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Developer Presents Plans for Mixed Housing On Country Club Property

Developer Presents Plans for Mixed Housing On Country Club Property

Alexander Korallos-Shapiro, Harvey Shapiro and Joe Amico – aka Arbor Haven – have been making the rounds to many of the town’s boards and commissions, introducing their idea for a mixed housing development on the grounds of the former Country Club of Woodbridge property.  They presented their plan to the selectmen, followed by a virtual public information session (September 29), the Conservation Commission, the Housing Opportunity Study Commission (October 6) and Economic Development Commission (October 14).

The rough plan for the 150-acre property is to build 145 homes, about 35 of them on the standard 1.5 acre lots typical for Woodbridge, though with shared driveways along Johnson and Ansonia roads; some 55 medium-sized homes for families in the center of the property; and 60 age-restricted homes on 1/3 acre lots closer to Woodfield Road.

In making his pitch to the different committees, Joe Amico, a former investment banker-turned-real estate developer, said their intent was to balance different concerns and needs – such as open space with housing; large and small homes, homes for families and for the elderly, affordable and market-rate homes.

A big pitch is also for publicly accessible amenities, such as bike and walking paths, a playground; a refurbished outdoor pool with a pool house; tennis and volleyball courts, and possibly a basketball court.  The existing clubhouse would be demolished, he said.

Of the 110 smaller homes, 22 would be affordable homes, split evenly between the age-restricted and family homes.  Some members of the Housing Opportunity Study Committee advocated for more affordable homes and rental properties.

“There is a need for housing opportunities, but I don’t see the need for acre-and–a-half lots,” said its chairman, Attorney Dominick Thomas.  He expressed concern that the town was using a sizable piece of land to build more large houses, while that puts the town at risk for failing to offer a variety of housing opportunities.

“What’s missing in Woodbridge is housing for younger people who want to stay in town,” he said, noting that there is no rental capacity in this proposal, whereas rentals are becoming very popular.

Committee member Kathy Hunter agreed with Thomas.  “Most committee members feel this is a golden opportunity to give us some breathing room in terms of opportunity housing,” she said, pointing out that large houses in particular have dropped significantly in value in the last few years.

The proposed sales price could be $9 million for the 150-acre property, with $2.6 million in tax revenue, the developer presented.  The internal roads and bike paths would be maintained by the Homeowners Association, not the town.

They would deed about 50 acres back to the town for open space.  Those 50 acres consist largely of the wooded area that buffers Woodfield Road from the Wilbur Cross Parkway.  In addition, there would be some 12 or so acres of open space, for the bike paths and the other amenities.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectman David Lober questioned the tax income the town might expect from a proposal such as this, in particular since it includes housing for families with children, which may require school construction.  He also disputed a per pupil expenditure of $12,000 which the developer plugged in for this district.

Dominick Thomas did not agree with that approach; if the number of students goes up, the cost per student goes down, he said.

Joe Amico understood where Lober was coming from.  “David Lober is not anti-family,” he said.  “He is just concerned about what impact it has on the budget.”

Amico said Arbor Haven could re-balance the number of age-restricted homes vs. family homes to ensure that the town gets tax revenue, but fewer school-age children.

At a public information session on Sepember. 29, which was conducted via Webex, some 20 residents spoke, most of them in opposition to the proposal.

Kathleen Mills, who lives on Johnson Road, said the area floods regularly, and expressed concern about increased water runoff from the development.  Amico said their plan is to improve the rainwater runoff.  In addition, they would use permeable materials for the roads and bike paths.

Amey Marrella asked about the public amenities and what becomes the town’s responsibility.  “The town has a history of private roads being turned over to the town,” she said.  Amico said the bike paths were situated on private property, although there would be an easement for public use.  Road maintenance would be the responsibility of the Homeowners Association.

Several residents asked about sustainable building materials, such as solar or geothermal heating.  Alexander Shapiro said he was open to checking it out, but was concerned that the cost of these systems may be prohibitive.  Because it is a whole development, it may be possible, he said.

Resident Robert Hill asked about the financing of the project.  “I can finance the whole thing tomorrow,” Amico said.

Neighbors expressed concern about potential blasting, but the developer said the property had not been surveyed, so he could not give a definitive answer.

For resident Nancy Clark, she does not want to see any development on that property, let alone a high-density one.  She reminded the presenters that the last time a development was put to the voters, it was voted down 2:1.  She said bobcats, red fox, and coyotes live there now.  It’s a crucial piece of open space for migrating birds and monarch butterflies, she said.  The tax impact of maintaining the open space is $45 per capita, she said.

Woodbridge School District Supt. Dr. Jonathan Budd was invited by the developer to speak regarding the potential influx of families.  Dr. Budd said he was asked to answer two questions, namely the cost per student and the space needs for additional students.  He said the average per pupil cost in Woodbridge is $18,700 per year for the elementary district.  With state and federal grants, the cost to the taxpayer may be closer to $17,500 per year.

As for accommodating new students, he said it depends on whether there is room in an existing classroom, on an existing bus route; and whether the child requires special services.  “The more students are added, the more likely they will need to add additional classrooms, teachers, etc.,” he said.

As it is, the school is “using every existing nook and cranny,” Dr. Budd said, “and that includes repurposing rooms like the rotunda.”  He said enrollment is currently at 830 students.  “By 850 we would be stretched in ways that we would be converting art and music rooms to general classrooms,” he said.

He also noted that the district has formed an ad-hoc capital plan committee to examine space needs going forward.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

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