Monday, Dec. 11, 2017–On the list of “sure things in life,” death and taxes might soon be joined by one more thing:  controversy around AROD applications for 183 Ridgefield Rd.. In a letter sent to the Planning & Zoning Commission last Wednesday (Dec. 6), the developer of the property withdrew his most recent application asking for a zoning change to allow higher-density age-restricted housing at that site. The letter promises the developer will make another AROD application in early 2018–unless the P&Z Commission follows through with earlier discussions to introduce AROD zoning itself. What’s more, that withdrawal letter brought sharp condemnation from residents opposed to high-density development on Ridgefield Rd..

The five-page withdrawal letter was sent from attorney James Murphy of Gregory & Adams, who represents developer James Fieber and 183 Ridgefield Rd. LLC. Fieber’s most recent AROD application was introduced on Oct. 10, which meant the public hearing on the matter needed to be complete by Dec. 11; however, Fieber’s team continued to postpone it until a decision was made by the Planning & Zoning Commission on the matter of a requested moratorium on all AROD applications on Ridgefield Rd. brought by Patricia Frisch. That moratorium was defeated at the commission’s last meeting.

Murphy’s letter notes the “high level of contention” the issue has generated among the public and blames the delay in P&Z’s consideration of AROD on Frisch’s moratorium application and subsequent multiple public hearings.

The letter sets out to review the applicant’s position for why AROD zoning is good idea for Wilton, and also acknowledges that many residents believe it is a bad idea.

Murphy writes that because the P&Z Commission’s post-election membership changed as of Dec. 1, any new members of the commission would be “at a disadvantage” to consider the application now. According to the letter, new members would be tasked with “an enormous job…to read all the pre-election materials and listen to all the tape”; furthermore, should new members not be able to catch up adequately, they “…may abstain from voting, leaving an admittedly controversial matter to be decided by less than a full Commission.”

He concludes that the process of getting any AROD regulation passed would “be better served in 2018 rather than in 2017.”

Murphy’s letter asserts that the P&Z Commission made a “commitment” to bring its own AROD application forward after the one it approved in Nov. 2016 was rescinded in July 2017, following the discovery of errors in the way P&Z staff filed public notices about the approval. If the Commission doesn’t do so, however, Murphy says the developer will file its own application for “higher density housing in some form on its property.”

Furthermore, Murphy reiterates that the developer will not proceed with developing five, single family houses on the 14 acre property, despite the current two-acre single-family housing zone that covers 183 Ridgefield Rd..

The reasons? The current and foreseeable real estate market, writes Murphy, doesn’t support building five luxury homes there, given the Wilton’s current oversupply of large single-family homes for sale. Five such homes would actually cost the town rather than bring in any tax benefit, since they’d likely add children–and the cost of educating them–to the school district. Instead, as the “last remaining large parcel of land located close to the center of Town…183’s property is a resource that is far too valuable to the Town to develop as a five lot subdivision.” Instead, says Murphy, the site should be developed to contribute to the diversity of housing in Wilton, something that is in “radical undersupply” in Wilton and causes residents to resettle elsewhere and prevents new families from moving here.

Attached to the letter is a site plan rendering of the current proposed 16-unit development.

Murphy writes that the developer will host informational meetings at the Gregory & Adams offices, in order to show the public how “the proposed AROD houses will not be visible from Ridgefield Rd. or from adjacent and nearby properties.” Residents and neighbors will be able to suggest ways to “further insulate nearby properties from any visual or value-reducing effects.”

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to the developer with questions:

  • When in 2018 might a new application be submitted?
  • Given past discussions around possible developments with even higher density than 16 units, does the letter’s reference to “some form of higher density housing” mean something more than 16 units?

Through a spokesperson, Fieber said, “No comment at this time.”

AROD Opponents Respond

Frisch, whose moratorium application is cited in Murphy’s letter, will be delivering her own letter to P&Z today to respond to Murphy; it’s co-written with Vicky Mavis and Sam Gardner, both visible opponents to high density development on Ridgefield Rd. and 183 in particular.

Frisch says Murphy’s letter “…[sets] the stage for its next attempt to orchestrate a change to Wilton’s zoning regulations solely for its own economic gain.” She says the letter “misstates the facts and makes specious arguments.”

“It is apparent to us that 183 Ridgefield Road LLC is using its withdrawal letter as a launching pad for its new assault on 2-acre single family zoning on Ridgefield Road, to be followed by infomercials that are nothing more than another attempt to circumvent, control and redirect what is supposed to be an open and democratic process before the Town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.”

Frisch asked that GOOD Morning Wilton include their response in its entirety (below).

In their letter, the three opponents charge that Murphy’s communication on behalf of 183 Ridgefield Rd. “…asks the [P&Z] Commission to ignore its duty to the public and to act, instead, on behalf of one private developer.” They counter Murphy’s assertion that P&Z has a “commitment” to bring up a new AROD proposal, and say that 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.”

Frisch, Mavis and Gardner are highly critical of Murphy’s letter and the intent of 183 Ridgefield Rd., calling it an “assault” on existing zoning on Ridgefield Rd., and writing that the letter contains “Orwellian ‘doublespeak,'” “outright falsehoods,” and “assertions unsupported by even a trace of factual evidence.” They say Murphy’s argument is “brazen” in that it asks P&Z to change zoning regulations in order to make 183’s financial investment profitable–and that there is no law or regulation that makes such a demand proper. The three residents also say Murphy’s letter “issues threats and warnings” and offers meetings “outside  of the normal P&Z and POCD process.”

Whether either communication will be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the P&Z Commission is to be determined. What is on the agenda is the nomination and election of the Commission’s chair, vice chair and secretary–representative of the fact that it’s a new board, with new leadership and new members. What remains to be seen is if the discussion about this highly controversial topic gets a new approach as well.

Tonight’s P&Z meeting is being held in the Brubeck Room at Wilton Library.

Letter from James Murphy, attorney for 183 Ridgefield Rd. LLC

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Letter in response from Patricia Frisch, Vicky Mavis and Sam Gardner

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