs, like the Boys & Girls Club, that are located within residential zones.
“I first want to say that we truly support the B&G club,” said Gina Carey of 107 East Ridge Road. “We’re completely in support of the club expanding.”
Despite her support, Carey said, she did not support the application to expand the CBD.
She also argued that the costs incurred by the club in applying for a variance were simply the costs any developer would face with an expansion — whether the club is zoned residential or commercial, an expansion would be costly.
Jewell clarified that comments he had made at the last public hearing regarding the added difficulty for the club — a non-profit organization — to apply under a variance were in regard to the extra “process” the club would have to go through, not the added cost.
As he made a motion for the commission to deny the application, Katz said the decision left him feeling “like a son of a bitch, but a fair son of a bitch.”