AROD moratorium vote postponed
More than 35 residents gathered at Miller-Driscoll School the evening of Nov. 13 for a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on a moratorium against age-restricted overlay districts (AROD) and other special districts proposed by Ridgefield Road resident and attorney Patricia Frisch.
The public hearing took up half the commission’s approximately five-hour meeting, but no vote was ultimately taken. The commission plans to vote on the moratorium at its Nov. 27 meeting in Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room. A public hearing on the 183 Ridgefield Road application seeking regulations for an AROD will also be on the agenda.
Frisch is seeking the moratorium in hope of blocking the creation of a new AROD like the one rescinded by the commission in July.
The moratorium would temporarily halt applications that seek to increase the permitted density of housing on Ridgefield Road until Sept. 30, 2018, giving the planning commission time to complete its 10-year update to the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
In a Nov. 11 email to The Bulletin, Frisch said that neither she “nor the hundreds of town residents who oppose the AROD application — from 96 different streets scattered all over town — are against adding more diversity to Wilton’s housing stock,” nor are they “against more housing options for senior residents.”
“We are against rezoning Ridgefield Road to permit high-density housing,” she said.
There is “only one person” opposing the moratorium and “pushing for the adoption of the AROD regulations,” said Frisch, referring to developer James Fieber, who owns 183 Ridgefield Road and has proposed building an age-restricted subdivision there.
“I believe the interests of one developer will trump the interests of the town if the commission denies the moratorium and forges ahead to approve the AROD application before the POCD review process has a chance to weigh in on such a fundamental change to Wilton zoning.”
On Nov. 10, Frisch submitted a “more carefully drafted” moratorium for the commission to consider and vote on.
Frisch’s application seeks to amend Sections 29-3.A and 29-5 of the town’s zoning regulations in order to impose a moratorium on “any pending or future application” that seeks:
- To amend regulations under Sec. 29-3.A or 29-5 “in any manner that may allow the rezoning, use or development of any lot located in an R-2A or R-1A Single Family Residence District where such property fronts on or provides vehicular access to Ridgefield Road for multiple single-family or multi-family homes, whether by creation or “restoration” of an age-restricted overlay district or any other district, or otherwise” or
- “A zone change or special permit that would allow multiple single-family or multi-family homes on any lot located in a R-2A or R-1A [district] where such property fronts on or provides vehicular access to Ridgefield Road, until Sept. 30, 2018, except as may be extended or earlier terminated by amendment of these regulations.”
At the public hearing, Frisch also added a sentence to the end of her proposed moratorium amendment clarifying that it “is not intended to and shall not apply” to applications brought under existing regulations for accessory dwellings in the R-2A or R-1A districts on Ridgefield Road.
Before the hearing on Frisch’s application, commissioner Melissa-Jean Rotini recused herself from “any further proceedings related to” Frisch’s application, as well as two other applications involving AROD and Ridgefield Road, at the request of Fieber’s attorney, Leonard Braman.
Braman sent a letter to the commission last month requesting her recusal, citing a conflict of interest regarding Rotini’s advocacy as a private citizen of Ridgefield Road — before she was a member of the commission — in favor of Vicki Mavis’s application opposing overlay zones for Ridgefield Road.
Although she “identified no conflict,” Rotini agreed to step down, stating that the focus of the commission should be on the issues at hand and “not be about whether I’m sitting here or not.”
“I feel like that’s a distraction that is unnecessary and not very good for anyone on either side or to the public or to the town,” she said.
“The role of the commission, I think, is too important to be distracted by whether I’m sitting here or whether Mr. [Eric] Fanwick is going to be here come December.”
Rotini said she didn’t want her participation in the application to be a “basis for litigation” — something Braman said would be the result if the moratorium is approved — or a “basis to question the decision” made on the application “either way that it may go.”
Frisch addressed Rotini’s recusal once Rotini left the room and the public hearing began.
“I think it is improper for someone to recuse themselves for a reason other than a conflict, and she says she has no conflict,” said Frisch.
“This to me is another example in a row of many where a developer is orchestrating what this board is doing — not with the consensus of this board; not because this board asked for it — but their allegations of conflict … and their pressure and threat of litigation is really what led to her recusal. I think that’s improper.”
In response to Commissioner Richard Tomasetti’s question of why her proposed moratorium solely pertains to Ridgefield Road, Frisch said Ridgefield Road has characteristics that are “totally different” from those of Danbury and Westport roads.
Danbury Road and Westport Road already have areas zoned for “high-density, multiple-family housing and other non-residential uses,” said Frisch, and they are not “windy, narrow scenic roads” like Ridgefield Road.
“Ridgefield Road is the only state-designated scenic road in Wilton, other than the Merritt Parkway, and it has historic significance,” she said.
Unlike properties on Danbury and Westport roads, Frisch said, “properties on Ridgefield Road are located in an environmentally sensitive area that is connected to the water supply.”
Pipers Hill Road resident and Norwalk River Watershed Association board member Catherine Smith said the association supports Fisch’s moratorium request.
Ridgefield Road also has a designated sewer avoidance area, which includes “the stretch of Ridgefield Road in the current pending AROD application,” she said.
Wilton’s 2010 POCD doesn’t identify Danbury or Westport roads as areas where higher density housing should not be permitted, said Frisch, “whereas the POCD specifically identifies 183 Ridgefield Road for its open space value.”
Furthermore, Frisch said, the POCD “specifically identifies Wilton scenic roads in low-density residential neighborhoods as a core feature of the town’s heritage that should be preserved.”
These characteristics of Ridgefield Road, Frisch said, “demand” that it have “greater further consideration in terms of a land-use planning decision that alters the density of zoning permitted on that road.”
“I don’t think, and hundreds of other residents don’t think, that consideration was given in the process of drafting this AROD application,” said Frisch.
Since there has been “no controversy” about whether there should be high-density development on Danbury or Westport roads, Frisch said, she purposely drafted a moratorium that “speaks only to the issue [of Ridgefield Road]” and “doesn’t sweep in other things that are not part of the issue.”
Eleven Wilton residents spoke up in support of Frisch’s application Monday night, including Ridgefield Road resident Sam Gardner.
“For more than a year now, we — your fellow citizens — have attended numerous hearings and requested over and over for this commission to hear our arguments. Often, it feels like our requests fall on deaf ears,” said Gardner.
“At the time the first AROD was rescinded, many of you acknowledged that the manner in which the AROD was conceived was defective. The most compelling reason was that the commission had not heard in any meaningful way from the public. Now we are here again, asking this commission for a temporary halt in reinstating another AROD that would alter Ridgefield Road forever.”
The planning commission is “charged to act in the public interest,” said Gardner, and Wilton residents have “come forward in significant numbers” to request that it remove Ridgefield Road from the AROD.”
“We’ve asked for greater transparency from town professionals. We have lined up speakers who have given professional observations. We have asked the commission and the town planner for more evidence as to why AROD specifically works on Ridgefield Road,” he said.
Gardner said Frisch has provided “a well-reasoned and detailed request for a limited moratorium, and the public stands here in support of her request.”
Tomasetti and Doris Knapp both said they were “uncomfortable” with the moratorium.
Andrea Preston and Peter Shiue expressed support for the moratorium.
Although he still had questions, Tierney O’Hearn said he was more in support of the moratorium than not.
The commission was going to vote on the moratorium Monday night, but decided to postpone until its next meeting because draft resolutions were not prepared.
Some commissioners also noted that postponing the vote would allow fellow commissioners Sally Poundstone and Joe Fiteni to provide feedback.