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From the First Selectman – June 2022

Hello Woodbridge friends and neighbors! Happy Memorial Day – the holiday that begins summer … In Woodbridge, we celebrate this holiday with a solemn ceremony that mourns and honors those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Each year this event is organized by local veteran Dr. Barry Josephs. Please take the time to join us on Monday May 30th at 11 am outside on the lawn, at the VFW Monument in front of the Center Building (4 Newton Road). It is truly a very moving, poignant ceremony. Due to the rising COVID-19 positivity rate, the event will be canceled in the case of rain – our usual rain location is the Center Building Gym, but there is no ventilation in that space, and we want to respect each other, and continue to keep everyone as safe as possible.

New Haven County is in what the CDC calls a “high alert” area for COVID-19. That means you should wear masks indoors in public, stay up to date on vaccines and boosters, and test if you have any symptoms. We are also strongly encouraging staff and visitors to wear masks in our municipal buildings. As of this writing, the Connecticut daily positivity rate is over 14%.

Our Human Services department has a limited number of at-home COVID-19 test kits for Woodbridge residents by appointment only.  Please call 203-389-3429 to make an appointment. The federal government is now offering an additional eight free COVID-19 test kits to residents via mail who request them at covid.gov/tests. No ID, insurance or payment is needed to order the kits.

Earlier this month we held the Annual Town Meeting to approve the Board of Finance’s recommended budget for the coming fiscal year.  Countless hours were spent to create the budget – it is a collaborative effort that takes place over several months, with input from board and commission members, department heads, staff and the public. I thank everyone who worked so hard as we all strived to provide the Town’s necessary funding, while also being respectful of taxpayer dollars. You may view the Town’s budget, with our new, more transparent, interactive online budget tool, and also learn more about the budget process on the Finance Department page of Town’s website, www.woodbridgect.org.

This year’s budget was extremely challenging, in part, because although Town expenses continue to grow, our grand list remains relatively stagnant, which is what continues to contribute to the mill rate increase. There are a few ways to grow our grand list: we can add density to the business district; we can expand the business district; and/or we can allow and encourage more types of housing or more housing density.

The 2030 Task Force, created to find ways to help grow the grand list by 2030, has just started working with a consultant to look at ways to make the business district more attractive to businesses, customers and residents. This group of interested business and civic leaders are working to gather ideas and concepts as to how we might achieve growth and will present them to the public for feedback this summer.

A bipartisan Board of Selectmen Strategic Plan subcommittee is also focusing on financial stability, including growing our grand list, supporting local businesses, and continues to focus on increased financial transparency.  Subcommittee members Sheila McCreven and David Vogel presented their draft plan at the Annual Town Meeting. If you were unable to attend the in-person meeting, you may view a draft on the Town’s website on the Board of Selectmen page. We continue to welcome your feedback.

The Board of Selectmen plans to use the Strategic Plan as a guide to identify projects to use for the Town’s $2.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Once those priorities have been identified, the Board of Selectmen will seek feedback from residents and then make a final decision. I believe the ARPA funds present a once-in-a-generation opportunity and I think they should be used to fund once-in-a-generation projects. My ideas are to use these funds to make improvements to the business district, and add ventilation to the Center Building so we can safely return to holding meetings and events in the Gym. I would also like to add a pavilion to the Library lawn so that outdoor events have a covered space. I’d also like to upgrade our aging playgrounds and/or make investments to the irrigation systems at our ballfields.

Another draft plan available to view on the Town website is our draft Affordable Housing Plan. The ad hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee, created in 2020 to respond to the state’s required affordable housing goals, worked very hard on this plan, and incorporated public feedback from the surveys and forums they held. The draft can be viewed on the committee’s page on the Town website. Currently in Connecticut (and nationwide), there is a severe housing crisis. Each municipality is required to have a plan outlining how to reach the State goal of providing at least 10% affordable housing.

Working toward this goal is the right thing to do. In Woodbridge our housing stock is mostly large single-family homes. Sustainable communities are those with housing stock that accommodate first-time homebuyers who typically look for smaller homes, larger family homes, and homes for empty nesters or retirees. We do not have a lot of homes for people at the beginning and end of their home ownership cycle.

Related to housing, a recent full-page “paid for by” column in the Woodbridge Town News deserves some clarification:

A statement was made that Woodbridge Zoning now allows 15 homes per acre – if the town sells the property to a developer “nothing could stop them from changing their proposal and building as many as 1500 homes under the new zoning rules or flipping the property to a new owner.”

A developer CANNOT change their proposal once Town Plan & Zoning approves the plan. If they want to make any change after approval, then they need to go back to P&Z. Most importantly, however, the Town will specifically spell out what is allowed on the property in the contract of sale with any developer and the developer will be contractually bound to build nothing more than what is in the contract. This is one of the benefits in selling Town-owned property: the Town controls what is built as opposed to when a homeowner/landowner sells to a developer. Accordingly, any project on Country Club property can be limited to what the Town defines in the Contract of Sale which could be recorded on the land records. The restrictions in the contract will also bind any entity or individual that buys the land from the developer.

It was also stated that “Open space produces proven economic benefits” and “all the independent data show that open space creates a financial gain and residential development creates a financial loss for towns.”

Many open space parcels that are developed can create financial benefits to the Town. It depends on the particular characteristics of the parcel and transaction with the developer.

One size does not fit all. In addition, the Town needs to improve its affordable housing opportunities and we cannot ignore that imperative. Adding affordable housing and more diverse types of housing will have a positive financial impact as well as being the right thing to do in order to improve housing opportunities in Woodbridge.

Also, comment was made that “Affordable housing can be integrated into existing neighborhoods without sacrificing public open space land.”

This is simply not true. To be affordable, the property and price of the dwelling must be deed restricted for a number of years. Merely because a house is modestly priced does not make it affordable under the law.

Just to remind everyone about upcoming opportunities and events in Woodbridge, the Town’s ad hoc Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee has just launched an “Experiencing Woodbridge” survey, and I encourage everyone to participate. The survey asks about residents’ experience in town and their interactions with Town government and the schools. Your responses will help guide the committee’s priorities and work. The link can be found on the committee’s page on the Town’s website.

Lastly, I invite you all to join the Economic Development Commission at “Make Music Day” on Tuesday, June 21. They are coordinating simultaneous outdoor free concerts at several businesses: Coachman Square, Crest Lincoln, The Shops at 245 Amity Road, and The Willows. More details to follow soon!

As always, please feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments. I can be reached at 203-389-4300 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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