Almost nine years after residents voted at a special town meeting to purchase the Woodbridge Country Club, the town is still grappling with the question of what to do with 153 picturesque acres of golf fairways, cart lanes, an oversized but dilapidated clubhouse, an outdoor pool that needs repairs and two tennis courts. Now First Selectman Beth Heller and the Board of Selectmen are throwing the ball back into the court of those who would have to pay for any improvements — the taxpayers. A survey was sent out last week by mail to all of the 3,000 households in town, asking residents to rate six different land use options on a scale from 1-10. It also provides space to write down thoughts and preferences regarding the country club property.
In addition to the land use questions, residents are asked whether they would use the pool during the summer of 2018; and whether they would use the golf course. They are asked how much longer they intend to live in Woodbridge, and whether those who might sell their home in the next ten years would consider moving into an age-restricted, over-55 facility in Woodbridge.
Residents are asked to circle what they like best/dislike most about living in Woodbridge, the answers to which may inform the current administration about needed services, attitudes and sensibilities.
A limited number of personal questions regarding gender and age are being asked for statistical purposes only, the survey states. “We will only use this data to check that the demographics of the sample is in line with the known demographics of the town’s population.” A question regarding political affiliation was eventually dropped from the survey after selectmen objected to it.
The survey is unusual in a number of ways. For one thing it is a paper survey only, delivered by mail with a pre-paid stamped envelope to return the response. The decision to use the snail-mail way of communication was made at the recommendation of Richard Bourdeau Jr., the town’s consultant in this project. Online surveys are more difficult to control, said Sheila McCreven, special projects manager at Town Hall, who had worked with Bourdeau on this project. Even though a computer will recognize the sender’s IP address and prevent several responses from the same address, it will not recognize whether the same person responds from several different IP addresses, she said.
They have therefore decided to send one survey to every household. After all, taxes also are household-based, she said. If several members in one household wish to respond, they can pick up an additional copy at the Town Hall. However, only one copy per household will be considered the primary response. All subsequent responses will be tabulated separately, she said.
Bourdeau is a Social Studies teacher at Amity High School, with a background in market research and quantitative analysis. He has offered to do this work pro bono. In fact, he will perform the analysis with a group of high school students, making this a real-life learning experience. Their report is scheduled to be presented at the April Board of Selectmen meeting, April 11.
Following are the land-use choices for residents to consider. Quotes from the survey are in italics:
- Return to the previous arrangement whereby a private company operates golf while the town operates the pool and continues to pay off existing debt. The town still owes $4.9 million of the original $7 million sales price; the debt payment costs the average household about $119 per year.
B Keep the entire parcel and dedicate it as open space/recreational space while the town operates the pool and continues to pay off existing debt. The Recreation Commission has toyed with the idea to set up an ice skating rink; people have been looking at the country club tennis courts as an alternative location for a dog park. Currently the Woodbridge Recreation Department continues to operate the outdoor pool. Pool members pay a yearly fee that helps offset the annual cost of pool operation.
- The town rehabilitates the club house and reserves the building for future public uses. The 43,000 square-foot clubhouse needs a new roof and windows. Both the envelope and the mechanicals need updating. It is not ADA compliant. Its large and elegant interior is inviting for social uses; examples could be the senior center or a fitness center. A spreadsheet listing possible repair costs is available at http://www.woodbridgect.org/DocumentCenter/View/222. Preserve the remaining property as open space/recreational space/golf while the town operates the pool and continues to pay off existing debt.
D Sell a portion of the land for age-restricted, over-55 housing. Dedicate the remainder of the parcel as open space/recreational space/golf while the town operates the pool and pays off existing debt. Over-55 housing is considered a need in Woodbridge. It would require additional town services such as ambulance and first responders. Previous administrations have tried to market the property both for golf and for development. Following the 2008 real estate crisis, there did not seem to be much of an appetite for development. A 2011 Toll Brothers proposal to develop 17 acres along Woodfield Road was voted down in referendum, 587 – 1,190.
- Sell the entire parcel for single-family homes with no age-restriction. Depending on the lot size, this could require a zone change. Town pays off existing debt. Depending on the number of kids moving into town, it could lead to additional education costs, maybe even another school building.
- Sell or lease the clubhouse building with or without some adjacent land for commercial use (as a recreational facility, banquet hall or other use). This would require a zone change. Dedicate the remainder of the parcel as open space/recreational space/golf while the town operates the pool and pays off existing debt.
The deadline for submitting survey responses is Monday, February 12. As long as the date on the postage shows February 12, the response will be accepted. The town also encourages people to personally drop off their responses at either the Town Hall or at the library so as to save the postage. Town Clerk Stephanie Ciarleglio found two wooden ballot boxes from a different era in the Town Hall vault, which were brought upstairs to receive the survey responses.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Picture 1: Two historic ballot boxes are being used to collect survey responses. One is set up at the Town Hall, the other at the library.
Picture 2: First Selectman Beth Heller stands with a historic ballot box that will be used to collect survey responses.