The First Selectman recently mailed to your household a survey seeking your opinion on possible future uses of the Country Club of Woodbridge property. While, of course, it is important to understand public opinion, I am concerned that this survey oversimplifies the subject to the point where its results will prove of little use in discerning how residents will vote on any specific proposal.
This survey is asking your opinion about land use. Land use is a complicated topic that cannot be meaningfully discussed without some understanding of zoning. This survey glosses over the crucial zoning issues, indicating only that “certain options may or may not require zoning changes.” But there have been several development proposals for the CCW over the years, and all have been rejected by residents, largely because of the impact a required zoning change could have on the entire town.
Woodbridge residents voted overwhelmingly at a Town Meeting in 2009 (435 in favor vs 34 opposed) to purchase the CCW property to prevent the development planned by David Reis of Senior Care Development LLC who “was planning a 9 hole golf course along with age restricted housing.” (May 21, 2009 Bulletin)
Woodbridge residents voted overwhelmingly at a referendum in 2011 (by a margin of 2:1) against a Toll Brothers’ proposal to build 58 age restricted townhouses on 17 acres.
Most recently, the Woodbridge Selectmen voted unanimously in August 2016 to abandon negotiations with Toll Brothers “because of zoning and other concerns,” according to the town website. Toll’s most recent proposal included 80 units of over-55 cluster housing on 42 acres: triple the density allowed under current zoning.
For most of Woodbridge, current zoning law restricts residential housing to one unit per 1.5 acres at a minimum – actual lots may need to be larger due to wetlands, slope, setbacks, and other limiting factors. Both of the Toll Brothers proposals would have required a zoning change to greatly increase the residential density allowed. While the previous Administration argued that the zoning change could be limited to the CCW, many residents noted that Connecticut law frowns on “spot” zoning and raised substantial concerns that a zoning change designed for the CCW would impact the rest of the Town. Such a zoning change would expose the Town – at a minimum – to protracted, expensive lawsuits by other landowners wishing to have the same zoning applied to their properties. Many large, privately owned parcels of land in town would be vulnerable – the former Hubbell Farm on Amity Road, the JCC campus, Oak Lane Country Club, 902 Baldwin Road are just a few examples.
The previous administration solicited two outside legal opinions on the zoning question, and was not able to allay the concerns raised. The legal experts offered NO assurance that the contemplated zoning change could be confined to the CCW property alone.
To change zoning regulations in order to allow dense residential development at the CCW property is to take a colossal risk. Responsible town officials ought not wade into these shark-infested waters.
In light of this history, it is surprising and disappointing that the new Town survey would casually disregard potential zoning impacts. It is too bad the First Selectman did not trust voters to weigh the zoning risks as part of a more thoughtful and balanced survey.
We do need to have a substantive town conversation about the future of the CCW. That conversation needs to include a robust discussion of the zoning issues involved in each potential option.
By Former Selectman Maria Kayne