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Letter: Private Land Trusts Need to Acknowledge the Role Conservation Plays in Exacerbating Inequitable Access to Land

Last year, Open Communities Alliance (OCA) sought to expand housing opportunities and end exclusionary zoning practices in Woodbridge via an application to the TPZ.  In its study of our zoning history, the work of the Yale Law School Housing Clinic found that Woodbridge has repeatedly resisted calls to end its exclusionary practices.  According to the study, a backlash from residents concerned about property values, quality of life, and “the character” of Woodbridge ensues whenever the town attempts to remove restrictions.  Ultimately the town abandons significant changes rather than risk upsetting vocal anti-density residents.

I was encouraged Woodbridge was going in the right direction when TPZ approved the OCA application with modifications and revised the Zoning Regulations and Plan of Conservation & Development to provide for additional housing options in residential zones served by public water and public sewer (either existing or to be provided by the developer).  I agree with TPZ that the change was an important first effort in creating greater opportunities and economic diversity in housing.

I now read last month that the Woodbridge Park Association and Woodbridge Land Trust, private land trusts separate from the town (and in my opinion insular), are attempting to acquire a conservation easement from Woodbridge to prevent development on 145 acres that has access to public sewer and public water.  This property is one of the few town-owned properties of scale currently capable of accommodating higher density housing.

Private land trusts need to acknowledge the role that private conservation plays in exacerbating inequitable access to land.  An important first step private land trusts can make, when promoting conserved land for sustainable communities, is to consider opportunity housing when targeting property for acquisition.  I find it unfortunate to target for open space a property of this magnitude, with the capacity of supporting higher density development, that could promote housing choice and economic diversity.  I am disheartened by what looks like another roadblock for our town to model the self-awareness, sensibilities, and commitment to inclusion that are essential for a thriving community.

Scott Hunter

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