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Letter: Country Club of Woodbridge – What Are Our Selectmen Doing?

In the “Woodbridge News and Events” for November 2018 under November Planning and Updates, First Selectman Beth Heller writes about the Former Country Club Property.  She advises that the Selectmen have received a new proposal for the former Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) from Robert Sachs, developer of Fieldstone Village of Orange.  She says “should it be the Board’s desire to move this proposal forward, I will keep the public informed of any next steps.”  We know your selectmen have been meeting in both public and “Executive Session” over some period of time to discuss their options.

Simply stated, we need leadership from our town leaders.  It appears the Selectmen are awaiting anyone to send a proposal in to them as to what to do with the former CCW property.  This is not leadership, this is management by incoming letter.

The Selectmen need to determine the best course of action for the former CCW property and develop a Request for Proposal which supports the action desired by the town.  A prescriptive process should be developed and followed that allows proposals to come forward over a reasonable period of time.

I am on record in a previous Letter to the Editor, apparently ignored by our Selectmen, for the preservation of the open space of this very historically significant “crown jewel” property.  Any zoning change for this property will have enormous follow-on consequences for other properties in town and bring in housing much more clustered than our present 1½ acre zoning that our town leaders have had the vision to include in our residential zoning regulations for many years.  It is due to this that Woodbridge, although significantly developed, has retained its unique character.

I informed townspeople about the history of the property deeds for the former CCW and the history of this property.  One-time owners included Captain John Beecher and Patriot & Statesman Roger Sherman.  The Roger Sherman connection to the CCW property is that he owned that property as Clover Hill Farm during the time he served as mayor of New Haven.

If you do not know who Roger Sherman was, or if you are not aware of the historical significance, I suggest you do your own assessment.  It is easy, start with:  http://www.townhistory.org/clover-hill-farm/.  USA Founding Father Roger Sherman lived from 1721 to 1793 and is the only person to have signed all papers of independence of the United States:  the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  He was an influential member of the Constitutional Convention and a true statesman.  In 1784, he was the first mayor of New Haven.

The former CCW property owner prior to Roger Sherman was Captain John Beecher, and his family’s presence on this property prior to the incorporation of the Town of Woodbridge takes us back as far as the founding of New Haven and the original Beecher family in America.  (Think Beecher Road).  If you don’t know of Captain John Beecher, he was an ancestor of Lyman Beecher and his daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe — and her siblings.  The former CCW property was also owned at one time by James Hillhouse; there is so much more about these families in books and references on Woodbridge history.

We have a very unique opportunity to save this property as was envisioned when the town purchased it and decisions made now will have for-ever consequences.  Please recognize the history of this property, I argue it is the most historically significant location in our town.

I strongly recommend creating an RFP process that invites proposals for:

  1. Renovation/replacement of the country club catering/banquet facility, pool and 18-hole golf course facility for operation as a for-profit property tax-paying venture;
  2. Separate proposals for a catering/banquet facility, pool, and an 18-hole golf course;
  3. Creating a farmland preservation grant to guarantee operation of the entire parcel as a farm; we need more local farms; and
  4. Alternatively consider working with our legislators to create a state park for this parcel to teach our children about history!

Town leaders have had issues managing the golf course facility under contract to an operating firm.  If the town cannot manage the golf course either by itself or under contract to a provider, following a new business plan and model, the deed should be transferred to a responsible party (for cash) through this proposed RFP process with a development restriction to prevent future clustered development.  This would solve this issue for now and all time.

Alternatively, with the proposed new business plan in place, and with a knowledgeable citizens advisory board delegated oversight by the Selectmen, the golf course could be renovated and operated through a third-party operating partner with assurance of a long-term agreement.  One of the problems faced by the previous provider was inability to plan and book events year-to-year.  A breakeven financial model for this property can be developed to satisfy Woodbridge taxpayers!

Richard J. Forselius

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