What’s in store for 183 Ridgefield Road?
The future of 183 Ridgefield Road is unclear, but in an interview with The Bulletin Wednesday, March 15, developer Jim Fieber stressed first and foremost that he does not want the property at 183 Ridgefield Road to be developed in anything but a responsible way.
That could take one of many forms — private homes, age-restricted housing, affordable housing, or nothing at all.
“This is honestly a loving project, because I’ve never developed anything in Wilton,” he said, although he did build Lambert Commons. “I do care about it. I do care a lot about Wilton as a community.”
Fieber purchased the 13.45-acre property in 2015 and has approval for a five-lot subdivision. Last month his company submitted a request to extend the town sewer line from the Wilton Congregational Church to the property to serve a possible 35-unit age-restricted housing development.
That request was withdrawn last week and on April 11, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider an amendment to strike Ridgefield Road as a site for age-restricted housing.
When asked why he withdrew the sewer request, Fieber said, “We want to refine our plan. We want to take into account some of the comments we got from neighbors.”
He said he is also evaluating other development plans for the parcel.
“We’ve developed an affordable housing plan where we can get up to 66 units and don’t need sewer for that plan,” he said, indicating that an onsite septic disposal system would work instead. He would not comment on the percentage that would be affordable. He also said septic would be vastly inferior to sewer.
When asked if this was a threat, he said, “I haven’t proposed it. I am a firm believer in affordable housing. I have never used it as a sword.”
“It gets back to the philosophical question about what is responsible development. And I am somebody who is very keen on responsible development.” He asked, which is better, five private homes, 35 age-restricted homes, or 66 units?
“Different people have different ideas about what’s appropriate,” he said. “Many people in Wilton think affordable housing in Wilton is unacceptable. Is that right? I don’t think so.”
Of the site, he said, “Admittedly it is in a very attractive area of Wilton on a very attractive roadway. If I thought an age-restricted community for this site were not compatible with those attributes I wouldn’t have proposed it.”
Being a real estate developer, Fieber said, he was not surprised by the pushback from those opposed to the plan. But he doesn’t think fighting to have Ridgefield Road removed as an age-restricted overlay district is the proper course of action.
That would come, he said, when a permit application is proposed to Planning and Zoning. What has been seen now is only a conceptual plan drawn up for the sewer request.
“People are objecting to what the scenic road would look like if there were 35 houses, yet they’ve never seen a rendering of what that would look like.”
Fieber said his goal is to reach “some sort of consensus regarding the ultimate disposition of this property,” adding that his company “always reaches out to affected parties.”
Had the sewer extension been approved, a permit application could have been a year away. “We were going to do a video so you would see as a car passing by what the streetscape would look like. And what people would see is stone wall repaired and specimen spruce trees. You wouldn’t see any houses at all. We haven’t done any of those things. We have nothing to show because we are not that far along,” he said.
Fieber does not think the Planning and Zoning Commission will approve the application to amend the age-restricted zoning regulations.
“I think [the commission] is a thoughtful body. Even if there is a large crowd … I don’t think the commission is going to change the regulation.” To do so, he said, would expose the town to a lawsuit.
Approving it would also leave him two options, he reiterated: five lots or affordable housing.
But he then said those aren’t the only two options. “We’re also having discussions with the town about other possibilities,” he said. “The discussions we’re having with the town I think would garner the support of folks … interested in the ultimate disposition of the property.” He would not elaborate further.
“The thing that irks me most about how things have unfolded, I care about how the property is developed,” he said. “I’ve lived here more than 30 years. I have the same concerns as my neighbors. If I was in my neighbors’ shoes, I would have picked up the phone and talked to me. Where the population is well-educated and astute, we should have discussions at a high level.”
He said he is willing to have those talks.
“I don’t have to develop the property. I can just sit on it. I’m happy to talk to anyone as long as they respect the fact I’m a developer.”