183 Ridgefield Road developer speaks out on project, opposition

Developer Jim Fieber, who proposes to build 35 units of age-restricted housing on Ridgefield Road amid a firestorm of neighborhood opposition, briefly met with The Bulletin outside the town hall annex Monday night and arranged for an email interview the following day. The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering his request to extend the town sewer line to accommodate his proposed development.

Fieber is a longtime Wilton resident, whose wife has been a teacher in Wilton for more than 30 years and whose four children all attended Wilton public schools. His office is in New Canaan and he answered some questions.

Q. Do you own and operate similar projects? Tell us about it.

A. We have built many similar projects. The most notable is River Oaks in Stamford, which is an award-winning community substantially larger with greater density. That community is particularly interesting because former Wilton couples moved to River Oaks because they could not find suitable housing in Wilton. In addition, we built Lambert Commons in Wilton, which experienced similar opposition. Lambert is a pioneering community which was the first in the region that provided affordable housing for town employees among market-based units. It has been an enormous benefit to Wilton fiscally and conceptually. There is no affordable component proposed for this concept.

Q. The crowd was opposed to the 35 units. What do you say to that?

A. The Wilton Planning and Zoning Commission promulgated regulations that permit that density. For housing serving this particular demographic, the density is appropriate and less dense than densities permitted in other towns. While we appreciate the concern of the neighbors, the referral requested by the WPCA is not the appropriate forum to discuss the merits of the conceptual development plan.

Q. Some crowd members said First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice brought the project to town. Has she been in contact with you to do this?

A. The first selectman has been very explicit in her comments in the press. Because of the economic realities of state funding being severely curtailed for wealthier towns such as Wilton, the first selectman has been looking for responsible ways to increase revenues for the municipality. Also, it is apparent from the changing demographics of the town that Wilton has very little housing stock to serve this valuable source of human capital.

Q. The crowd fears traffic and density. What do you say to that?

A. We understand their concerns. Again, this is not the forum to express those concerns. If an application is made, we as applicant will address those concerns. That being said, it is a land use that produces very little traffic. The density is appropriate. People 55 and older appreciate having a nucleus of similar others around them. It forms a sense of community.

Q. What is your vision for the project?

A. Our vision for the community is to create an exceptional living environment for those 55 and older who have been forced to find housing in neighboring towns. In addition, we want to create a community that is contextual in architectural style. The community will be in keeping with the scenic road in that the housing will be substantially screened from the road. Most importantly, the community will produce inordinately high tax revenues for the town, benefiting all of Wilton.

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  • Chris_Kez

    I love how he bluntly describes our adult/senior townspeople as a “valuable source of human capital”.

    • Victoria Boies Mavis

      Recent coverage of this topic includes such ‘community-loving’ references as his thinly veiled threats of a build that would be as large as 66 units versus the 35 that have sparked such an outcry.

  • Matt

    Fieber’s points are purposefully misleading, and he is trying to compartmentalize an issue that should be considered in a broader scope. The P&Z committee promulgated regulations, at Fieber’s request, that permit such density on properties that are adjacent to 33 AND have access to water and sewer. 183 does not have access to sewer. Given this fact, it is obvious that the P&Z committee did not anticipate 183 as falling within the scope of the overlay regulations when they amended the code last year. Fieber is now requesting an extension to the sewer line, which would transform the 183 property from an inappropriate place for such density to an appropriate one. Considering the implications, this is absolutely the right time for discussing the consequences of extending the sewer line and the overall merits of Fieber’s development plan.

  • Chris_Kez

    Mr. Spinelli, I appreciate you making an effort to bring more information to public view, but honestly these questions were all softballs. How about asking some of the following:
    -What is the appropriate forum for expressing concerns about the project?
    -Surely Mr. Fieber anticipated this kind of response; why not make an attempt to assuage these concerns early and often?
    -When asked about “similar projects”, Mr. Fieber referenced River Oaks, noting that “former Wilton couples moved to River Oaks because they could not find suitable housing in Wilton”. River Oaks is not an adult community. It is a gated community where homes are going for $1.3-$1.5 million dollars. How will this proposed development be similar to River Oaks?
    -What specific design elements in this plan make it uniquely suited to an adult community? Will the homes incorporate “universal” design elements that make it easy for owners to “age in place”? Will these be one-story units so elderly residents needn’t worry about climbing stairs? Why not offer any 2BR units?
    -Can he please explain the thought process underlying the changes in his plans for this property? How did he convince the Schlichting family that he was going to restore the Homestead, only to post an Intent to Demolish sign weeks later? What happened to plans by New Canaan Councilman and developer Joseph Paladino to save the house?

