Letter to the Editor: Desperate Attempt to Defend Ridgefield Home

Fellow Ridgefielders,

I am writing to you to ask for your help in a desperate attempt to defend my home.

I live at 311 Peaceable Street across from the old Pinchbeck Nursery. Unfortunately, the nursery went out of business a few years ago. The 6 acres of land on which the nursery was located is zoned for 3 acre residential housing. The nursery had been there, in one form or another, since 1895. We were all sad to see it go, but we were looking forward to getting some new neighbors in whatever homes were built on the property.

Instead of looking forward to making new friends, however, the Peaceable Street neighborhood has learned that a pre-application has been submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission to use the land as the location for a massive “Private Winter Club”. This will utterly destroy the safe and peaceful neighborhood that has existed there for over 100 years. The phrase “utterly destroy” is not hyperbole either. Consider what is currently being proposed to be built on land that is zoned residential.

-          A 12,554 square foot clubhouse on land that is zoned residential.  This building will dwarf all of the homes surrounding it. If that sounds huge that is because it is huge. By way of comparison, the new RVNA building on Governor Street is 10,000 square feet. This will be 25% larger.

-          An open surface parking lot with 106 spaces on land that is zoned residential. If that sounds huge that is because it is huge. The parking lot in front of CVS on Main Street, including the lot off to the side behind the toy store, is only 105 spaces.

-          A full sized tournament ready outdoor hockey rink on land that is zoned residential. If that sounds huge that is because it is huge. This rink will be complete with spectator stands and fully lighted with 40 foot high light poles, so that hockey can be played day and night. I happen to love hockey, but anyone who has been involved with hockey knows that practices begin before dawn and games go till midnight. All lit up. All the time. All hours of the day and night. 10 months per year.

-          Facilities to accommodate a proposed membership of 275 families. That is over 1000 people, meaning that events at this facility could easily draw 500 to 1000 people at a time on land that is zoned residential, right in the middle of a quiet neighborhood.

These facilities will include:

  •    A 1,836 square foot maintenance building for the Zamboni machine and other equipment, on land that is zoned residential
  •    A 4 lane bowling alley, on land that is zoned residential
  •    An 18’ by 22’ Golf Simulator room, on land that is zoned residential
  •    A 23’ long bar, on land that is zoned residential
  •    A 48’ long Club/Viewing room
  •    A 15’ by 20’ Party Room for events, on land that is zoned residential
  •    A fully appointed commercial kitchen, on land that is zoned residential
  •    Five fully appointed locker rooms. The reason for so many of each instead of 1 visitor and 1 home is so that the club can host large hockey tournaments with teams from all over the region.

In addition to the impact on our neighborhood, this proposal would have a devastating impact on the environment. The property borders the Peaceable Refuge and is surrounded by wetlands. There is no town water either, meaning the water for this massive facility will be drawn from a vulnerable natural water table.

It is critical to understand that this dire threat to our neighborhood and the environment does NOT come from the Planning and Zoning Commission itself. The commission is made up of dedicated, selfless people who serve in a time consuming civic function for absolutely zero pay. They are legally obligated to consider any application put before them. It is decades of wise Planning and Zoning Commission decisions regarding these applications that have made Ridgefield that work of art it is today. We need to band together and help our commission here.

The problem here is a massive loophole in our zoning regulations, which allows the construction of large commercial uses under the guise of something customarily allowed in residential zones. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for this that may serve the public good, such as putting a park, school, or church in an otherwise residential area. Beyond that, however, developers should be required to get their building sites rezoned as commercial.

Getting this land rezoned for commercial use would be impossible. Instead, what is happening here is that the proposal is claiming that this large scale commercial use would be allowed using spot zoning, under a special permit. Unfortunately, current Ridgefield town regulations allow someone to apply for a special permit in a residential area for a “private club”. We are starting a petition to change that, but that is a fight for another day. Calling this facility a “private club” is, in our opinion, absurd. Sorry but there is just no other way to say it. For goodness sakes this land is zoned residential! Private clubs do not need five locker rooms and a 106 parking space open surface lot. This is a large scale commercial venture.  I am pretty sure that if I showed up on your doorstep and told you that I was dropping almost the entire CVS parking lot, the Ridgefield RVNA building, a full sized lit up hockey rink for tournaments, and a huge man cave that was kind of like a mini Chelsea Pier across the street from your house, you would be incredulous at the very least, and more likely outraged.

Here is what we are asking of you…

  1.        Please forward this post to as many of your friends as you can. Ask them if they would be willing to be added to our email distribution list.
  2.        Please do not direct any negative actions toward the Planning and Zoning Commission. They always want to do the right thing. We need to help them. That is the purpose of our petition to remove private clubs from the special permit process.
  3.        Please consider allowing us to place one of our lawn signs on your property declaring your belief in protecting residential zoning. The signs should be ready in a few weeks.
  4.        Please consider attending the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing regarding this application. We are not asking you to speak or wear a t-shirt or anything like that. Just be there for your neighbors. If this ever happens to you we will be there for you.
  5.       Most important of all, please never do something like this to your neighbors. No matter how successful you become in life your own vanity and ambitions should never be pursued at the expense of your fellow Ridgefielders.

We are not unsympathetic to the property owner. We are aware that the current 3 acre residential zoning is problematic. We understand that the Planning and Zoning Commission would likely have to approve denser residential housing to make it economically viable for a developer. Surely, however, if that were to occur one of our many highly respected local Ridgefield homebuilders could build a beautiful, safe Ridgefield neighborhood on this land that has so many fond memories for all of us.

Please help us win this battle. We are on the right side both ethically and economically. We seek to protect Ridgefield and the environment. Please help us.

Matt Grossman

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