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From the First Selectman: 3/6/2020

It is with great disappointment that I write this month’s column to update residents on the former Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) property.

At the Board of Selectmen Special Meeting on February 25, 2020, the Board made major decisions about the CCW and the Thomas Darling house.

I have consistently expressed my opinion that the Insite/Wernert proposal should go to referendum to allow the voters to decide whether approximately 60 acres of the former CCW site be sold for over 55 housing. I also committed to have a negotiated sales agreement available for voters to review prior to the referendum. An attorney with previous experience in this type of transaction was hired by the Town to negotiate the contract with the purchasers’ attorneys.

The contract negotiations were very complex, took many months, and focused on many issues the Board of Selectmen considered to be very important to Woodbridge.

Although I continue to believe over 55 housing on a portion of the CCW site is beneficial to taxpayers, I will never sacrifice the best interest of the Town to have an unfavorable transaction proceed. At our February 25 Special Meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to cease any further discussions with the Insite/Wernert Group. While many of the contract terms were agreed to during negotiations, we were unable to resolve several issues. The most important area of concern was the purchasers’ request to have the ability to assign its ownership interest in the project to outside investors. This was unacceptable to all Board of Selectmen members, and in my opinion, contrary to the best interest of the Town.

Going forward, the Town will retain a land use analyst to help decide how to best use the approximately 155 acres of land. We are also exploring a solar land lease for a portion of the property, which would bring in much-needed revenue.

I plan on focusing my efforts on economic and community development. It is important that Woodbridge is fiscally, physically and civically attractive to residents, newcomers and new businesses, and we must continue to explore opportunities to save taxpayer dollars through greater efficiencies to reduce pressure on our mill rate. We will always continue to provide resources to maintain top quality schools, which is what attracts so many residents to our town.

In order to lower our mill rate and lower taxes for residents, we need to attract more development and retain and support our local businesses. I also believe we need to create more diverse housing options to attract new residents and retain current residents as they downsize.

Equally as important to increasing and diversifying revenue is our continuous effort to reduce expenses while delivering the same level of consistent, high-quality services to residents.

Regarding the Thomas Darling House, the Board of Selectmen voted to allow the current caretaker at the Thomas Darling House museum to stay through April. Going forward, the caretaker apartment will become part of the museum. The Historical Society will recommend a tenant to the Town, which holds the lease.

Koan Farms was given the option to renew the farm lease through the fall with the option to renew the farm lease next year.

The Board also agreed to start negotiating a long-term agreement with the Historical Society regarding operation and management of the Town-owned building. Changes to the agreement will be subject to the approval of the Board of Selectmen and the Historical Society’s Board of Directors.

Lastly we agreed to create a Thomas Darling House ad hoc committee/advisory group to oversee and supervise the Darling House buildings and grounds. Although the museum house is in fairly good shape, the outbuildings and caretaker’s apartment may need work and we will bring in experts to provide advice and guidance. Specifically I am concerned about the state of the yellow barn, which has been partially covered with a tarp for over two years.

I also believe that we could think more broadly about how to show off this unique asset. I hope that an oversight group could provide guidance on how to best preserve and use the grounds and outbuildings to provide a holistic period experience. This could include period gardens, a historic farm and more. With big thinking and long-range planning, Woodbridge could become a destination for people interested in history. It should be remembered that the Town of Woodbridge owns the property and all the buildings, and thus the Board of Selectmen is ultimately responsible for oversight of this historic asset.

I remain optimistic about our town and committed to listening to each of you as we move forward. As always, my door is open to you. If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me at bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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