HEADLINES

A Necessary Letter to Ridgefield P&Z

March 5, 2018

To: Ms. Rebecca Mucchetti, Chairwoman, Planning & Zoning Commission

Dear Rebecca,

 s you can imagine, last Tuesday night’s meeting was very frustrating for me.  I had to sit there silently while my concerns in regard to Special Permits were not fully understood.  If I was permitted to speak, there may have been a dynamic discussion of the issues. Instead, my thoughts were quickly dismissed – maybe even interpreted as ignorant. I understand that it was not a public hearing, but maybe the procedures could be more relaxed and an individual could be invited to speak. Although I appreciated our meeting in October, an opportunity to speak to the entire Commission appears to be crucial.

The following further explanations would have been given if I was given the opportunity:

-          Private Clubs in residential zones should be non-profits – I understand the Commission was hung up on Day Cares and Museums as being commercial and permitted; but the point is that Day Care is far different. It’s an extension of schools and serves the families in the community.  Private Clubs are for anyone from any town who will pay a membership fee and can be a commercial intrusion into a neighborhood when it doesn’t serve that neighborhood.  Residents prefer commercial operations in business zones. I realize that you understand this sensitivity and opened a discussion to define “commercial” but Adam immediately ended that discussion by saying it would be dangerous to define “commercial”. It’s disappointing that the entire Planning & Zoning department is more concerned with getting pigeon-holed instead of coming up with meaningful resolutions to residents’ concerns. It’s not acceptable to keep sidestepping needed change just because it would be difficult to do it properly.

-          Recreational uses should be those that do not require the construction of facilities - the Commission was concerned about ballfields with dugouts, etc. being non-conforming.  I was referring to major construction. My point is that in residential zones, a structure like a stadium should not be allowed just because it’s a recreational use. Obviously, the type or size of structure would have to be defined.

-          If a Special Permit use in a residential zone materially changes the property, applicant must provide business plans that support long-term financial viability - the comment from Mr. Katz was that he didn’t care if someone lost money on their investment; you did not think the Commission had the authority to request the information.  My point is that the financial failure of a project such as that proposed by the not-yet-existing Ridgefield Winter Club could leave a 12,500 sq. ft. clubhouse with facilities inside that are not conducive to other uses, a house for a Zamboni, bathrooms and a snack bar, a residential house, an ice rink with extensive underground tubing, a 10,000 gallon fire cistern and a huge parking lot – all abandoned.  What would happen to a property that is created for such a uniquely-defined use? At some point, we need to be practical. It seemed that most weekends this winter it rained or snowed. How can an outdoor rink be skateable enough to be worthwhile for Private Club members? Why even join? Ignoring financial viability has greater consequences for a Ridgefield Winter Club application than for a Front Porch Farm Bed & Breakfast application.

-          Special Permit applicants must disclose organization ownership and management - the Commission assumed the applicant would be an LLC and the owners could be researched on the internet.  While corporation information is available online, LLC’s are not required to disclose information so you may never know who is behind a project. Additionally, what if the LLC or corporation was not formed until a permit was granted?  Would we find out after a hearing that there is a conflict of interest with the ownership and a Ridgefield official?

It’s disappointing that none of these points were even discussed. Either no one understood where I was going with the topics or no one thought they were worthy of discussion. Sadly, what I would consider to be a good idea brought up by Commissioner Cascella was immediately shot down.  He suggested that the Commission look at Special Permit regulations from other towns.  The conclusion was that the Commission didn’t care what other towns do.  Is Ridgefield so perfect that we can’t gain inspiration from other town’s regulations? During the meeting that followed the hearing in September to discuss the Amendment my wife and I proposed, several Commissioners were interested in working on a definition of acceptable Private Clubs as that is a very broad term (which includes Costco, gyms, The Boys & Girls Club, etc.). There no longer seems to be an interest in doing so. The question I need an answer to is why? Do you believe every conceivable type of Private Club is acceptable? Do you believe you cannot possibly make the regulation more specific? Or do you think the residents should be in permanent suspense as to what is acceptable until the Commission makes a decision after a hearing? Should we never truly know what can be next door to our houses and cross our fingers that the Commission will protect us from what we would not want to live next to? Does the Commission not care that people need certainty when the largest purchase of their lives could be compromised? It’s apparent that the Commissioners like the latitude vague regulations gives them – that’s why they refused to define “Private Clubs” and were okay with keeping the list of acceptable uses under Special Permits completely intact. They don’t appreciate that this policy has negative ramifications.  Ridgefield residential zones can be a target of inappropriate Special Permit applications that residents must needlessly spend time and money on fighting as they have no assurances that the Commission will reject those applications.   Our Commission is too concerned about following strict procedures instead of heading off ill-advised projects. A friend of mine lives in Pleasantville, NY and their commission publicly discourages applications for projects that they have no intention of allowing. I understand that our Commission believes in the integrity of the process, but do you have to torture the residents with such rigidity? The residents in the Peaceable section of town are going on a year of having their neighborhood threatened. There has not been an application yet, and we have already spent countless hours wrestling over the future of our neighborhood – as well as thousands of dollars. From what I see, I believe the Commission has the best interest of Ridgefield in their hearts. Unfortunately, that does not create the level of certainty that clear, specific and strong regulations can give.

 
   

Sincerely,

Jeff Hansen

cc: Robert Cascella, Joe Dowdell, Timothy Dunphy, Joe Fossi, George Hanlon, John Katz, Charles Robbins and Mark Zeck

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