Here is an update on the controversial application from Open Communities Alliance to construct a 4-family building at 2 Orchard Road and permit multi-family housing throughout our town, as well as the experience of those looking to make a public comment on this critical issue. The Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) held a virtual hearing on January 4 which exposed several issues.
- It is clear that virtual meetings are a poor substitute for in-person meetings. Public accessibility to these hearings has been and continues to be flawed. More residents tried to participate in the January 4 hearing but faced challenges. The posting of the meeting notice for that Special Meeting was not easily found on the Town website and there were technical issues trying to access the meeting to make a live public comment. Due to the time limit imposed on the meeting, many residents waited patiently to speak but were never given time. There were many written submissions, and these have been posted on the Town’s website. Most of the written communications opposed the application, but there is reason to be concerned that the written submissions won’t have the same impact as in-person communication. Anything short of a traditional public meeting is a disservice to all of us. Yes, these are extraordinary times and we are the worse for it.
- Where is our town leadership in providing information, if not a clear position, on this application? Our previous First Selectman, Ellen Scalettar, was clear in her statements regarding the controversial town issue of her day, the Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW). In September 2015 she called all of the Town’s board and commission members to a presentation by Finance Director Tony Genovese laying out the situation. In her next Woodbridge Town News column, she stated, “As we consider next steps with respect to the property, it is important that we all start from a common base of factual information. This is essential as we evaluate options for the long-term use of CCW.” Today, wouldn’t it make sense for our First Selectman to inform town residents regarding the basis for our zoning regulations, the current requirements for septic systems and wells, and other relevant facts? Such information should be on the front page of the town website and in every communication coming out of Town Hall. The Town has hired an attorney to defend our zoning, potentially in court, so why isn’t our First Selectman doing the same by bringing relevant facts to the court of public opinion?
- While the applicants paint our zoning laws as “exclusionary,” the truth is our zoning requirements for new lots in the Orchard Road neighborhood were adopted in accordance with state recommendations. In 2001 the TPZ adopted several changes to zoning for the Residence A District, which includes most of our town. One change was that new lots which are 50% or more within a public water supply watershed must be at least two acres. Yes, even more than the 1.5-acre size now under attack. This zoning revision was initiated at the request of the Woodbridge Conservation Commission, based on a recommendation from the Department of Environmental Protection, with the goal of protecting the region’s public drinking water supply. The Regional Water Authority strongly supported the proposed revision, citing documentation from the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management and the Connecticut Department of Public Health. A map prepared by the Regional Water Authority shows more than half of Woodbridge is in the Wepawaug River public water supply watershed, including 2 Orchard Road.
- Several residents have asked the TPZ to confer with the Quinnipiac Valley Health District (QVHD), since all new septic systems and wells must comply with QVHD’s health protection requirements. To date, the applicant’s team hasn’t contacted QVHD, so none of the required soil testing, evaluation of the water supply, impact of runoff from the proposed parking lot, etc. has begun. Our TPZ should invite QVHD’s input on the application including the broad request for a zoning change, given the multiple state agencies that support the Town’s 2001 action to minimize housing density in public water supply watershed.
It’s safe to say all residents will never agree 100% on any issue, let alone one as important to the future of our town as this one. Nonetheless we should be able to agree on facts. And we should expect Town leadership to bring forth the facts and share them with us, their constituents, so we can offer informed public comment on this important application.
By Chuck Pyne – WRTC Chairman