The Woodbridge Board of Selectmen on August 1 unanimously voted not to pursue negotiations with Toll Brothers regarding a 44-acre development on the Country Club of Woodbridge property. Instead the board authorized the First Selectman to continue negotiations with Redan LLC about a potential purchase of the whole 153-acre property. Selectmen also voted not to renew the town’s contract with Billy Casper Golf, which has been managing the 18-hole golf course for the past three years.
The Toll vote closes a very divisive chapter in the town’s history regarding the question how much development – if any – townspeople are willing to allow to offset the cost the town assumed with the 2009 purchase of what was formerly known as the Woodbridge Country Club. At a hearing on July 27, town leaders heard overwhelming support for a new proposal, brought forward by businessman and Yale alumnus Roland Betts. Betts presented his proposal for a “Redan Reserve” at the hearing in a steaming hot Center building gym to some 300 residents in attendance.
Betts suggests to purchase the Country Club of Woodbridge for $3.5 million and develop it as part of a larger, top 100 golf destination. The proposal would be in conjunction with a 99-year lease of the Golf Course at Yale, which he also plans to upgrade and where he plans to build a hotel. Details of the proposal, including a site plan, are available on the town website, http://www.woodbridgect.org/filestorage/6587/14095/Redan_Reserve_Presentation_July_27_2016.pdf.
Betts said there may be too many golf courses in the area, but the golf industry is growing in certain segments, namely courses that are ranked. The closest public golf courses that are ranked among the top 100 are on Long Island and in North Carolina. “The opportunity for the public to play on a ranked course is very slim,” he said when he presented his proposal.
Betts is experienced in developing big destinations, as he did successfully with Chelsea Piers in New York and Manhattan. He is a Yale graduate and senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, and an advisory board member of the Yale School of Management. It is there, when he taught a business class, that a student suggested adding the Woodbridge property to make it a viable destination, he said.
The biggest hurdle is for Yale to agree to convey the property to a new entity, Betts said. He has since met with New Haven Mayor Tony Harp, but so far there has been no official application. “The city’s involvement wouldn’t really begin until he strikes a deal with Yale,” wrote Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for the mayor.
What about real open space? As an alternative scenario to the Redan proposal, Scalettar asked Administrative Officer and Director of Finance Anthony Genovese to look into converting the 153 acre property into true open space, a scenario that would require a number of decisions such as what to do with the buildings, the cart paths, the public access and how much maintenance; also selling of the golf equipment, such as mowers, a relatively new pump and other assets.
Scalettar said the Amity golf team had reached out to the privately-owned Tradition at Oak Lane club to see if it would offer the team a new home to practice at.
In the meantime, the Board of Selectmen, with Maria Kayne dissenting, voted to follow the recommendation of the Ordinance Committee and repeal the Country Club of Woodbridge Commission, which was formed under the administration of the late Ed Sheehy to oversee golf operations. A public hearing on the repeal was set for September 14 at 6 p.m.
First Selectman Ellen Scalettar at the August 24 Selectmen meeting said the town and its Finance Director Anthony Genovese is working out the details of winding down the contract with BCG.
She said her office received a letter from Toll Brothers, saying the developer realizes the town is in support of the Redan Reserve, but leaving the door open for future discussions, should this proposal not come to fruition. Several neighbors of the Country Club have spoken publicly in favor of the Redan proposal, among them Adrienne Micci Smith. One neighbor to the property, Tom Weil, encouraged the First Selectman to continue negotiations, in particular concerning issues such as access for Woodbridge residents; holding the company to best environmental practices; and to perform the environmental cleanup necessary at the site.
Scalettar said that all of these issues are “on the table. “She said the Redan proposal is ‘very promising,’” adding “it satisfies the interest of many of our town residents. I want to be sure that we strike a deal that is fair for our town.”
Cathy Wick, a town resident who opposed the Toll Bros proposal since its first iteration in 2011, also spoke out in support of the Redan proposal. “I think it is a very good option for the town,” she said in a phone interview after the August selectmen’s meeting.
Wick said the proposal met several issues that are important to her, in particular the conservation easement in perpetuity, which would preclude future development of the property. She said the neighbors who live in the area support the Redan proposal while most of them objected to the cluster development proposed by Toll. “I think it is something the town can unite behind,” she said, calling it “a very good option” for the town. She said the purchase price of $3.5 million is a substantial payment, even though some residents object to it, given the fact that the town paid twice as much for it in 2009.
Wick said she is hoping that Betts will come to an agreement with Yale, and subsequently with the town, so that the town can go ahead and bring the issue to a referendum. “It would be nice to settle this question and put the acrimony behind us,” she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent