I write concerning the proposal to develop a part of the former Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) property for high density residential use. Such a development would require a zone change to allow a use not currently permitted in Woodbridge. Residents are rightly concerned that allowing such a high density use of the CCW property would provide a favorable precedent for permitting similar uses elsewhere in town.
In response to those concerns, the Town solicited an opinion from a Danbury land use attorney concerning the precedential impact of a zone change on the CCW property. The attorney concluded, in effect, that the Town Plan and Zoning Commission would not be legally obligated to approve this type of development on another parcel.
That is both correct and irrelevant.
The more important question, neither asked nor answered, is whether high density development at CCW will make it easier to obtain approval for similar developments elsewhere.
Of course it will.
Our system of law is based on precedent. Currently, such a development is not possible because our zoning laws do not permit it. A change in the zoning regulations and an approval of the CCW development will provide a precedent that must either be honored or determined to be inapplicable.
In other words, a precedent established in connection with the CCW property will provide a roadmap for the development of other properties. If there are proposals to develop properties with similar characteristics – e.g. size, utilities, and access – the CCW approval would provide a precedent the law would have to honor. In fact, a CCW precedent would inevitably invite applications for high density development at similar properties throughout Woodbridge. Those applications would present the Town Plan and Zoning Commission with two bad choices. TPZ could follow the CCW precedent and alter the Town’s character forever. Or, it could deny the applications and force the town into prolonged and expensive appeals based on the CCW precedent with no guarantee of prevailing.
Any decision regarding the development of the CCW property will impact Woodbridge- throughout the Town and for a long time.
Mr. Smith is an attorney practicing municipal and environmental law. He is Town Attorney or Special Counsel to a number of Connecticut municipalities. He has been a member of and Special Counsel to the Woodbridge Plan and Zoning Commission. He also has served as Chair of the Woodbridge Charter Revision Committee and as a member of the Woodbridge Board of Ethics. He is a lifelong Woodbridge resident.