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Wetlands Board Poised to Deny Affordable Housing Plan

Inland Wetlands Board finds faults with Ridgefield Modular Home Corp.'s application to build an affordable housing complex at 24 North Street.

 

Citing a lack of information on drainage for the proposed project, the Inland Wetlands Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a draft resolution denying Ridgefield Modular Home Corp.'s application to build an affordable housing complex at 24 North Street.

The proposed 8-30g development — which was strongly opposed by neighbors during the public hearing — had originally called for 11 units in four, 3.5-story buildings on a .41 acre parcel, at least 30 percent of which would be offered at affordable or below-market rate — however the most recent iteration had six units in two buildings.

The board's crafting of a denial (it still must cast a final vote) is based in part on a report from town consultant Milone & MacBroom which concluded that the information submitted during the public hearing on drainage and the impact on nearby wetlands was insufficient.

The report was commissioned by the board at the behest of P&Z/IWB attorney Tom Beecher as a "defensive response" to Ridgefield Modular Home Corp.'s move to close the public hearing before all of the board members' questions regarding drainage had been answered.

Serving as a "peer review," the Milone & MacBroom report only takes into consideration what was entered into the record during the public hearing. Essentially it serves as an "itemization" of what's missing from the record in order to address the IWB's concerns — and validation for the board's rationale for denial.

During the IWB's previous meeting on Feb. 12, Beecher said Ridgefield Modular Home Corp. put the board in a difficult position when it closed the public hearing on its application on Jan. 29.

"The applicant submitted three to four distinct plans for the project, specifically drainage plans, but on the last night, everyone got over 75 pages worth of data from the applicant, and then the applicant closed the door on any meaningful review of that," Beecher said. "The chair and others asked that the applicant continue the hearing. The applicant refused."

Beecher noted that IWB member Phil Mische had also asked if the applicant's traffic engineer could return for more questions.

Beecher said normally he advises the IWB "to not allow anything extra to come into the record after the closing the public hearing."

"However in this situation there is authority — including appellate court cases that set a precedent — to get peer review of the information that came in that night," he said, adding that the IWB can get additional comments from Milone & MacBroom or any other consultants "as long as they strictly review what's in the record."

The only downside to taking this route, he said, is that the applicant does not get a chance to rebut.

"But that's the risk the applicant took when it rolled the dice the way it did...," Beecher said, adding that the IWB's only other option is to render a decision based on what has been submitted.

The report not only serves to protect the IWB, which must render a decision by March 5, but also the Planning & Zoning Commission, which has until early April to cast its vote on the application. The two boards share the same members.

In addition to Mische's concern regarding incomplete schematics for the storm water retention system, board member John Katz said he felt misled by the applicant's engineer that the system was designed to handle a 100 year storm "when in fact it was designed to handle a 50 year storm... and he admitted it."

Katz said there is a "compendium of misinformation" in the materials and testimony submitted during the public hearing.

"This is at best a tortured and unfortunate application, it seems to me," he said.

The IWB will cast a final vote on the application on March 5.

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