To the Editor,
After reading my friend Chuck Pyne’s “From Across the Aisle” articles in the Woodbridge Town News (WTN), being encouraged to let my voice be heard by “Woodbridge Residents for Town Planning”, and reviewing the complete application prepared by Open Communities Alliance, I respectfully submit the following comments on this application.
The arguments against this application presented in the WTN paper and mailings are more emotional than fact based and actually lend credence to the applicants’ claims for why the current Woodbridge zoning regulations and Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) need to be changed. Opponents’ claims that the proposed multi-family structure will stress well water and septic systems is not supported by any engineering analysis. To the contrary, the proposed system meets all health department requirements. The total size of the multi-family structure, about 5500 square feet, is smaller than many single-family houses in Woodbridge. For some reason a 9-car parking area is offensive while 3- and 5-car garages with 6-8 vehicles parked outside an 8000+ square foot home is not.
The language used by the opponents – “non-resident troublemakers”, “zoning regulations [are] the foundation of the quality of life in our town”, “overpopulation…can create health hazards”, “safety concerns”, “race card [being played]” – are intended to reinforce the underlying attitudes that have prevailed since Woodbridge was incorporated about 250 years ago.
The foundation for the current lack of racial diversity in towns like Woodbridge across CT and this country lie in exclusionary spot zoning laws, racial restrictive covenants, redlining, denial of FHA and GI bill mortgages to Black Americans, access to public transportation, and the difficulty African Americans had in obtaining mortgages and insurance, among others. These segregationist policies fed fears that poor people will increase crime and reduce property values. In reality, property values increased because Blacks had to pay more to buy into white and integrated communities. Poverty is not a crime. I imagine, that like me, many residents here came from families whose parents or grandparents were poor and did not end up in a life of crime. What is a crime is that all previous attempts to amend these regulations have been rebuffed.
Woodbridge’s current zoning regulations clearly violate Connecticut General Statutes 8-2 and the Town’s own Affordable Housing District requirements and POCD. As much as everyone wants to believe Woodbridge is an open and welcoming community to one and all, the overriding impediment to “all” being able to live here is cost of housing. Mr. Pyne cites the 15% Asian population as proof Woodbridge is not racially exclusive and claims the “Asian population is blatantly ignored” in the OPA application. Read pages 106, 109, and 124 of the application to see why he’s wrong. A more important measure of diversity than demographics is to look at the composition of the Town Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Commissions such as Planning and Zoning, police and fire departments, the Woodbridge Land Trust and Parks Association, Board of Education, teachers and administrators in our schools, and most apropos to the topic at hand, real estate agents in this town.
Becoming compliant with Federal, State and Town laws is not the primary reason the zoning regulations need to be changed. Increasing the availability of affordable housing will enhance Woodbridge as a community. A population with diverse income, ethnicity, culture and religion improves the quality of life for all. This change will also provide opportunities for current residents to stay in Woodbridge after retirement, loss of income or other changes in finances.
The article “Rethinking single family home as American Dream” in the December 27, 2020 Hartford Courant discusses the new book by Diana Lind “Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing”. Lind, an urban policy specialist, traces changes in American housing needs and concludes that owning a single-family home “is unaffordable, unhealthy and out of step with consumer demand”. I understand that accepting change is difficult for some people. But fear of change is not a valid reason for not moving forward as a community.
Therefore, the P&Z Commission needs to approve the 2 Orchard Rd. application and enact the necessary changes to the zoning regulations.