    I don’t know Mr. Fieber personally, and I’m sure his friends and family will say he’s a stand-up guy, but this whole thing seems underhanded.

    • Resi Dent

      Mr. Spinelli, did the answer to whether 1st Selectwoman brought this to town and was in contact with developer ever come in the form of a straight YES or NO answer? If not, how does the town trust any answers from parties to this matter?

    • Fran Di Meglio

      @Chris Kez – At a Public Hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission is the appropriate forum to voice concerns. No application has been submitted at this time.

      Although River Oaks is not a 55+ community, it was designed to accommodate that age group. As a matter of fact, 98% of those homes were sold to and occupied by people 55+.

      The conceptual plan calls for predominately free-standing homes to be two or three bedroom clustered so as not to be substantially visible from the road. The scenic character of the road will be enhanced. The stone wall and the landscaping along Ridgefield Road will be tremendously improved. Since the homes can only be occupied in accordance with the regulation, the homes will necessarily be designed to accommodate the needs of 55+.

      There was never any representation to Dave Schlicting that the house was going to be restored. The property was on the market with no credible offers for a long time. Mr. Fieber and his attorney were explicit during negotiations that there was no intention to save or restore the home. Mr. Fieber never spoke to Mr. Schlicting until after the closing took place. All negotiations went through the broker Kevin O’Brien. The purchase and sale agreement was explicit with no requirements to retain or restore the home. After the closing, Mr. Fieber worked with Rob Sanders to have the antique barn on the premises meticulously disassembled. The barn is to be reassembled on Nod Hill Road. The house was in a state of deterioration. The valuable elements of the house were removed for repurposing. The floor boards were removed and donated to Ambler Farm for installation in the farmhouse. Dave Schlicting misstated to people that the house was going to be restored to deflect public comment.

      • Chris_Kez

        If Dave Schlichting flat out lied, that’s terrible. Why wouldn’t Mr. Fieber have made some attempt to set the record straight at that time? And what about Joseph Paladino? Has he also misrepresented his communications with Mr. Fieber in the story linked below?


        • Fran Di Meglio

          @Chris Kez – Mr. Schlicting was asked to make a retraction of his false statements. He did not as that would have detracted public opinion. Other communication was also misrepresented.

  • Resi Dent

    Mr. Spinelli, readers welcome this answer: If 4 houses on this lot = $120,000 in property tax revenue per year, and 8 houses on this lot = $240,000 what would multiples of units on this property generate at 35, 25, and 15 units? The 1st Selectman and/or CFO should easily calculate this projection.

    If Wilton approves 25 units @ $10,000/yr taxes, we’d be better of instead folding to allow 6-8 homes than destroy the character of this most unique area of Wilton.

  • Kevin Hickey

    Tony is a very good reporter. There is lots on his plate. There is lots more to report and he is on top of things.

    • Fran Di Meglio

      35 units would add $830,00 in tax revenue annually. Five house would add $160,000 annually. Sewer extension no cost to Town or tax payers and is consistent with Plan of Conservation and Development.
      Fran Di Meglio
      Communications Director
      183 Ridgefield Road LLC

      • Kevin Hickey

        Hi Fran,
        I love Wilton.
        35 units will make each home value in town decrease by a $100,000.00 I am guessing due to the inventory increase by the egregious scenic road incursion of the character of our Town. Build on route 7 like you are suppose to. Where do you live Fran?
        Kevin Hickey
        Communications Managing Director
        Wilton, CT.

        • Resi Dent

          Mr. Hickey: Ms. Francis Di Meglio is not from Wilton and sits on the Norwalk Planning Commission, which is now embroiled in public outcry for it’s approval of a 5 story, 69 apartment plan by a developer there.
          In that current situation, public outcry is described in papers like this: “There are a couple issues with the site plan. It does not appear that this application is conforming to zoning regulations.”
          Looks like Norwalk-style building tactics have just been uncovered making a play for Wilton. Wilton should look more like Ridgefield and New Canaan…. and NEVER like Norwalk!

          • Fran Di Meglio

            @Resi Dent – If you want to have a real conversation, kindly use your real name.

          • Resi Dent

            Facts don’t need to be named. Intelligence, whether found by an unnamed Wilton resident, an unnamed CIA or FBI agent, or by an unnamed Wilton teacher describing the underlying FACTS… is legitimately real, shared information.
            You might have described yourself as an other town’s Planning Commissioner alongside your “name” and role in 183 LLC. Now which is more important? The label of one’s name or the facts left out? There’s no way 183 generates $830,000 in property taxes without it being a rental property. Why was that left out, or why isn’t the LLC named “Wilton Apartments at Ridgefield Road”?

