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Town Considering Open Space Donation From Old Factory Property

A zone change applicant offers to donate 19 acres of the 50-acre property on Ethan Allen Highway, but some residents are concerned about traffic and pollution.


The possibility of industrial pollution contamination at a former factory site could complicate the owner's request for a zone change.

The applicant, Ridgefield Professional Office Complex LLC, has proposed donating about 19 acres of the 50-acre property at 901 Ethan Allen Highway to the town as part of their request to change the parcel from a Corporate Development District (CDD) zone to a B-2 zone.

If approved, the new zone would allow additional commercial uses for the property, including service businesses and medical offices. The CDD already allows light industrial and warehouse storage, which the B-2 zone would also allow.

However, the property is a brownfield site with a history of industrial pollution. According to Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Rebecca Mucchetti, there has been ongoing environmental pollution remediation there since 1982.

She also said since the proposed development isn’t a residential subdivision, the open space donation must be approved by the Board of Selectmen and reviewed by the town’s Conservation Commission.

State law requires the Planning & Zoning Commission to make a decision within 65 days, which, in this case, is on March 28. Mucchetti said if the Board of Selectmen and the Conservation Commission have not made their decisions by then, the applicant would be asked to grant the zoning commission an extension.

Attorney Robert R. Jewell, the applicants’ representative at a public hearing Tuesday, said although the applicants want the donated land to be used for open space, one of the parcels is directly adjacent to the town’s sewage treatment plant, so town officials would have to decide if the land should be set aside for the future expansion of the plant.

Planning Director Betty Brosius said while sewer authority officials say some upgrades would be necessary at the plant, they would not require use of the open space land.

Traffic Concerns

Several residents who spoke at the hearing expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic due to the zone change, and about the environmental pollution on the property.

Cynthia Rabinowitz, an environmental engineer hired by the applicants, said the wetlands on the property, which make up most of the land being donated and include Little Pond, do not appear to be affected by the pollution; although, she noted, she did not perform tests on the water.

One resident, John Tartaglia of Danbury Road, asked that comments from a public hearing conducted on a different application last week be included on the record of the public hearing for this application, too.

The earlier public hearing was on a proposed zoning change from B-2 to a new “Gateway” zoning district, which would expand the commercial uses that would be allowed.

Tartaglia and others believed that if the Gateway district were approved, it would expand the uses for all B-2 zones in Ridgefield, although Mucchetti said that would not be the case.

In any event, comments from one public hearing may not be applied to another public hearing on a different application. Mucchetti said if those people wish to comment on the later application they would have to attend that application’s public hearing.

The Planning & Zoning Commission voted to continue the public hearing on the proposed zoning change for 901 Ethan Allen Highway until Feb. 19, when the applicants are expected to present traffic data and other information.

Bluebird January 23, 2013 at 06:45 PM
The article says property has a history of industrial pollution. So what good is it as open space? I don't think we should accept it as open space. We might have to pay to clean it up one day. Why expose ourselves to that potential liability? And to what end, do we really think people are going to hike in a swamp? Not every tidbit of land should be open space.
TAB January 23, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Agreed. Land appears to have minimal value for recreational purposes, and it will remain as "open space" as the wetlands and pond render it undevelopable in any event. It is not worth taking on the potential liability due to environmental issues.
oldtimer January 23, 2013 at 10:47 PM
+1
Concerned January 24, 2013 at 04:31 AM
1) I'm curious as to the history of this site. What kind of factory was there? And where exactly, it seems to be a marshland. Was the factory where the large commercial buildings are now located? 2) What kinds of contaminants have been removed? 3) I'm suddenly very concerned that just a few hundreds yard to the east is Great Pond, where Parks & Rec have a swimming beach set up for the kiddies. Should I be concerned? A swimming hole a few hundred yards away from industrial pollution? That doesn't sound wise to me. I remember a few years ago there was concern that people swimming in Great Pond were coming down with a rash. Could that be related? I was told at the time it was bacteria. How sure are we that the rash was caused by bacteria? 4) Should our Health Department look into this further? Or should we ignore it and pretend there is no cause for concern?
Laura Stabell March 09, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Benrus and Perkin Elmer were there. The contaminants are mostly VOC's though I have heard heavy metals from plating also were involved-maybe some dioxin or PCB's too. Little pond is said to be "dead"-devoid of animal life,though I occasionally see people fishing or trying to fish there. I would not eat fish from the pond-if any are there. The VOC are supposed to be moving in a plume underground. Water was pumped into the air for 20+years to let the VOC,s escape but have not stopped the spread. Great pond is spring fed from an unknown underground source. It sits very near the water basin divide between the Saugatauk and Norwalk watersheds.The widened section of rt 7 is the divide and is a long aquifer underlain by gravel. There appears to be some sharing of waters there. Great pond might be fed from the aquifer via an underground passage from that source-possibly from another source off Picketts ridge road. There is tremendous flow out of great pond in season suggesting a great flow of water into the pond. It would be interesting to find out where the source is. The rashes could be caused by contamination. I dont think culturing or lab testing was used to identify the organism responsible-only visual diagnosis based on the look of the rash. Swimmers itch was blamed, (a parasite of snails and waterfowl). If you have concerns, call the state health dept. or Toxic hazards dept. at DEEP. EPA toxic release inventory (TRI) can tell you what is where in your community-to a point...
TAB March 10, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Laura, Thank you for posting this information. Given potential environmental risks, Town should not accept ownership of Factory Pond. At least in the case of Schlumberger the Town had recourse to "deep pockets" to cover unknown risks on that Property. Vote NO to acquiring this property if it goes to Town Vote!
Concerned March 10, 2013 at 04:03 PM
Laura, thank you for the information. Very interesting. I think the town should renew their efforts to test the waters of both Little Pond and Great Pond. I'm sure it will cost a few hundred dollars but isn't it worth it to guarantee the safety of all residents. I shudder when I think of how many children swim in Great Pond each summer. They should test the waters and show me I am shuddering needlessly. Don't we have a Health Department? Isn't this something right up their alley? Also, isn't there a retirement community sandwiched between Little Pond and Great Pond? Are they using well water? And I agree with TAB. Don't accept the property, at least not until extensive testing has been done. And maybe not even then. I don't see any upside to owning that particular piece of property. Too small to hike or be useful as open space. It's a business kind of zone. Let business go in there.

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