Letter: Residents respond to withdrawal of AROD application

To the Editors:

(The following letter was written to members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and it published here at the authors’ request.)

On December 6th, 183 Ridgefield Road, LLC’s (“183”) attorneys served notice by letter to the Commission that 183 was withdrawing its application to restore the AROD zoning amendment which was to be heard at the Public Hearing on December 11th. (“the letter”)

Had the letter only addressed 183’s withdrawal of its application, we would not feel compelled to respond; but the letter attempts much more – it is an extraordinary five-page argument in support of its zombie application (dead now, but soon to return), replete with a warning that

“In the event that P&Z does not pursue sua sponte consideration of an AROD or floating regulation, then 183 will file its own application for higher density housing in some form on its property.”

(the letter, p.4, G.) (emphasis in original)

The letter contains a mixture of Orwellian “doublespeak” (e.g., describing the proposed higher density zoning as “downsized density”), outright falsehoods (e.g., that the Commission is legally bound to reconsider the AROD proposals on its own application and that “183’s property should be included and specifically identified, as was the case when P&Z adopted the 2016 AROD”), and an assembly of assertions unsupported by even a trace of factual evidence.  It also states that

183 expects that, consistent with the Commission’s July 10th commitment to bring the rescinded AROD application up again for a public hearing, the Commission will do so in early 2018.” (the letter, p.4, F.) (emphasis in original)

Throughout the letter there are repeated variations on the themes that (1) the Commission is legally bound to revise the Town’s zoning regulations to create AROD regulations similar to the regulations enacted in 2016 and rescinded in 2017, (2) the Commission is further legally bound to include 183’s property in any new AROD regulations it considers, and (3) the Commission must take these steps early in 2018.  Each of 183’s arguments is unfounded and without merit and asks the Commission to ignore its duty to the public and to act, instead, on behalf of one private developer.  

Yes, the Commissioners did say at the time of the 2017 rescission that they intended to consider diversified housing needs in the future, including age restricted housing, but those statements were not “commitments” to 183 to rezone its property to permit higher density housing.  Moreover, the Commission members clearly and forcibly stated on the record on several occasions that they did not want to make decisions that would control or “tie the hands” of future Commissions’ decisions regarding AROD, and most of the Commissioners expressed their view on the record of the Moratorium Application (# 17366), when speaking about the issue of the pending proposed AROD application (#17365), that it would be best to wait for the POCD review process before reconsidering any application to enact specific AROD regulations.

183’s second point is a brazen directive to the Commission that it must change the Town’s zoning regulations in order to make 183’s financial investment sufficiently profitable.  183 has been advancing this idea at every stage of  AROD’s storied history—that it made an investment on the assumption that it could orchestrate a change to the density of housing permitted on the property and is therefore entitled to that change.  We are aware of no law or regulation that would make 183’s demand proper.  

183’s third point, that the Commission must act in early 2018, is a made-up claim.  The Commission is not required to bring up a new AROD proposal in early 2018, or ever.  183’s purpose is clear: it does not want any proposal to rezone Ridgefield Road, specifically 183 Ridgefield Road, to be subjected to an actual planning process, replete with public participation and the factual studies that we hope will be forthcoming from independent experts, in the POCD process.

In short, the letter makes clear that 183 is only temporarily suspending its assault on the existing 2-acre zoning on Ridgefield Road and is regrouping to initiate a new assault that intends to ignore the substantial evidence submitted in opposition to rezoning Ridgefield Road and influence the Commission’s thinking on AROD outside of the context of the proper proceedings of an application and public hearing.  It also makes clear why it has done this – the Commission now has four newly elected members who have not heard and considered the extensive arguments during the past year, so here is 183’s preview of 2018 under cover of a “withdrawal” of its AROD application.  

183 would like the Commission, especially the newer members, to believe that the opposition to introducing high density development on Ridgefield Road is limited to a few neighbors concerned about the visible effects of the development and whether their own property values will be negatively impacted.  Those, of course, are legitimate concerns and worthy of the Commission’s consideration of any such radical change to the zoning of Ridgefield Road, but they are not the only concerns.  Hundreds of Wilton residents from every corner of the Town have signed petitions opposing these proposed changes and large numbers of those residents have appeared to be heard at the public hearings on the various applications relating to this issue, expressing concerns about traffic, safety, ground water contamination, incompatibility with the neighborhood, inconsistency with the POCD, lack of pedestrian access to the Town Center or anywhere beyond the boundaries of the property, and more.  In addition, the Town’s Historic District Commission, the Conservation Commission, the Norwalk River Watershed Association, the Wilton Historical Society and the Wilton Land Conservation Trust have expressed consistent opposition to such rezoning on Ridgefield Road and have submitted detailed letters to the Commission explaining the important substantive reasons for their opposition.  The letter and 183, in all of its past submissions, consistently ignore these facts and 183 hopes the Commission will too.

So, 183 sounds a retreat, issues threats and warnings, and promises to educate us all with a series of “informational meetings” about its “concept plan” to be held outside of the normal P&Z and POCD process in order to reframe the issue and muster support for its drive to revive AROD zoning on Ridgefield Road.  We urge you to give no credit to the conclusory and unsupportable arguments made in the letter, which are not subject to public hearing and wholly outside the Commission’s normal process.

Victoria Mavis

Patricia L. Frisch

Sam Gardner

Wilton, Dec. 11