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From Across The Aisle: 7/29/16

 

By Maria Kayne

An intriguing proposal for the Country Club of Woodbridge was unveiled at the most recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Redan Reserve LLC, the developer of Chelsea Piers in Stamford and Manhattan, proposes to purchase the entire 155 acre Country Club of Woodbridge property. The plan is to restore the historic Yale Golf Course, to build a hotel on the Yale course called “The Lodge at Yale,” and to completely redesign and rebuild the CCW course, adding public walking and cross country ski trails for Woodbridge residents, to create a 36-hole destination golf complex. This would not be a private club; both courses would be open to the public for a daily fee. The CCW land would be sold with a conservation easement, so it would be protected in perpetuity, and it would be fully owned by Redan Reserve and thus returned to the Woodbridge tax rolls.

While the details of the proposal need to be examined closely, this concept has real merit. It offers substantial cash to pay down the CCW debt, returns the property to private ownership, and preserves a vast tract of recreational land while allowing public recreational access. All this would be achieved while enhancing the character of the surrounding residential neighborhood, in sharp contrast to the Toll Brothers’ demand that Woodbridge change its residential zoning regulations to allow dense residential development.

Since 2009, I and others have been advocating for just this type of proposal. At that time, I chaired the Woodbridge Conservation Commission. When the Country Club went into foreclosure and a dense housing development was threatened, the Selectmen sought advice from the Conservation Commission on the purchase of the golf course. We supported the decision to purchase, but only if the town placed a conservation easement on the land and re-sold it.

One of my colleagues on that commission, Jim Urbano, has joined me in continuing to advocate for the “protect and sell” option. In November 2013, he arranged a meeting for First Selectman Scalettar and Town Attorney Weiner with a golf consultant and a commercial real estate consultant. Both experts explained that the CCW has value as a golf course and could be successfully marketed with a conservation easement in place. The consultants offered to create a marketing plan and find a buyer. But Ms. Scalettar ignored this offer. Instead, she created an RFP (Request for Proposals) focused on a dense residential development on a portion of the property, an option that had already been rejected by the Town’s voters in a 2011 referendum.

In the 2015 Town election, one plank in the Republican campaign platform was to oppose zoning changes, such as those required for the Toll proposal, because they could open the floodgates to uncontrolled development town wide and threaten our Town’s rural character. Our alternate vision for the Country Club land was to consider more creative ideas for uses of the property that did not require re-zoning.

Last fall, I submitted an 8 page report to my fellow Selectmen with ideas for “Open Space” options for the CCW. Of course, the “Protect and Sell” option was prominently featured in this report. Again, it was ignored by the First Selectman.

More recently, local commercial realtor Steve Miller (of Levey, Miller, Maretz) attended the May 11, 2016 Board of Selectmen meeting and echoed the previous consultants’ view that the CCW could be sold as a golf course with a conservation easement.

Despite their narrow focus on housing development, town leaders now find themselves with an appealing alternative proposal. Given their staunch advocacy for Toll over the past three years, I sincerely hope Ms. Scalettar and Mr. Weiner will give this golf proposal the serious attention it deserves. They should assemble a top notch team of experienced corporate negotiators to match the negotiating team from Redan Reserve and work closely with Yale and the City of New Haven, the other potential partners in this proposal. We have the opportunity to substantially reduce the Town’s debt burden, preserve and protect a neighborhood, maintain and enhance the unique character of our Town, and be home to one of the top 100 golf courses in the world, without any change to our zoning. With all of these things in mind, Woodbridge residents deserve to be represented by a team that is motivated and capable of negotiating the best possible deal for the Town of Woodbridge.

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