The question of how much growth – both in residential and commercial terms – Woodbridge can absorb has come to the fore at a recent hearing by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. The hearing, held February 27 at the Senior Center cafeteria, is part of the commission’s efforts to update the town’s zoning regulations and to align them with the development goals expressed in the Plan of Conservation and Development.
The presentation zeroed in on development in the town’s commercial district, sometimes referred to as the Flats, or more recently, Woodbridge Village District or The Gateway. Wedged between Route 63 and 69 are a number of small retail establishments that call Woodbridge home, as well as some medical and other offices, a chapel and other miscellaneous uses, mixed in with several residential blocks.
The proposed regulation is designed to allow the expansion of the tax base in part by building up rather than out; and to increase economic development, said Planner Leslie Creane, who had worked with the commission on an ad-hoc basis. The goal also was to create a sense of community in what she called “downtown Woodbridge.” She said if a developer comes in with an unregulated use, current regs do not offer any protection. The intention is to “make legal what you want and prevent what you don’t,” Creane said.
But when she projected a picture of what Lucy Street could look like, with retail at the street-level and apartments on top, it did not strike a chord with the audience. “I don’t think so,” someone called out from the back.
The hearing was well attended, with some 80 or so in the audience, many of them residents or property owners in the commercial district. About 15 speakers stepped up to the podium to criticize the proposal.
“Too much noise, too much traffic and too much speed,” First Selectman Beth Heller summed up the experience of those who live in the district. She asked the commission to reconsider some of the proposed regulations and to “honor the wishes of people who live in the area.”
Meanwhile commission members sat silently, listening to the concerns. “We are here to listen and evaluate your comments,” Commission Chairman Jeff Kaufman said when he opened the hearing. He reminded the audience that the members of the commission are volunteers and “love Woodbridge as much as you do.” Plan and Zoning Attorney Marianne Dubuque also reminded the audience to be respectful of each other.
Several speakers brought up the fact that development that is not age restricted will end up adding more children to a school system already “bursting at the seams.” In addition, police, fire and emergency medical responders will need additional equipment and personnel. The development that these regulations allow, “will tear at the fabric of a small town,” said Paul Canalory, one of the speakers.
Anthony Stango, a resident of Landin Street, talked about noise from traffic and people, especially at night during shift changes at the nursing homes. Kim Kelly Rubin of Warren Road said she lives in a flood zone with a sinking foundation. Adding more buildings in that area could spell more problems, she said.
A common concern raised by the speakers was the traffic congestion that commonly occurs in this area, in particular near the on- and off-ramps to the Wilbur Cross Parkway. Michelle Riley suggested to wait with any zoning until the state Department of Transportation has finalized its plans regarding traffic patterns.
Stephanie Ciarleglio, who owns rental property in the area, submitted a petition signed by 70, asking the commission to reconsider the regulation. She pointed out that the maximum square footage for retail space suggested here is 250,000 square feet. In comparison, Costco is 120,000 square feet, she said.
Robert Hill, a resident of Acorn Hill Road, said he recently has been looking for a location for a restaurant owner, but Woodbridge was not on the list of suitable places. There are not enough people in Woodbridge to locate a restaurant. “What’s missing is an anchor store,” he said. “How you get people [from other towns] to come here – that’s what this is all about.”
The Plan of Conservation and Development, citing statistics from the first 15 years of this century, found that while the population of the town as a whole was fairly stable at just shy of the 9,000 mark, the Woodbridge Village district had increased since 2000. Neighborhoods in the lower-density residential areas of the town however had lost residents. “Growing neighborhoods have convenient access to local amenities,…providing more direct routes to New Haven and other communities,” the plan states. “These conditions indicate a need for additional housing units in the Woodbridge Village area, including mixed use housing suited to the Village’s character.
Indeed, the commission’s discussion regarding residential development, number of bedrooms, etc, reflect the wish to attract young professionals who may later choose to move into a larger house and raise a family in Woodbridge.
Former Selectman Tony Anastasio whose family owns land in the district, said his family was contacted by three developers already. “If this goes through, these properties will go up for sale,” he warned. “This would be quick and this would be dramatic. “We can handle growth, but not that quickly,” he said.
The zoning commission was scheduled to consider the feedback it had received at the hearing at its regular meeting Monday, March 5, after the Woodbridge Town News press time. There will be another hearing at a future date should commissioners make any changes.
Pictured: Rendering of a potential streetscape that the proposed zoning regulations would aim for in the Woodbridge Village district. Mixed use units provide retail space at the street level, with apartments above. Underground utilities, sidewalks and trees would make it a more inviting and walkable area.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent