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From Across the Aisle – 12/11/15

“In fiscally challenging times, it is particularly important to understand and consider fully the economic benefits of open space.” The author of this statement is not, as you might expect, the president of Greenpeace, or the American Farmland Trust, or the Environmental Protection Agency. The author of this statement is Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller. Last week, I submitted to my colleagues on the Board of Selectmen a 20-page report published by Mr. DiNapoli in 2010, entitled “Economic Benefits of Open Space Preservation”. (Go to www.WoodbridgeGOP.org to read the full report.)

This study is particularly noteworthy in that it was prepared by a government finance expert, not an environmentalist or a so-called tree hugger. It has particular relevance at this moment in Woodbridge, as the First Selectman is contemplating the sale of town owned open space at the Country Club of Woodbridge to Toll Brothers. To summarize the report’s relevant findings:

  • Open space costs towns less than residential lands. “Open space demands fewer municipal services than lands in other use…In comparison, lands in residential use typically consume services of greater value than the property tax revenues generated by these lands.” (DiNapoli, p. 7)
  • Open space helps control tax increases. “Open space preservation can actually help keep taxes lower…Conversely, the loss of open space can increase per capita tax rates in a community.” (DiNapoli, p. 8)
  • Open space protects home values. “Open space preservation can contribute to increased land values…due to the aesthetic, recreational, and other potential values of open space, property values of adjacent lands often increase.” (DiNapoli, p. 9)
  • Open space preservation is better for the long term health of municipalities. “Decision-making that explicitly considers and values the positive economic effects of open space will best serve a community’s long term interests.” (DiNapoli, p. 2)

Woodbridge is unique as the only town in Connecticut that borders a major city but feels like a rural community. This unique character—and the high property values that have always accompanied it—are a direct result of our longstanding, far sighted zoning regulations. A Toll Brothers proposal under consideration envisions 69 units on 36 acres – triple the residential density allowed by our zoning regulations. If zoning is changed to accommodate the Toll Brothers, we risk that such a change could spread to other large parcels of land in town.

Open space is a precious, finite natural resource that supports the value of our properties. It is central to the quality of life in our Town. It must be preserved, not frittered away. You wouldn’t sell your family heirlooms to go on a lavish vacation; similarly we shouldn’t sell our valuable assets to satisfy short term finances.

Woodbridge’s financial challenges cannot be blamed on the debt from the purchase of the CCW nor will these challenges be solved by selling out to Toll Brothers. When ALL of the costs of residential development are taken into account, it is clear that the most financially responsible option for the CCW is to preserve it as open space.

Maria Cruz Kayne, Selectman, is an Unaffiliated Voter who ran on the Republican Ticket.

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