Residents decry age-restricted overlay on Ridgefield Road

Dozens of residents and neighbors of Ridgefield Road have fought an Age-Restricted Overlay District with impassioned pleas to the Planning and Zoning Commission, but they learned during their second lengthy hearing with the panel May 22 that their efforts may be moot — at least for the property at 183 Ridgefield Road.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom explained to the commission and to the crowd of a

bout 150 people that gathered in the Clune Center at Wilton High School that the developer who is asking for a zone change to build age-restricted units off the historic road must be considered according to the regulations that were in place at the time of his application, not any made since then.

That means that even if the residents succeed in their quest to have Ridgefield Road stricken from the list of three town roads where the AROD floating zone is allowed, 183 Ridgefield Road LLC will proceed through the regular Planning and Zoning process.

Some residents expressed frustration when they heard that, especially after the hearing was continued to June 12 at the request of attorney Christopher Russo, who represents Vicki Mavis, the neighbor who took up the fight against the overlay zone and even asked for a moratorium against more age-restricted applications.

“So between now and June 12, a developer could propose another age-restricted development on Ridgefield Road?” one resident asked in dismay. Bloom and the Planning and Zoning commissioners could only answer yes.

The subject is easily the most controversial zoning application so far this year before the Planning and Zoning Commission. Residents of Ridgefield Road, which is a state-designated scenic road replete with Revolutionary War-era houses and landmarks, have expressed frustration that they were not kept in the loop in the early stages of the planning for the AROD, which allows age-restricted housing to be built on otherwise residentially zoned Ridgefield Road, Westport Road and Danbury Road as well as side roads within 750 feet of those major arteries.

The residents on May 22 continued to express their outrage that Ridgefield Road is included in the AROD scope. The meeting was held in the Clune Center, which can accommodate an even larger crowd, because other venues in town like the Brubeck Room at Wilton Library and the Little Theater at Wilton High School were booked. In addition verbal comments at the hearing, the commission has received 150 letters on the subject.

“The people have spoken. It’s a bad plan,” said resident Christopher Law, who suggested the project would fit better on Danbury Road or Westport Road.

“Put it on the lawn of town hall for all I care,” he said in frustration. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Many of the residents suggested the project should be placed in Wilton Center, which they also suggested at the previous public hearing two weeks ago at Wilton Library.

Among those who feel that way is state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), who spoke at the hearing to clear her name from being insinuated in a Bulletin op-ed piece by developer Jim Fieber that she was a proponent of the project.

“Some developer mentioned my name as endorsing AROD, which I do in concept, but tried to intimate that I endorsed the project on Ridgefield Road, which I do not,” Boucher said, adding she had not been aware a project was in the works for Ridgefield Road at the time of the public hearing in November.

“It’s too dangerous a road and I do not support it,” she said by telephone from the State Capitol, where she was in session.

Boucher said she would like to see age-restricted adult homes built in Wilton Center.

Although the hearing was not about any particular development plan, real estate broker Alice Snyder referred to the 16-unit plan that has been floated by Fieber, saying it looked like an attractive model and the town’s seniors certainly want places like that to live, when they downsize.

“People are living longer and growing older, and seniors want to stay in Wilton,” she said.

Patti Temple of Drum Hill Road said, “I think these kind of developments can and should be done very carefully and thoughtfully and know they can be done very beautifully.”

More concerns

Some complained Wilton Center draws too few customers to its restaurants and businesses, like neighboring towns with more compact downtowns, and lacks amenities.

“We need to fix the town infrastructure to get people to stay, not build units and hope people will come,” said resident Michael Sherman.

“I greatly admire development in Norwalk and Ridgefield that creates a vital downtown. They have a commercial first floor, residences above, and vibrant retail, revitalizing Norwalk,” said resident Florence Johnson.

Tom Gunther, who lives in a 19th-Century home on Ridgefield Road, said that is not the road he would want to live on as an older person. He would want to be in-town, where he can walk to shops and restaurants.

One resident expressed doubt that there is enough demand for age-restricted housing.

“It’s hard to believe AROD is in high demand in Connecticut. High earners and retirees are leaving the state. Age-restricted housing has hit a wall,” resident Tom Curtin said, reading from a report by legal firm Shipman & Goodwin.

Resident Steve Hudspeth warned that saying no to projects like the age-restricted housing could lead to retaliatory development proposals that are even worse for the town, which some residents called the Avalon experience. He suggested the zone be allowed up to Middlebrook Farms Road but not beyond.

Iris Farmer, of Nod Hill Road, observed, “The people speaking in favor are those who seek to profit. The people speaking against this are the citizens of Wilton.”