Sustainability to farming to water conservation: Town plan draws many reactions
Water resource protection, historic preservation, conservation, sustainability and relations between planning and zoning commissioners and the public were all themes struck in wide-ranging comments by a dozen speakers at a public hearing Tuesday night, June 18, on the town’s new Plan of Conservation and Development.
“We want to stop builders who rule with an iron hand,” said Lori Mazzola of Ridgefield Voters United, a non-partisan group interested in land use issues and candidates.
Mazzola criticized the commission for its demeanor during public meetings.
“People come before your board and they fear you,” she said.
Mazzola urged people to watch the Ridgefield Voters United website for interviews with and endorsement of planning and zoning candidates in the coming fall election.
A critical tone was also struck by Greg Kabasakalian, who belittled town officials’ talk of improving Branchville around its train station.
“The parking stinks. The train stinks,” he said. So Ridgefield commuters end up taking trains from Goldens Bridge or Katonah in New York state, he said.
“I grew up in town — nice residential town,” Kabasakalian said. “I see too many multifamily residences. I like homes — four bedrooms, with kids in the yard, playing baseball.”
He also took the opportunity to express concern that taxes will drive people out of Ridgefield.
“Our taxes are out of control,” he said. “People will vote with their feet.”
Protecting water resources was among the issues raised by First Selectman Rudy Marconi, the first speaker to comment after an introduction by Glenn Chalder, the consultant revising the plan.
“We’re the headwaters for 10 or 12 brooks, streams and rivers,” Marconi said. “That’s critical.”
“We’ve lost aquatic life,” Marconi said, “…The Board of Selectmen has discussed reducing salt on our roads.”
Marconi suggested increasing lot sizes in areas like the Saugatuck River watershed from two-acre to three- or four-acre zoning.
30% open space
Marconi also advocated pushing for the town’s goal of 30% open space.
“We need to continue to grow our open space in this community,” he said.
Roberta Barbieri spoke of “how foundational sustainability is to everything we do” and said she was “putting my voice in to strengthen wording around increasing open space.”
Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said the town is closing in on its 30% open space goal.
“We’re between 27 and 28 percent,” Mucchetti said, “We’re doing really well.”
Historic District Commission chairman Daniel O’Brien said the commission and the Ridgefield Historical Society were collaborating to advance a ‘demolition delay’ ordinance that would provide 90 days for historic preservation advocates to work with owners to save historic structures.
“All of our neighboring town in Connecticut have a demolition delay ordinance — every one of them,” he said.
Inns and hotels
Emmett Dockery asked about the articles he’d read saying the P&Z commission was interested in accommodating inns and hotels in town. He wondered about the zoning on Catoonah Street , where he lives.
Mucchetti responded that the Catoonah Street is part of the Central Business District or CBD zone from Main Street west to the post office and then it’s residential up to High Ridge Avenue.
As far as inns and hotels go, she said the commission wants to see how hospitality locations might be better accommodated.
“In town, downtown, within the CBD would be the preferred location,” Mucchetti said.
Selectman Steve Zemo highlighted demographics changes outlined in the plan. In 1970 Ridgefield’s largest age group consisted of kids 18 and under; people over 55 were the smallest age group. Starting in 2015, people over 55 became the town’s largest age group.
“That’s a shift in services the community has to provide,” said Zemo.
Ben Oko, a former Conservation Commissioner spoke as a private citizen — and a member of the Sustainable Connecticut initiative.
“Sustainability includes historic preservation, water conservation …. We hope it will be laced through the whole Plan of Conservation and Development,” Oko said.
Susie Bosoff addressed “the importance of sustainability in the planning process” and efforts to combine “resiliency” with instincts to try to preserve Ridgefield.
“I love the stone walls. I love the historic houses — mine was built in 1740,” she said. “But thing will change.”
She’d love to see the town plan embrace encouraging diversity as a goal — “racial diversity, economic diversity, multi-generational diversity,” she said.
Coco Barron lamented the loss of amenities.
“Years ago we had bowling in town,” she said. “...Years ago we had Balducci’s Supermarket — it was wonderful.”
She also advocated for senior citizens.
“I hope in the future they can put in more nursing homes,” she said.
Charles Taney of the Norwalk River Trail Association said there is progress on the trail through five towns — it is planned to eventually go from Norwalk to Danbury — and the “Ridgefield Ramble” would eventually be an important addition to town.
“I think we could help Branchville,” he said.
Attorney Peter Olson of Bethel said he was there representing Bill and Patricia Garland who were concerned that the town review regulations governing farming practices. They live near land that was envisioned as a house lot but inow s in practice farmed, with only a trailer on it.
Although “farming is important for the sustainability of Ridgefield,” he said, it should be practiced under regulations.
Lynn Noyes said she’d read the 2010 plan, which she found impressive, and then read the available draft sections of the 2020 plan, which she rated “less than satisfactory.”
She said the town needed “a cohesive strategy to manage change.”
And, Noyes read aloud the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay, seeing it as emblematic of the effort to preserve what is best in Ridgefield:
"Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
The leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."
Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said there would be another public hearing in the fall when a first full draft of the Plan of Conservation and Development is ready for public review, and then a final public hearing before the commission’s vote to officially adopt the final draft of the plan — a vote which must take place before July 2020.