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From the Other Side of the Aisle 7/26/19

As the Country Club of Woodbridge again rises to the top of the Board of Selectmen’s “to do list”, I thought it would be beneficial to review the history of the property as it relates to town ownership and how that has contributed to the minority party position on where we are today.

In the fall of 2008, the then-private club became insolvent.  Coming to the rescue was a member who took over the note with plans to run the golf course and eventually develop it.  Fearing uncontrolled development (the property was and is only zoned for 1.5 acre lots for single family homes) the Town voted to authorize the purchase of the property in 2009 and negotiated a yearly lease with a local golf course management company, MDM, later that September.

In August 2011, the Town issued an Expression of Interest to develop an active adult community on the 17-acre wooded parcel along Woodfield Road.  Toll Brothers responded with an offer of $2.3 million for the 17 acres, and to build 58 town homes.  A referendum on December 13 defeated the sale by a margin of 2:1.  One of the reasons for such a dramatic defeat was the concern over the zoning change (higher density) the project would require.  On December 31, the contract with MDM expired and was not renewed.

What followed was a 3-year period in which Billy Casper Golf successfully ran the golf course and returned some money to the Town.  Still seeing the future for the property as including development, the Town issued another RFP for the purchase of part of the property.  Two bidders replied, Rose Associates and Toll Brothers.  Rose dropped out, but Toll proposed buying two thirds of the property for $ 7.5 million, and building 96 attached town homes and 74 single family units.  At a public meeting at which Toll presented its proposal, town residents expressed overwhelming dismay over the problems with density, traffic, endless years of construction, damage to wells, loss of open space, flooding, blasting, and required zoning revisions that would forever change the character of our town.  After failing to achieve unanimous support from the Board of Selectmen, Toll Brothers withdrew.

Having failed in the latest attempt to sell all or part of the property, the Town decided to end the golf operations at the Country Club of Woodbridge and let the property return to its natural state.  You can now see the result of that decision as you drive past or walk the property.

Which brings us to the situation now upon us.  The last issue of the Woodbridge Town News correctly reported the minority members of the Board of Selectmen both voted to abstain from approving the advancement of the effort to sell part of the country club for development.  While I am new to the board, I agree with these abstentions for the same core reason – the issue of the anticipated zoning change remains unaddressed.  To its credit, the Town sought legal opinions from two attorneys, Marjorie Shansky in July of 2014 and David L. Grogins in February 2016, looking for guidance with respect to the implications a change in the zoning of this parcel would have on other large parcels in town.  The opinions issued in both cases stated they could not guaranteed this would be the only property impacted by the proposed zoning change.

No one will dispute one of the draws of Woodbridge is our rural character.  What separates us from other towns that also had much open space is our well-considered zoning regulations.  The proposal that will come before us can only become reality if we change the zoning on the sold parcel.  It sets a dangerous precedent that will create opportunities for other developers to come in with high-density proposals.  When the Town refuses these proposals, we will be sued.  At minimum, the legal fees will be very high.  At worst, we lose these cases and more development is here.  And the Woodbridge we know is gone.  This zoning issue has not and cannot be satisfactorily addressed.  That is a fatal flaw in the proposal coming our way, and the minority members of the Board of Selectmen see it coming and believe it will create unnecessary turmoil in our town.

By Dwight Rowland, Selectman

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