By Steve Falcigno – Woodbridge Republican Town Committee Chairman
In a few short months the Administration, in its unrelenting pursuit of development of Woodbridge’s largest pristine tract of land, will most likely call for a referendum authorizing the sale.
Based on the September 17 “News from Town Hall” email where the First Selectman called the proposal a “worthy project,” we should expect the justifications will be several: 1) a quick cash payment of $5.4M to pay off the existing debt of $4.5M on the property, with $900K left over; 2) $1.7M a year in taxes from over 55 housing which will have no impact on our infra structure, and 3) a zoning change which they say will protect other parcels from similar development.
Perhaps the administration is painting too rosy a picture here; let’s examine each of these assumptions critically. The initial payment of $5.4M is correct. It will liquidate the debt and we still hold the property, but the $900K “left over” will be almost entirely consumed by the required $800K for CCW environmental remediation (which we wouldn’t have to pay if we held the property). Further, unburdened of this debt, this administration has plans to bond an additional $6.4M – $1.4M for the Old Firehouse, and $5M for renovation of the Police Station! (See p.151 of the 2019 – 2020 budget, note 1.)
The anticipated taxes from the new homes will only be a trickle until all 120 homes are built, in say 5, 10, 15 years, as the Town will see about $14K per home. That makes $1.7M a long way off based on Mr. St. Pierre’s announced construction schedule, and is not guaranteed. The proposal states this 55 and over community will initially bar children under 18, but residents of these homes will be hard pressed if circumstances arise, such as a divorced mother with children returning to live with her parents, a tragic death of young parents, an addiction problem requiring rehabilitation, a court ordered custody for grandparents and the like. Surrounding towns have not been able to enforce this restriction, why would we, or indeed why should we? Should school-age children indeed come to live in any of these homes, the $17K annual cost per student (in today’s dollars) will offset the $14K annual tax per home, more than wiping out that anticipated new revenue. If two children are involved, you can do the math.
Other services the Town would have to provide include more police, more fire personnel and equipment, and more Public Works maintenance like plowing and paving of adjacent roads.
Regarding zoning, there are differing legal opinions about restricting this cluster type development to just the CCW parcel. While Atty. David Grogins, from Cohen and Wolfe, feels that the Town is acting correctly if TPZ changes the 1.5-acre zoning of the CCW to less than1/2 acre per home, Atty. Marjorie Shansky cautioned that there is no way to protect against lawsuits from other developers eying similar properties. Notably, that same David Grogins is the attorney to be hired to consummate the land sale and development contract.
The last assumption in the Administration’s upbeat assessment is that this development will proceed as planned. That prophesizes no downturn in the economy and a market gauged correctly in that there is a substantial demand for houses in the $500K price range, (note Woodbridge homes in that range today are very slow to sell). Our non-competitive mill rate may send potential buyers to communities like Orange where the mill rate is approximately 20% lower. Mr. St Pierre is planning on building 10 spec homes at a time. If they don’t sell, how long will he sit on the project? How long will his creditors wait to be repaid? What happens if he files for bankruptcy, always a possibility in business? In case of bankruptcy, our Town Attorney wants the right of first refusal to buy back the property. With another bond? To put the Town back into the real estate business? One of the drivers of this proposal was to get out of the real estate business, particularly this parcel. Our “safety net” is to jump right back in?
There is a lot for the voters of Woodbridge to consider about this proposal. We look forward to the upcoming public meetings where we can get past the spin and determine for ourselves if this is truly a worthy project.