Residents challenge Ridgefield Winter Club on light, noise, and traffic
Echoing testimony from peer review consultants, Peaceable Street residents badgered representatives for the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club to answer lingering questions regarding light, noise, and traffic from the proposed ice-skating facility at a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing Tuesday night, Nov. 27.
“We’ve been treated to the fiction that the white ice from the Winter Club is going to absorb light to the point where you’re not going to notice the lights shining down on it,” said Stephen Saxton of 192 Peaceable Street. “This brings us to an infuriating point, the applicant has provided no concrete data on exactly how much of a change in upward lighting will actually occur. The practical model the applicant provided was decidedly impractical in that it failed to take into account any glare caused by the lights shining down on the ice … We know light is going to reflect off this ice. That’s how light works. What we don’t know is how much light? Apparently no one does.”
The proposed private skating club has applied for a special permit at 340 Peaceable Street that would include an outdoor ice rink, an indoor clubhouse, and other maintenance buildings that would total more than 18,000 square feet on the nearly six-acre property.
Earlier in the meeting, lighting expert Bob Banning of Silver Petrucelli and Associates testified that the application “lacked sufficient information” in several areas. Acoustic consultant Peri Chain said the club’s sound plan complies with both state and town ordinances but “may still have an impact on abutting residents.”
Chain, who works for Milford-based SH Acoustics, told the commission that the applicant wasn’t required by law to meet her company’s recommendations; but said that the special permit should be approved based on the condition the club provides frequency data that proves the limit of its loudspeaker doesn’t extend past its proposed lot boundaries.
“The dispersion of sound from the rink’s speakers hasn’t been specified by the applicant,” Chain said.
Saxton agreed that the application wasn’t specific enough in the areas of lighting and sound.
“We are left with mere assumptions by the applicant that lighting impact would meet the approval of the International Dark-Sky Association or the assumption that the crowds of people in attendance would produce acceptable noise levels. Assumptions are not proof. They are made in the absence of proof,” Saxton said after hearing testimony from the commission-hired consultants.
Saxton was one seven residents to speak against the club’s special permit application during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s hearing. One resident spoke in favor.
“It’s your obligation to plan a footprint and create unique assets for our town,” said Jeff Ford of White Birch Road. “I think the Ridgefield Winter Club will add to our town’s magnetic set of amenities and attract new homebuyers ... There’s nothing like it out there, and I encourage you to pass it.”
Through six public hearings, 46 residents have spoken about the proposed private club — 41 have opposed the project, five have voiced their support of it.
The applicant will have a chance to respond to public comment and peer review testimony at the commission’s seventh public hearing tonight — Thursday, Nov. 29 — at East Ridge Middle School beginning at 7.
At Tuesday night’s hearing, peer review consultants did give favorable reviews to the application’s stormwater management plan and its overall environmental impact.
“In my professional opinion, the project will not negatively impact the pond on site,” said wetlands scientist Edward Pawlak. “There will be an extremely marginal impact on amphibians.”
Attorney Robert Jewell, who is representing the winter club, said that the consultants comments “were mostly favorable, mostly just clarifications on a few points and nothing too substantial.”
He added that rebuttal is coming. “The tricky part is the short turnaround time, but we have an outstanding consultant team and I know they will do it,” he said.
At Thursday’s night’s meeting, the applicant is also expected to respond to a real estate impact study done by appraiser Barbara Pape for Old South Salem Road resident Joseph Msays.
“Noise, light, excessive traffic — they all have impact on a neighborhood’s appeal to buyers,” she told the commission, “and in real estate, these are the type of external factors that diminish the value of single-family homes…
“The price for peace and quiet will always be higher than somewhere that’s negatively impacted by light and noise.”
Pape said that if the private club was approved, then Peaceable Street residents and other neighbors would be at a disadvantage when it came to selling their homes.
“From a homebuyer’s perspective, the question becomes: How much less will you pay to live next to a hockey rink?” Pape said.
“My conclusion is that the noise generation and the light emission from this proposal will have an adverse effect on property values,” she added.
Pape wasn’t the only presenter to go after the club’s proposed light and sound plans.
Old South Salem Road resident Jeff Hansen, who founded the Peaceable Neighborhood Alliance in July 2017 to oppose the project, gave a powerpoint that questioned the true intention of the Ridgefield Winter Club.
“Is it the local skating pond or is it the New Canaan Winter Club?” he asked. “Or is it a country club like attorney Jewell said at a recent public hearing?”
Hansen argued alongside with attorney Peter Olson that the club would not be compatible with the neighborhood and failed to meet multiple special permit criteria in the town’s zoning laws.
“Is it really in a suitable location if it requires highway sound walls in a residential zone?” Hansen said. “...How many total lumens are in the rink’s lighting system? What about in its parking lot? There are a lot of unanswered questions here.”
Hansen wondered who would want to pay to join a club that would have hockey games for only members and ones without announcers or spectators outside, as Jewell had testified at a Nov. 13 hearing.
“This will be the only ice rink that can operate without competitive hockey and tournaments,” he said.
Barry Cater of 280 Peaceable Street reiterated that point later in the meeting.
“The Ridgefield Winter Club is not a neighborhood pond,” he said. “This is a commercial enterprise that is going to look to maximize profit. Once they’re given a foothold here, the commission won’t be able to control its use.”
Jewell said he understands the fear and uncertainty surrounding the club’s potential uses but reaffirmed that travel hockey leagues were not among its proposed activities.
“This property remains a red flag to anyone who understands zoning law,” he said Wednesday morning. “This is the first time this property is being marketed for anything but a nursery and construction yard, so there has never been such uncertainty as to its future and we have demonstrated that, from an engineering perspective, the site can support a lot of different uses. I know the commission understands that nonconforming sites are in many ways beyond ordinary zoning controls, but I am disappointed that I have not been able to adequately explain that to the neighbors and others who oppose it.”
Light and noise weren’t the only areas that speakers felt the club’s application was deficient.
Four of the seven speakers began with concerns about traffic, with one resident submitting pictures of several different accidents that have spilled into his Peaceable Street driveway.
“Trees have been struck, rock walls have been toppled, cars have been flipped over — it’s a windy, hilly road that cars speed on and drivers use as a bypass to avoid traffic in town,” said Michael Raduazzo of 195 Peaceable Street. “Most of the accidents have occured in the winter when the roads are wet and slippery, and that’s when cars will be traveling the most to the winter club.”
He took exception to the applicant’s traffic consultant saying there wasn’t a history of accidents on the road.
“That’s just blatantly false,” Raduazzo said. “I’ve called the police department at least six times in 15 years — I’m not sure where they came up with those stats.”
Besides the noise of hockey pucks and skates, Raduazzo and Hansen also took issue with the proposed disruption of the neighborhood during the project’s construction.
“The project timeline is 90 weeks, and that’s just to get the site ready to build on,” Raduazzo said. “They’re proposing 1,000 trucks driving on our roads to carry soil off the site. But what about the trucks coming into the site? What if it has to be done in less than 90 weeks? That would increase the amount of trucks per week. It’ll create an incredible disruption, not to mention create an increase to traffic on an already dangerous road.”
Hansen pointed to the potential rock crushing being done at site.
“The description of trucks and rock-crushing at the nursery as regular activity is fictitious,” he said. “Rock crushing, rock blasting is absolutely torturous. It’s happened once in the 15 years I’ve lived here and I raised issue with it when it did.”