          • Concerned

            When you use the term UNITS…. what do you mean? Are these independent free standing HOUSES? Units commonly refers to smaller, condominium style residents. Would you please clarify?

          • Fran Di Meglio

            @Concerned – 35 Independent free standing houses.

          • Responsible Citizen

            Researching Greenwich, Ridgefield and New Canaan, one would find a great deal of development. Ridgefield has age-restricted development which is serving as an economic engine for the town. Ridgefield recently went through the same kind of controversy; the Town found that for the betterment for ALL persons in Ridgefield, age-restricted development was a huge fiscal benefit and helped to serve the needs of changing town demographics. Greenwich has an overlay zone that permitted the development of a very large community of cluster homes in very wealthy and upscale area of Greenwich. New Canaan is very progressive and anxious to increase its tax base. Our sister towns have anticipated the tremendous cost associated with Hartford’s designation of fourteen towns such as Wilton, New Canaan, Darien that will have to tax their residents to make up for diminishing state support for education and teacher’s pensions. Why not look at what is good for all of Wilton. This one development can replace lost state aid for education.

          • Resi Dent

            Adding saturation projects on this high profile, “character of Wilton site” is NOT the solution to creative development. Here’s what’s creative:
            WILTON TRADES with owner of 183 Ridgefield Road for town owned land in a more appropriate location such as:
            (a) TRADE a town sports field and take 183 for sports instead
            (b) TRADE Merwin Meadows for 183 Ridgefield Road. Apt or multi-housing owners could walk to town (no sidewalks are permitted on Scenic Ridgefield Road!) or thru woodland paths, etc. AND developers make the POND a desirable swimming place for residents onsite and from elsewhere in Wilton.

          • Responsible Citizen

            Suggestions such as these are constructive. Why don’t you reach out to the developer and discuss the matter rather than making false insinuations such as the proposed development is for apartments or stating falsehoods regarding the revenue that would be generated by the 35 homes, not apartments. If you are familiar with the developer, they build upscale, luxury housing, The cluster community, River Oaks, are single family homes that have master bedrooms on the first floor or elevators to the second. Why don’t you broker a deal between the town and the owner of the property and achieve tax revenues and needed housing in more preferable location. Frankly, this is the only suitable site on Ridgefield Road and had to be contemplated as such when the commissioners approved the age-restricted housing for Wilton. Ridgefield Road was specifically named in the regulation.

            Be constructive. Be a champion for all interests and put a plan together with the First Selectman and the owner,

          • Thomas Paine Today

            RC, the comments and suggestions of these people seem pointed not to the developer’s parties but to the selectmen and board commissions in town.

            As a centuries old writer, I’ll add longevity perspective to this land situation. This section of Ridgefield Road already has a large property dedicated to old age; it’s call the cemetery. And its open space and view of the horizon afforded by 3-4 foot tall structures is peaceful and fitting with the history of that road. Thirty foot high roof lines hoovering over that scenic road? Not appealing to this patriot.

          • Lorrie Hill

            Oh my gosh, I could not be more opposed to your “creative” ideas Resi Dent. What in the world?! How about we just deal with the underhanded issue of overlay zoning and what is appropriate for 183? We do not need to trade anything with this developer. We need to protect our scenic roads and not give away the town character to make a few bucks.

          • Resi Dent

            Wilton needs revenue producing properties. Merwin Meadows is a money loser swim hole with valuable surrounding land. Put it on the market for 183 type housing. Walk to town and train which is a home run.

            Patterns of underhanded zoning, etc., you are absolutely correct and those must be outed.

            While you/we are at it, we need to determine the underhandedness behind letting Orem’s Diner, a RENTER in the old diner building on Rt 7 by Young’s, BUY their now INVALUABLE large lot for just $200,000 from the State of CT. THAT plot would have been better sold (deal done via local CT legislators hands) to a high density living developer which would have printed money for Wilton and not enrich diner owners via rare, low cost land and low taxes to Wilton.

          • Lorrie Hill

            This isn’t about that. This is about 183 Ridgefield Road. I don’t choose to engage with you further as I am uncomfortable with the fact that you make all of these comments without using your name. It’s unfortunate that choose to undermine you viewpoints this way.

          • Resi Dent

            For transparent situations especially, ideals and truth are invaluable when they don’t require attribution. If one requires identity of an author of ideas prior or alongside considering them, then one will obtain fewer of them. On your basis, anyone who adheres to the ideas within the pledge of allegiance without knowing its author must be uncomfortable and must disengage.

            Wilton schools will be improved as a result of the unnamed teacher’s or teachers’ recent State of the Schools letter – but only because of the many people who think as I, not you.

