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From the First Selectman: December 2019

From the First Selectman: December 2019

I would like to begin by thanking the Woodbridge Town News for their prompt attention to correcting an unfortunate error.  The first half of my column was accidentally deleted and did not appear in the November 22nd issue.  When I notified him, Publisher Rocky Salperto immediately corrected the error by publishing the full column online.  Obviously, he was unable to correct the printed copy, but he graciously offered to publish my original column for print in this issue with some changes and additions.

Over the past few months members of the Board of Selectmen have listened to comments from residents on a variety of issues.  I have had many emails, phone calls, and visits to my office as well.  I love this –we all care about OUR TOWN.  We may not agree on every issue, but it is important to recognize that each of us is trying to do the best for Woodbridge and we should remain neighborly to each other.  I’d like to share some of Mr. Rogers’ advice that has stayed with me over the years.  During one episode I saw, Fred Rogers asked his viewers if they know the three keys to success – his answer is to first, BE KIND. Second, BE KIND. And third, BE KIND.  Let us keep this in mind as we discuss the upcoming opportunities and challenges we face as a Town.

Town Hall has received an unusually high number of calls from Town residents expressing support for the 55 and over housing plan at the CCW.  I am grateful for the calls and happy to see an awareness and understanding of the importance of the project by Townspeople.  The current proposal is for the Town to sell approximately 60 of the 155 acres for $5.4 million for construction by Insite/Wernert of no more than 120 units of free-standing active adult (55+) housing.  Additionally, Insite/Wernert, at no cost to the Town, will remove the old clubhouse, repair the Town pool, build a new pool house for use by Town residents and renovate and beautify the walking trails for all residents to experience the beauty of the undeveloped portion of approximately 95 acres.  After completion of all units, the Town will realize approximately $1.5 million in tax revenue every year from the residents who purchase these homes, plus additional tax revenue for personal property.

I think we all agree that we must reduce our mill rate and bring relief to taxpayers.  I also think we all know that the Town has few opportunities to grow much-needed revenue.  This opportunity to sell a portion of the former country club property (and retain over two thirds of the property) may never come again.  Our debt on the property is not due to be paid off for another 12 years.  With the sale we will pay off the debt on this property (saving $500k every year in principal and interest payments) and also retain $1.4 million dollars for other needed projects.

The Town will retain approximately 95 acres for Town use.  The Board voted unanimously last month to set aside money from the sale of personal property that remained in the club house and pool.  This money is earmarked to engage the services of a landscape architect/land use analyst to advise us on the best passive recreational uses for the undeveloped land that the Town will retain.  I am committed to do this, whether or not the approximately 60 acres are sold for development of senior housing.  I have proposed that a portion of the unsold land be used for a beautiful park with perhaps a picnic area, sledding hill, walking trails, a solar park, and a splash pad (a few of the many suggestions we have received from residents to date).  After the referendum on the property I plan to establish an ad hoc committee of residents who will work with the consultant on the design to optimize the property as an important Town asset.

At the December 11th Board of Selectmen meeting, I expect that the Board will schedule a Special Town Meeting and Referendum for the sale of a portion of the former Country Club of Woodbridge (assuming contract negotiations with the purchaser are complete).  As a reminder, last October the Board voted unanimously to postpone the Special Town Meeting and Referendum dates, in order to have a fully negotiated sales agreement in place, prior to the referendum vote and available for residents to review.

For those of you concerned about zoning ramifications if the senior housing project is approved, I suggest you stop by Town Hall to pick up a copy of the zoning opinions the Town received from two experienced land use attorneys.  The Town was advised that any attempt to use these zoning approvals as legal precedent for cluster housing development in other areas of town could be turned down by Town Plan and Zoning and the denial would withstand legal challenges from any developer.

One last interesting note, as I was reviewing all the documents created since 2009 regarding the former Country Club property, I came across the 2015 Plan of Conservation and Development chapter on Housing and Demographics.  The purpose of this plan, which is required by state statute, is to record the best thinking of Woodbridge regarding its future growth and to give direction to both public and private development and conservation efforts.  Under the Near Term Action Agenda items, is a section entitled “CONSIDER USAGE ON COUNTRY CLUB OF WOODBRIDGE PROPERTY” which suggests the Town “consider age-restricted life style housing which may include cluster housing or a planned development district to take advantage of the site’s unique access to public water, sewer and transportation infrastructure and to create housing options for older residents and provide opportunities for Woodbridge residents to age within their community.”

I have been working on other projects to enhance our Town as a community.  For example, at our next meeting the Board of Selectmen will discuss uses for the Old Firehouse – some have suggested using this historic building for the creation of attractive meeting and event spaces that the Town can use for programming, residents can secure for private events, and most importantly, to create a gathering place in the center of Town for the Woodbridge community.

As always, my door is open.  I welcome your thoughts on any topic. Please call me at 203-389-3401, email me at bheller@woodbridgect.org, or stop in to visit.

Let us work together as we enjoy the many blessings of this holiday season.  Let us also be KIND to one another, and welcome the New Year with hope, good will and best wishes for all.

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