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Letter: The Arbor Haven Development – A Big Step in the Right Direction

The April 2018 Board of Selectmen Country Club of Woodbridge (CCOW) land use survey showed that Woodbridge residents have very diverse views of what we want to see done in our town, both generally and with respect to the CCOW – we don’t agree on much as a majority.  However, the survey was able to identify two things that a majority of residents generally like about Woodbridge (our rural small town feel and the education system) and two things they don’t like (our tax rate and the appearance of our business district).  The Arbor Haven project has the potential to build on those positives and reduce the negatives, with some added bonuses.  I encourage everyone to look at the proposal on the town website.  Information about the type of housing, placement, revenue/cost, and open space/town amenities are in the proposal.  The Covid-19 crisis has (for now) transformed the real estate market for towns like Woodbridge.  We have an opportunity to take advantage of that and significantly improve the long-term financial health of our community.  In addition to the benefits discussed below, the project makes meaningful progress for Woodbridge toward more affordable housing options for both seniors and families.

Preserve our rural small-town feel.  The Arbor Haven plan places larger lot single family houses on the perimeter of the development, so any current Woodbridge single family property will have only new single-family homes as their immediate neighbors.  The cojoined and affordable housing is placed on the inside of the development.  50 of the 150 acres comes back to the town as open spaces, with new pool, clubhouse and walking trails.  One of the reasons I moved to Woodbridge in 2009 is for the incredible tracts of preserved land that is available for walking and hiking.  On a practical level however, our scarce resource is money, not walking trails.  I encourage all town residents to look at the Woodbridge Land Trust and the Woodbridge Park Association websites and explore the hundreds of acres of walking and hiking trails in our town, including the 200-acre Elderslie Preserve, or the 100-acre Alice Newton Street Memorial Park in central Woodbridge.

Support the education system.  The Arbor Haven proposal estimates both new tax revenue and school expenses related to the project.  The revenue side is straightforward and based on the proposed property values/selling prices and our mill rate – simple math which is easy to validate and appears to be in line with our existing property taxes for similarly valued properties.  More difficult and subjective is the expense related to schools.  The proposal has a per new student incremental cost and they multiplied that by a triple the national average of school age children per household to come to what they call a very conservative (high) estimate of the additional cost to the town.  I would hope that we would validate those numbers, and if they hold up, agree that this project would be significantly positive to net annual revenue for the town.  Its proposal shows a net annual gain to the town of $1.3M.

Lower our Tax Rate.  As discussed in the November 2021 town newsletter, we have about $3.5M of remaining debt from the purchase of the CCOW.  The proposed payment to the town for 2/3 of the CCOW land is $9M.  We could completely eliminate the $3.5M liability and eliminate the debt service cost from our annual budget.  That is in addition to the projected yearly net revenue increase of $1.3M shown above.  Without finding a way to increase our grand list through commercial and/or residential development we stay on a path of increasing mill rates.

Improve the business district appearance.  After eliminating the debt related to the CCOW, Woodbridge would have approximately $5.5M in additional available funds.  There are many projects on the town list, but I would hope we could spend some money to address the issue of improving the appearance and function of our business district.  Improving and growing our business district would not only improve the appearance of the area, but further contribute to revenue growth without increased school expense, leading to a stronger financial future for our town.

Robert Sharrer

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