The Society of St. Pius X is looking to grow.
The Ridgefield church presented conceptual plans to construct a classroom building and gymnasium on its property at 209 Tackora Trail during the Feb. 12 meeting of the Ridgefield Planning & Zoning Commission.
Father Michael Goldade of the Priory of St. Ignatius Retreat House, and Pastor at Christ the King Church (Society of Pius X), said the church hopes to build a new 7,600-square-foot school house and 7,600-square-foot gymnasium on the 13-acre parcel at the corner of North Salem Road (Rte. 116) and Tackora Trail. The two free-standing structures would be built in separate phases, starting with the school house, he said.
The Church's Roots in Ridgefield
As Goldade explained, the St. Ignatius Retreat House has been on the property since 1989. It grew up around a small parish that was replaced with a larger church in 2000, he said.
Seven years ago the church launched a small parish school, which it runs out of the basement of the church building. Currently the school serves 45 to 52 students in grades K-8, "but we hope to expand... not only the size of the classes but also the size of the school to possibly serve grades K-12," Goldade said.
Mike Willis, a certified engineer out of Brookfield, reviewed a preliminary site plan for the property. It currently includes the three-story retreat house, which has a 7,600-square-foot footprint — "that's where the priests reside and where the parish offices are located," Willis said — and the chapel, which has a 7,300-square-foot footprint. There is also a 1,100-square-foot "dormitory" located on the property.
Willis said the church is proposing to build the school house between the retreat house and the chapel. Later, if approved, the gymnasium would be built to the west of the new school, thus keeping all the structures clustered at the center of the property.
Projected Parish Growth
Goldade said the church has retained David Schaefer Architects of Chicago to handle the design of the two-story school building.
Willis showed the commission a preliminary floor plan for the school building, which will have 10 classrooms, an administrative office, a conference room, bathrooms, etc., thus bringing campus capacity up to 118 students. He said his firm has identified an area where a new septic system would be installed to support the new school.
Goldade said need for the expansion is based on the projected growth of the parish and subsequent growth in enrollment.
Zoning Commissioners' Initial Feedback
Commission Chairman Rebecca Mucchetti said the plan for the school building "doesn't offend any of the zoning regulations" and pointed out that all of the proposed uses for the property will remain the same. She said the project "doesn't present any lot coverage issues until the gym is presented... but I don't recall that it's a big lot coverage issue..."
Commission member John Katz said, "You can never have enough schools or enough religious institutions" and added that "even if there were serious challenges [with the plan], RLUIPA would come into play..."
Katz was referring to the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which allows religious organizations to sidestep certain zoning regulations when proposing to build new facilities.
Town Planner Betty Brosius said the church was coming before the commission to get a sense of its opinion before proceeding with the development of architectural plans.
Should the church submit an application, Mucchetti said, the size of the project would likely warrant a public hearing.
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