To the Editor:
The citizens of Woodbridge have a long history of strong support for land conservation. We deeply value our open space lands for the contribution they make to our quality of life and the tranquil environment of our town. And yet, a large parcel of publicly owned open space at the former Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) is currently threatened by large scale development.
How did we get here? Over the course of ten years Town Hall has repeatedly proposed some version of cluster housing for the CCW, while failing to seek expert advice on the best use of the property and ignoring voters’ repeated rejection of this use for the land. Several development proposals have been overwhelmingly rejected by residents, largely because of concerns that the required zoning change would open the rest of the town to similar dense development and destroy the town’s character.
More than a decade ago, the failing Woodbridge Country Club’s mortgage was taken over by David Reis, a developer who proposed to construct age restricted housing on the site. Residents turned out in droves at the Annual Town Meeting on May 18, 2009 to prevent development and approve instead the purchase of the property by the town (93% in favor to only 7% opposed).
In a letter to town residents dated April 30, 2009, First Selectman Ed Sheehy encouraged support for the purchase of the property. He wrote, “If the purchase is approved the town will acquire 150 acres of beautiful open space to be enjoyed by residents for generations. It would be irresponsible for the Board of Selectmen to allow the property to fall into the hands of developers.”
Notwithstanding this promise to preserve the land as open space, in 2011 Sheehy promoted a Toll Brothers proposal to purchase 17 acres for a 58-unit age restricted development. Voters soundly rejected that plan at a referendum by a 2-to-1 margin.
Next, First Selectman Ellen Scalettar solicited another proposal from Toll, this one for 80 units of over-55 cluster housing on 42 acres. That plan failed when the Woodbridge Selectmen decided in August 2016 to abandon negotiations with Toll “because of zoning and other concerns,” according to the town website.
During these years, the Selectmen hosted several large public hearings to present the various development proposals to residents. At every single one of these meetings, they heard overwhelming opposition to this type of development. Nevertheless, the majority of Selectmen seemed to ignore the clearly expressed views of the people.
Finally, in early 2018, First Selectman Beth Heller distributed a survey to residents seeking their input on the property’s fate. The survey results showed that only about one-third of respondents were interested in age-restricted housing.
Ignoring those results, Beth Heller has put before us another proposal for age restricted housing, this one the largest of all: 120 units on 60 acres. Based on the consistently negative response of voters to these proposals, it is clear to me that leadership is going in the wrong direction.
You might ask, what is the best use for this property? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer this question because none of the First Selectmen have engaged in a systematic, good faith attempt to explore the Town’s options. Leadership keeps going back to the same tired formula for the Country Club: age restricted housing. They have ignored clear and repeated feedback that the majority of town residents want a better option. They haven’t even issued a Request for Proposals since 2014 – 2014! – but just passively waited for yet another housing developer to approach the town with yet another proposal for what HE thinks is the best use for our land.
In the meantime, when the town received a proposal to lease the land for a solar installation at the CCW—which would bring in substantial income, cause no expenses, require no risky zoning change, and allow for a different future use at the end of the lease term— it was not explored. Why not?
Woodbridge residents deserve a better vision for this property – one that avoids the serious risks of a zone change, protects the neighborhood, and supports quality of life and property values for everyone in the town.
Maria Kayne served on the Woodbridge Conservation Commission from 1995-2009, and on the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen from 2015-2017. Since 2010, she has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetland Commissions.