The December 8 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting was, potentially, a positive turning point in the 12-year saga over the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge.
At the meeting the Woodbridge Land Trust and Woodbridge Park Association presented a joint offer to purchase a Grant of Conservation Restriction on the property, excluding a 10-acre portion around the clubhouse, for $250,000. This would protect 145 acres from development and open the door for potential farming, passive recreation and open space. In his remarks, Park Association President Chris Dickerson reminded the BOS, as the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society has done in the past, that the property was once a farm owned by Roger Sherman, the only person to sign all four founding documents that formed our country. For this reason, going forward we should refer to the parcel as the Roger Sherman Farm. Doing so gives proper historical context to the property and highlights its national historical significance. What other town can make such a claim (except maybe Sherman, CT)?
The offer by the two conservation-minded organizations clearly had an impact on the First Selectman. In what sounded amazingly like a proposal the Republican candidates made in 2013, and have repeated in every local election cycle since, Beth Heller suggested the Town hire a consultant to assess our options for the property. The First Selectman’s statement is potentially a very good turning point for the Town, but we need to see how this plays out, as the handling of the HRSF’s future has been fumbled repeatedly.
Still at issue is the troubling way the BOS majority is handling the other two Roger Sherman Farm proposals that preceded the Land Trust/Park Association offer. Residential developer Arbor Haven has been given access to our Boards and Commissions to present its case, while a competing idea to invite bids on the commercial/business development of the clubhouse and its surrounding 10 acres has been tabled until at least June 2022, despite the support of 300 petition-signing residents. This wildly inconsistent handling lacks any rationale, despite Selectmen Dave Vogel and Dave Lober’s repeated attempts to discuss the inconsistency with their fellow Selectmen, and does not serve the Town well. Additionally, the First Selectman continues her public advocacy for the Arbor Haven proposal, despite clear data showing the $9 Million offer will not benefit Woodbridge financially in the long run. This leaves plenty of room for skepticism that the First Selectman has truly changed direction and is open to alternatives.
In the short term, the Selectmen need to reach a consistent approach for handling the pending proposals offered by (1) the Woodbridge Land Trust and Woodbridge Park Association, (2) Arbor Haven, and (3) the 300 petitioners who want to see the clubhouse returned to a commercial/business use.
There’s a world-weary view that consultants are hired to tell you what you want to hear or make a case for the outcome you desire. At the BOS meeting Selectman Lober expressed concern, given the First Selectman’s bias, that we would hire a consultant merely to recommend residential development of the Roger Sherman Farm. The First Selectman assured him that the ideal consultant would be skilled in land use issues – not a “development” expert. Also, the First Selectman recognized hiring a consultant will cost money so the expense will need to be included in next year’s budget, which is now in the crafting stage. Good.
The selection of the land use expert is the first critical step in the process that must lead us to a referendum on the Roger Sherman Farm’s future. Input from all the Selectmen and the public throughout the process is also critical, as is a sense of urgency, as this situation has dragged on for far too long. It’s the number one issue in town, so it would be appropriate to make it the first agenda item for the BOS at every meeting and show progress each time.
Woodbridge has experienced twelve years of mismanagement, sometimes through no management, of the Roger Sherman Farm. Today we find ourselves at the beginning of what may be a sound process to resolve its future. The best chance for success will come from transparency, bipartisanship and focus. 2022 could be a milestone year for Woodbridge. Let’s hope it’s a milestone that will be looked upon favorably in the years to come.