I have read Woodbridge First Selectman Beth Heller’s columns about why town residents should consider selling the Country Club of Woodbridge property. What I have noticed is a stunning lack of leadership, vision, and accountability.
Affordable housing options are necessary, but Ms. Heller’s single-minded mad dash to sell the Country Club is short-sighted, ill-conceived, and based on a misunderstanding of state law. She wrongly believes that the town is under an urgent legal obligation to provide affordable housing. No law requires any town to build or devote public land to housing. She says that 10% of Woodbridge’s housing must be affordable; again, that is an incorrect reading of General Statute section 8-30g (the affordable housing appeals procedure.) Enacted in 1989, section 8-30g provides that when a town in which less than 10% of the housing stock is affordable denies an affordable housing application, the town must have significant public health, safety, and welfare reasons to defend its decision in court successfully. The purpose of 8-30g is not and never has been to get all towns to the 10% threshold. Meeting the town’s housing needs is important, but the larger question is why our leaders have not done more to meet this need in the 30 years since section 8-30 g’s passage? The one-time sale of a public asset to address our housing needs is no substitute for inspired and inspirational leadership.
Our leaders have been slow to take the initiative and implement change. In 2017, the State required towns to create and adopt affordable housing plans by 2022. Woodbridge waited until late May 2021 to create a Housing Opportunity Study Committee to help meet this obligation. In June 2021, the town amended its zoning regulations to provide more multi-family and affordable housing options, but only after being threatened with legal action. New state laws require towns to enact zoning regulations to facilitate housing choice but allow them to opt-out of some of the requirements before January 1, 2023. Let’s hope that the Town Plan and Zoning Commission took a more thoughtful and proactive approach when it revised our zoning regulations than the Board of Selectmen is taking to the Country Club property.
Ms. Heller tells us that selling the Country Club will stabilize our tax base, keep the mill rate in check, and help fund town services. The town’s reliance on residential and motor vehicle taxes to fund its operations and the inadequacies of that approach are well-known. A land sale may provide some quick cash, but will create more town expenses in the long term. Selling the Country Club is an imperfect and temporary fix that cannot compensate for the lack of past, present and future economic planning.
Decades of inattention, delay, and inaction have brought us to this point. Ms. Heller says that she is committed to controlling the development of the property and letting voters decide. That may be, but her reasons for wanting to sell the Country Club are poor substitutes for comprehensive and well-thought-out land use and economic development planning.