Counsel urges rescinding zoning rules

Town Attorney Ira Bloom shocked nearly 100 residents and neighbors of Ridgefield Road who have fought an Age-Restricted Overlay District (AROD) there, when he called upon the Planning and Zoning Commission during a public hearing on June 12 at Wilton Library to rescind the regulation.

Bloom pointed out the Supreme Court decided on a similar case some years ago, with exactly the same facts, and ruled that the regulation was illegal and void.

That is because the effective date of the age-restricted amendments and the publication date about them were exactly the same, Bloom told the commissioners.

They followed his advice and decided to take up the matter of possibly rescinding their regulation at their next meeting, June 26.

Also on June 26, Chris Russo, attorney for resident Vicki Mavis, who submitted an application to remove Ridgefield Road from the overlay zone and get a moratorium against future applications, will continue his public hearing.

Mavis expressed delight with the turn of events, after the session at the Brubeck Room.

“It was particularly uplifting to hear, after all this time,” Mavis said.

The next step is that the developer who is asking for a zone change to build age-restricted units off the historic road will likely withdraw his application, because Bloom said if it were to go to court it would surely fail, based on the Supreme Court decision.

The developer may have other ideas.

"We are considering all options at this time. The negligence and ineptness of the process has caused irreparable harm and substantial damage," developer Jim Fieber said in a brief statement the next day.

The shocking turn of events came about over the weekend after The Bulletin reported on June 8 that a status conference has been scheduled in superior court in Stamford regarding a request for a temporary injunction to halt implementing an overlay district. The conference is set for July 10, the same day the Planning and Zoning Commission has a hearing scheduled to consider a request to change the zoning for 183 Ridgefield Road from R2A to age-restricted housing.

The injunction was requested by Ridgefield Road resident Patricia L. Frisch, who filed a civil lawsuit June 6 against the town of Wilton, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Planning and Zoning Department, town planner Robert Nerney and Town Clerk Lori Kaback.

In her complaint, Frisch contends the legal notice published on Nov. 3, 2016, and Nov. 10, 2016, in The Bulletin, advertising a Nov. 14 public hearing on the age-restricted zoning amendments under consideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission, did “not identify the potential areas to be affected should the proposed amendments pass to any degree whatsoever.”

The complaint also states a legal notice published in The Bulletin on Nov. 17, 2016, indicates the amendment was approved and would go into effect on Nov. 17. This was insufficient, according to the complaint, because it was not published before the effective date and it did not identify Westport, Danbury, and Ridgefield roads as areas that would potentially be affected by the commission’s action. Thus, it denied the plaintiff the opportunity to appeal the decision.

At a continuation of the hearing on May 22, Town Counsel Ira Bloom indicated the public notices as published met the minimum legal requirements and that the developer’s request to change the zone for 183 Ridgefield Road would have to be considered under the amendments as passed.

Now that has changed.

The turnabout brought some emotional reactions from members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We are listening,” said Commissioner Scott Lawrence, referring to the dozens of impassioned pleas the board had heard from the public.

There will be growing pains ahead though, warned Commissioner Rick Tomasetti. He warned that the issue of housing diversity is not going away anytime soon.
—Jeannette Ross contributed to this report.