Ridgefield Voters United New group aims to protect neighborhoods from commercial development

March 7, 2019

With the upcoming split of the zoning and wetlands panels, Ridgefield will have a new group of elected officials deciding on applications that impact development in town.

And when that split happens, Ridgefield Voters United will be ready to offer candidates to voters.

The new citizens group, which formed in February, aims to protect residential property values and impact placement of commercial development.

“Residential property makes up roughly 84 percent of the town’s tax base,” said Lori Mazzola, the RVU’s spokesperson. “Property values are down pretty much across the board in recent years. Even significant commercial development won’t build the town’s tax base. Only by improving the values of our residential properties and making thoughtful and deliberate planning decisions can we improve the town’s finances.”

Last year, Ridgefield voters decided in a referendum that the combined Planning and Zoning Commission and Inland Wetlands Board should become two separate boards, starting with the 2019 municipal election.

Mazzola said that the decision to form citizens group stemmed from a perceived conflict of interest on the current zoning commission and wetlands board, which are made up of the same nine members.

“The group’s formation was the culmination of multiple events,” she added. “Our reaction to the results of the vote to split IWB and P&Z ... was to recognize the desire of Ridgefield residents to have a strongly qualified and credentialed IWB body. We saw the vote as an indication that Ridgefield voters want a qualified IWB, regardless of political affiliation.”

Ridgefield Voters United will recommend and promote candidates, Mazzola said, but ultimately voters will make the decision.

“There’s a rising unease about the presence of board members with special or personal interests that may influence their ability to make the best and unbiased decisions for the town,” she said. “The candidates that we intend to support will not have any special interests to promote or protect.”

Mazzola said the group is currently not registered as a political action committee as no funding is currently being solicited or used.

“In the future, we may share fundraising links for candidates that we intend to support and promote,” she said.

Mazzola pointed out that Ridgefield was one of seven towns in Connecticut that had a combined PZC and IWB. She called the model “ineffective.”

“P&Z members by and large lack the qualifications required to manage a proper IWB hearing,” she said. “Ninety-six percent of the state’s municipalities have separate boards.”

Mazzola eschewed talking about specific applications, like the winter club that withdrew its special permit request in December following eight public hearings in front of the zoning commission.

The club received approval from the wetlands board in January for site work but without a special permit cannot operate on the six-acre, residential-zoned property.

“Years ago, naturally Ridgefield had much more raw acreage,” Mazzola said. “Over time, as it’s become more densely populated and developed, the need to make proper and ‘best practice’ decisions with what remains, becomes more and more critical.

“One could argue that the individuals on an effective P&Z aren’t necessarily equally effective on an Inland Wetlands Board,” she added. “It’s our belief that members of these boards would naturally have different qualifications, perspectives and goals.”