By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission got an earful at the January 28 hearing for the town’s proposed updated Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Some 70 residents braved the remnants of the recent blizzard, and came to the Center gym, many of them to voice their opposition to the proposed plan, which is available to read at http://woodbridgeplan.com/. Criticism zoomed in on passages that suggest for the town to “Pursue development proposals for age-restricted lifestyle housing on Country Club of Woodbridge property, which may include higher density housing”.
Phil Michalowski, a representative of Milone and MacBroom, the consulting firm that guided the Zoning Board through the process, opened with a few remarks on how the plan was drawn up, namely with the input of residents through an online survey (200 responses) and several workshops. State statute requires municipalities to update their Plan of Development every ten years. “It’s a policy document,” Michalowski said. “It’s inspirational in its intent.” The plan should spell out what the town hopes to accomplish over the next decade, he said.
He said he had received a number of written communications in advance of the hearing, and reminded the audience that the future of the Country Club is a separate issue, even if it is a part of the plan. “If the document suggests certain zoning changes, it doesn’t mean it becomes regulatory,” Michalowski added.
Even so, many of those who spoke that night reiterated their opposition to any development on the Country Club property, and their concern that higher density may lead to higher density in other parts of town. “It’s the camel’s nose inside the tent,” said Chuck Pyne.
Several people who served on the previous zoning board – at the time under a Republican administration – said when they worked on the POCD in 2004, they ended up firing their consultant and wrote the document themselves. “We produced a plan that was well-liked and that wasn’t controversial,” said Michael Broderick.
As for the Village District, the plan encourages to build on the findings of the Development Concept Plan published two years ago by the Yale Architects in conjunction with the Economic Development Commission. The Concept Plan’s primary recommendations for the Village District include:
- Enhancing walkability, landscaping and building facades;
- Establishing design standards;
- Encouraging mixed use of housing;
- Improving distinctive signage, area maps, and an online presence; and
- Lobbying for major improvements to Interchange 59 and the surrounding street grid.
In addition, the proposed Plan of Development encourages the town to engage in active marketing of Woodbridge as a business location; to create a variety of work and living options and explore shared working spaces.
Anthony Stango, a resident in the district, spoke out against the proposal to allow for more multi-family housing. “See the traffic, see the craziness, he said, emphatically. “See if you’d like to live there.”
Amey Marrella, former First Selectman, spoke out about the chapter on open space preservation. She said the plan’s recommendation to adopt a “formal plan for acquisition AND sale of open space” may open the door for a policy that permits the sale of open space, rather than increase it. She pointed out the Fitzgerald Tract, the site of a popular walking trail and Community Gardens in the center of town, as publicly owned, but not protected by an easement. “Gentlemen,” she addressed the Zoning Board, “Please start over”.
Chris Keevil, president of the Woodbridge Land Trust, said the Land Trust in a letter to the commission had made several recommendations, which he did not see reflected in the document, in particular to “be attentive to Water Authority Land as it could become available for purchase; to invest in and maintain the Greenway; to preserve farmland and establish an agricultural commission; to support the protection of wetlands and to consider conservation restrictions on property currently not protected, such as the Fitzgerald Tract.
Bob Hill, a member of the Recreation Commission, said the 2005 POCD did not include a strategic look at the needs for recreational facilities. The lack became an impediment when the Bethwood Baseball League was looking for a piece of land to site a baseball diamond. “That need wasn’t identified,” he said, and it led to a contentious struggle.
This time around the Recreation Commission made sure to include current and future needs and opportunities. “I’m hopeful, when all is said and done, when there is a recreational need, it can be allowed in the space that is available,” Hill said. Proposals for enhancing current parks and recreation space, alleviating scheduling conflicts, and locating facilities for new kinds of activities and socializing include:
- An additional gym to be available for daytime activities when the Center Building and Beecher School gyms are in use;
- Indoor space suitable for after-school music, science, and chess programs, as well as allowing use of game equipment year-around;
- Additional fields suitable for lacrosse, soccer, ultimate frisbee, and rugby, and an additional 60’ softball diamond, to reduce scheduling conflicts;
- Dedicated football practice field, which would eliminate the demand for football practice on soccer and softball fields not suitable for this purpose;
- Outdoor volleyball, basketball, and shuffleboard courts, which currently do not exist in Woodbridge;
- Frisbee golf course, which the Commission notes could be installed with minimal impacts on open space;
- A dog or pet park; and
- Improving the Town ice skating rink with a cement base.
Paul Rossi evoked the bucolic nature of Woodbridge, saying the plan should “guard and protect the character of our town”. “Look at the Village Center for growth and increased density” Rossi said, and called the development at 245 Amity Road with its shops on the lower level and professional space on the first floor “a vision for the future of this town”.
Sharon DeKadt, a member of the Inland-Wetlands Commission, said the document did not reflect what residents were talking about at the charettes. “It’s a big leap from what our vision of the ten-year plan was,” she said.
Economic Development Commission Chairman Jodi Ellant on the other hand commended the commission for its work. “If something happened 100 years ago, it doesn’t mean it is right for the current time,” she said in response to those who implored the “spirit that was passed on to us”. The one thing she missed in the proposal though, was to plan for a trail leading from the Connecticut Sports Center up to West Rock.
As for the Country Club, Ellant said the town stepped up in 2009 to purchase the property; however, it did not have the chance to thoroughly vet the possibilities for the property at the time. Many people are intrigued by the possibility to reconsider, she said.
Plan and Zoning Commission members took all the comments in. Chairman Jeff Kaufman was busy taking notes. He had announced at the onset of the hearing, that the commission was here to listen to residents, not comment. Instead, the commission was to consider the input provided at their upcoming February 2 meeting, past press time.