The question of what to do with the Country Club of Woodbridge property continues to elicit passions in Woodbridge, and is one of the top issues people bring up, said to Ed Weinberg, the GOP contender for the First Selectman position. Similarly, important are rising taxes and decreasing property values.
The municipal election is coming up next Monday, May 6 at the Center Gym, 4 Meetinghouse Lane. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Weinberg, a six-year resident, is challenging Beth Heller, a long-time resident who has served in many volunteer positions, including on the Board of Selectmen before she was elected to be First Selectman two years ago. She is now running for her second two-year term.
Ed Weinberg: A licensed real estate broker, Weinberg said if elected, he would engage a consultant to determine possible uses for the former country club property. “Up until now the only proposal they would entertain is one that involved higher density development with over-55 housing,” he said. Since numerous golf operations have shut down throughout the country, more and more consultants with expertise in repurposing golf properties are available. “Of course, they have to understand the character of our town,” he added. He thought that there may be a use for the existing buildings after all, if someone is willing to renovate them.
His style would be more proactive, he said, “rather than waiting for someone to come along” to develop the property.
First Selectman Beth Heller has heard it all before. She said there have been people at town hall to inquire about the golf operation, but after they went to see the property or the building, they were never heard from again.
Even so, “we’ve made some progress,” she said. Early in her administration she initiated a survey that showed residents are more divided on this issue than past votes may have indicated. The only thing most responders agreed on was that taxes are too high.
There are two proposals that are currently on the table for 55-and-up housing, and Heller hopes that the board will allow one of the two proposals to be forwarded to a referendum. “It is important we let the voters decide,” she said. For her, the proposals constitute a compromise, allowing two thirds of the property to remain open space. The developers are local, with one of them living in town and the other having developed the Hines property along Route 34.
Many of the details can be part of the negotiations, she said, such as the environmental remediation of parts of the property; construction of a new outdoor pool for the benefit of the community, etc. With limited development the town will be able to pay off the debt it incurred when it bought the property and the residents will get some tax relief in the future.
While Ed Weinberg emphasized being proactive, Beth Heller emphasized respect. Her biggest accomplishment, she said, is to lower the tension around issues like the country club. “I’ve been working across the aisle and seeking dialogue, discourse,” she said. “It’s healthy.”
Yet, she has a long list of projects that were either completed or initiated during her tenure, among them the simulcast radio system for first responders and Public Works employees; also an ADA accessible bathroom and ramp at the senior center; and a carport for police cruisers. She is looking forward to a ribbon cutting to showcase the renovations at the animal shelter and the opening of a dog park, which is being planned and built by a volunteer group. “We got a lot accomplished and I feel good about that,” she said.
She has reorganized the Town Hall employees, and hired a grant writer, Sheila McCreven. Betsy Yagla has taken on economic development so as to have a go-to person in town hall. She is currently talking to existing business owners to find out what their needs are to be successful in Woodbridge.
With Yagla’s help, Heller has developed a town beautification plan which encourages public-private partnerships to make the Meetinghouse area a place for people to enjoy. People can donate trees and benches. Among the plans for the future are sidewalks to the high school and wifi capability throughout the campus.
Economic Development: Both candidates emphasize economic development as a priority for the first selectman. The town last year has worked with the Connecticut Economic Resource Council (CERC) on a fiscal health analysis, comparing the town to towns of similar size. Weinberg suggested hiring a person to work on economic development.
Heller has designated a go-to person in town hall who will help keep the lines of communication open between the business community and town hall. Instead of hiring a person for economic development, she has partnered with REX, an outgrowth of the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven. “This approach allows us to tap commercial development specialists to help guide our efforts,” she said.
Her efforts to get federal help in mitigating the flooding issues along Litchfield Turnpike and the West River also have a commercial component, she said, since many businesses as well as residences are affected by the flooding.
Budgeting: Weinberg said if elected he would suggest to change the charter to allow the Board of Finance to be elected by voters rather than appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Currently the budget is voted on at the Annual Town Meeting, but that has a quorum of 250, and only rarely do that many people attend. In that case the vote reverts to the (appointed) Board of Finance. If the board were elected, the board members would be more responsive to the townspeople, he said.
Board of Selectmen
Selectmen run for re-election every two years. While many boards have split terms, the Selectmen all are up for reelection at the same time. Both parties offer a full slate, with two incumbents and one newcomer to the board. Voters can choose three of the six candidates.
Incumbents are Democrats Mica Cardozo and Joe Crisco and on the Republican slate Joseph Dey and David Lober.
Sandy Stein, a long-time member of the Board of Finance, is stepping up as a candidate to fill the Democratic slate after Claire Coleman dropped out for a professional opportunity. Stein retired a year ago as director of finance and administration at Yale Medical School and prior to that associate director of the Beinecke Library. She said she is excited to help work out the key initiatives that the town is facing, in particular finding a resolution for the country club property, pushing for economic development and dealing with fiscal and budgetary challenges.
Economic development is important, but will take a long time to generate income, she said. Development of a portion of the country club apart from the tax relief will be an opportunity to provide housing for senior citizens. Even though she is not in general opposed to some development on the former golf property, she said details need to be negotiated. That is one strength she will bring to the table.
On the Republican ticket, Dwight Rowland is running for a spot on the Board of Selectmen. He is well known not only for his role of Santa at the firehouse, but first and foremost as president of the Bethwood Baseball League. In 2018, he was elected to the CT Babe Ruth Hall of Fame.
A veteran, Rowland also comes to the position with a background in business, having retired recently as purchasing manager and senior project manager at Turner Construction Company.
Just like Stein, he has served on many boards and commissions in town. He was co-chairman of the building committee for the new fire station, as well as other projects, such as the library expansion and Beecher Road School expansion, projects that were planned and fought over back in the 1990s. Currently he serves on the Recreation Commission and is a 20-year honorary member of the Woodbridge Volunteer Fire Association. His son, Sean, is the fire chief.
Asked about his vision for Woodbridge, he said he would propose “immediate changes in how we do business” so as to tackle the challenges ahead, namely controlling the budget and action on the country club property, which “continues to flounder with no realistic end in sight.”
Woodbridge Board of Education
The Woodbridge Board of Education is a 9-member board, with four positions up for re-election. All of the candidates are currently serving on the board. On the Democratic ticket are Joyce Shavers and Todd Jokl; on the Republican ticket Lynn Piascyk and Jeff Hughes.
In addition, there is a vacancy that will be filled for a two-year term. The candidates for that vacancy are Jeffrey Townsend (D) and Daniel Cowan ®.
Amity Board of Education
Patrick Reed and incumbent Sheila McCreven are running on the Democratic ticket; Jonathan Arpaia and Matt Schwartz are running for the Republicans. Two of the four candidates will be seated. Those may or may not be the top vote getters, to satisfy minority representation on the regional board.
Board of Assessment Appeals
Jeffrey Ginzburg (D) or Chuck Pyne ®
Zoning Board of Appeals
Candidates are Shawn Flynn for the Democrats; and Cynthia Gibbons and Robert Wiznia for the Republicans. Voters can pick two of the three candidates. Alternates: Candidates are Joi Prud’homme (D) and for the Republicans, Vincent Carrano and Frank Ciarleglio.
Pictured are First Selectman Candidates Ed Weinberg and Beth Heller
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent