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RIDGEFIELD Experts: Winter club plan could hurt wetlands, disturb neighbors

September 26, 2018

RIDGEFIELD — Experts argued Tuesday night that a plan to build a winter club on Peaceable Street could hurt residents and wetlands.

About 100 residents attended the Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board’s public hearing at East Ridge Middle School on the proposal, which calls for an outdoor ice skating rink, parking lot and clubhouse on the former Pinchbeck Farm.

Residents have long protested the club, creating petitions and organizing a neighborhood coalition, the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance, to fight the plan. The residents argue the club would hurt wildlife and disturb their quiet neighborhood on the Ridgefield-New York border.

Michael Klemens, an amphibian expert hired by neighbors to the nearly six-acre property, argued the project would damage the wetlands and eliminate a critical part of the habitat for wood frogs.

“The wood frogs ... are performing a key role in maintaining the integrity of the wetlands,” he said.

Meanwhile, Donald Poland, a planning consultant, said he was concerned with the “intensity” of the plan on the property.

Poland said the commissions needed more information about how the club is going to be used in the fall and spring and what kinds of activities will be held there.

“We don’t know what is going to be going on there, and we think there should be an explanation of that,” he said.

Without this information, Ridgefield could have some of the same problems New Canaan has had with a center at Grace Farms, Poland said. The town had thought the center would be a religious and philanthropic institution, but it has turned into a “convention center” with many visitors, he said.

The applicant has said he expects a membership of around 275 people and plans to open the club full time from November through March, with part-time hours in April, May, September and October.

Meanwhile, a traffic engineer with KHW Enterprise in Meriden said the club could bring heavy congestion at the intersection of Old Post Road, Smith Ridge Road and Peaceable Street at the New York border.

Poland said he was also worried about the extensive blasting at the property and the ice rink’s 40-foot light poles, which are planned to be taller than regulations allow. He recommended the applicant apply for a special permit for the poles.

But the ice rink itself could also be a problem, said Todd Ritchie, an engineer with Wright Pierce who represented the neighbors.

Ritchie questioned where the ice would go once it melts. This ice will be painted, and this water-paint mixture could flow into the environment, he said.

The ice from rinks generally goes into the sanitary sewer system, but the proposal calls for a septic system, Ritchie said.

The project also calls for a two-story clubhouse, but Peter Olson, the attorney for the neighbors, said the developer should have submitted a separate application for the clubhouse. He added the club should be in a business, not residential zone, anyway.

This clubhouse would include a golf simulator, two bowling lanes and a dining area. The developer would need to add a building near the ice rink for its chillers and equipment, but would maintain an existing residence and storage room.

The attorney for the applicant has called the property, which has been largely unused since Pinchbeck Farm closed in 1999, a blight.

A clubhouse is permitted in residential zones, although residents called for that zoning law to be changed last year.

The farm and nursery that had previously been at the property were considered commercial uses and would not normally have been allowed, but were grandfathered in.

Residents did not have time to comment on the proposal during the meeting, but the commission scheduled several other public hearings through Dec. 12 for residents to speak.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 16.

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