          • Lorrie Hill

            Well I see you deleted your nicely written double speak response. I must say you seem to enjoy the intrigue. Lol!

      • Resi Dent

        If your typo was to be $830,000, that’s $23,714 per unit over each of 35 units. So now you’re saying you’re building 35 3-bdrm homes each of approx. 4,500 square feet. On what, 13 acres? This white elephant is growing by the hour.
        So here’s the plan’s success premise: Age 55+ residents, or out of towners, will rush with glee to sell their current Wilton homes’ $15-20,000 average property taxes to buy a 4,500 square foot high density footprint with use restrictions all for the financial wisdom of signing up for $23,714 per year property taxes. Huh?

        • Kevin Hickey

          183 Ridgefield Road, LLC are probably getting their fabricated numbers from Ann Paul, Bruce Hampson, and the Rest of the BOE. They are the experts in hoodwinking the Town….

        • Responsible Citizen

          Wilton is facing a fiscal crisis. The Grand List was flat last year. The Town is losing about a million dollars in state educational assistance. The Town has lost significant revenue from its loss in a dispute with Norwalk’s Second Taxing District which will decrease our Grand List. Wilton already faces one of the highest mill rates of similar towns. Wilton may have to come up with four million dollars to pay for its share of the State Teachers Pension Fund. Where is that money going to come from?

          By the way, since you are phobic of people coming to Wilton from other towns, where did you come from? Influx of persons yields economic growth, something The Chamber of Commerce in town encourages.

          • Kevin Hickey

            RC…this is from and the real reason we are in a bind…..

            Forget the Cluster muck…we can save 10 million a year below…

            The new BOE CFO at a recent Business Ops meeting uses the term “Voodoo Economics”???

            We approved a $50 million project without being provided the data of 2 enrollment studies showing ongoing declines in enrollments. We now will have the equivalent of 10 unused classrooms. The project was also based upon false premises: 1) they stated a PreK program was required. It is not required. It now costs almost $2 million/year. 2) they stated we had 75 or 78 preK students when we only had 28 total. Now, they want to expand the program to additional students at tuition below cost and have taxpayers pick up the difference. Administration admitted they undercut costs of the PreK programs already in our town. Why should our tax dollars be used to undercut businesses in Town for a program that is NOT required.?

            BOE registers 4.3 million in outplacement (not just special needs) We can find about 2 million from all the Ann Paul releases.

            BOE have 2 million going to coaches of teachers and coaches of the coaches of Teachers. Most wackiest plan in Wilton’s Education history.

            BOE have spent last year $310,000.00 to prevent the Wilton public from finding out the truth—Shipman and Goodwin

            BOE now want to go into competition with private pre schools in our area? And Taxpayers have to subsidize?
            Where is the EDC on this one because a public agency wants to put a public agency out of business.

            BOE paid 200k for a special education study that stated if we follow best practices, BOE can save 2 million…nothing has been accomplished here.

          • Kevin Hickey

            RC, instead of doing the right thing by decreasing taxes in areas that have been defined, cluster housing will decrease the value of our homes due to excess inventory…As for your rationale about Greenwich, etc., I do not see any cluster housing on equivalent roads such as North Street, Lake Avenue, or Stanwich…so bye bye to that argument..AND…most people in town do not trust our so called leaders after the Miller Driscoll and Comstock Turner fiascos…

          • Thomas Paine Today

            KH, there you go again using Common Sense! If 183 adds 35 homes, or rental units, dozens if not hundreds of homes’ assessed values will fall, TAKING DOWN the total Grand List of property tax assessments.

            Then what? If 183’s claim of $830,000 in tax income (gross) – which IS ACTUALLY $630,000 more than 5-6 traditional homes built would generate (net) -, then Common Sense points to 183 giving Wilton a likelihood risk of $630k or more of property tax-value REDUCTIONS…meaning adding proposed 183 plans COULD LITERALLY REDUCE TAXABLE INCOME to Wilton in the AGGREGATE. And, the aftertaste of 35 units on a historic hillside will be an everlasting bile.

        • Concerned

          Mr. Fieber states “…We have built many similar projects. The most notable is River Oaks in Stamford,..” Have any of you looked at these homes?? 3000-4200sf 4 bedrooms, 2 floors… don’t believe for a minute these are homes for seniors. http://www.sharongiglio.com/Stamford/StamfordCT-CondosForSale-RiverOaksComplex-HomesCondos.aspx

  • Thomas Paine Today

    35 detached homes for each of the detached ghosts to resettle after the windows from which they used to look out upon the attached cemetery were removed from the now destroyed Schlichting homestead.

    “These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine, Dec 23, 1776

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