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Selectmen Ask Engineer To Assess Country Club ‘Constructability’

Selectmen Ask Engineer To Assess Country Club ‘Constructability’

The Woodbridge Board of Selectmen has asked the engineering firm of Criscuolo Engineering — the late Bob Criscuolo has been the town’s engineer for many years — to assess the pros and cons of developing either the northern or eastern portion of the Country Club of Woodbridge.

There are two development proposals before the town that are similar in size and amenities, but at different locations on the property.  Brian St. Pierre of Insite Development suggests a development for 120 detached homes on about 60 acres, with the main axis running parallel to Woodfield Road.  Developer Robert Sachs on the other hand suggests to place his development of 125 homes on 55 acres parallel to Ansonia Road, with the main axis running west to east.

First Selectman Beth Heller said the engineering report is due January 18.  The board may have a special meeting towards the latter part of January to review the engineer’s recommendations.

Developers’ presentations:  Both developers presented their proposals to a packed audience in the Center gym on December 17.

“This portion of the site makes sense,” said engineer Michael Ott, who represented the Sachs proposal.  He said that by placing the active adult community along the northern part, they would minimize the necessity to cut and fill.  It would also put the homes on both sides of the road at equal elevation, with the entrances accessible at street level, which would make them more desirable.

“It works well with the topography and protects the water course and the pond,” he said.  The site is also closer to the existing sewer line.  The main entrance would be to Ansonia Road, with an emergency entrance from Johnson Road.

St. Pierre on the other hand positioned his development along the east side of the Country Club parcel, with the road hugging the ridge line.  “We believe this is the best position,” he said.  This way the town retains the most valuable piece, which could be turned into a 90-100-acre park, complete with a fishing pond and trails.  Construction would be further removed from homes along Johnson and Ansonia Roads, however the steep grade may require more earth works.

Both developers agreed to demolish the existing clubhouse, refurbish the pool and provide a small pool house as part of their offer.  St. Pierre, who grew up in Woodbridge and lives here with his family, said he sees this as an opportunity to improve the conditions at the Country Club property, which has been more or less abandoned.

The clubhouse was closed to the public several years ago due to unsafe conditions; the golf operation ceased two years ago when the town and golf operator could not agree on a contract; and the pool, though open during the summer of 2018, needs repairs.  Selectmen this fall decided unanimously not to reopen it come next summer.

Selectmen have so far not spoken publicly about a sales price, saying that negotiations are ongoing.  It seems that the suggested number is in the $5.3-$5.4 million range.  It would allow the town to pay off the purchase price and provide tax revenue somewhere between $1.5 to $2 million once it is fully built.

Public comment:  Some 30 speakers stepped up to the microphone to ask questions and express their opinions.  Much like the results of the survey earlier this year, the opinions varied widely, with about the same number of people speaking in favor of developing a portion of the property as were opposed.

Many of those opposed reminded the board that this is the third attempt at selling a portion of the property.  “This is not what the community wants or needs,” said Cheryl Lipson.  She spoke of the tranquility of the place.  “Once it is lost, we can never get it back,” she said, adding “Woodbridge, we can do a lot better.”

Former First Selectman Ellen Scalettar disagreed.  “This is the sweet spot,” she said in support of the proposals.  “We can’t do any better.”  She said the biggest concern at this point is the high mil rate, which is putting a damper on housing values.  “It is time for us to make a change,” she said.

Similarly, Realtor Harriet Cooper called it a “project whose time has come.”  She said the housing market has taken a dive.  The burden of local taxes is mostly on the residents, which puts off young people from moving into town.  “We are going to be left behind,” she warned.

David Jensen expressed concern that by changing the zoning for this property, the town would run the risk of opening itself up to high-density projects in other parts.  The developers disagreed.  Attorney Carl Porto, who represented Robert Sachs, said the zone can be “crafted in such a way that it is not similar” to other properties in town.  St. Pierre also said this property was so unique that the town could eliminate the risk of unwanted development in other parts.  By attaching zoning requirements such as “access to public water and sewer” and “at least 50 acres” and “adjoining at least 100 acres of town-owned property” – those types of restrictions would eliminate other potential properties.

Former Selectman Maria Kayne said this was “the same old discussion,” of a project the town has rejected before.  She quoted a financial expert who touted the financial benefits of open space, which costs less to maintain than residential development.

Elaine Braffman called the 2009 decision to purchase the 153 acres a “boondoggle.”  “Now we need to correct that.  Hopefully our taxes will be stabilized.”  Similarly, Hillel Auerbach said the town never should have bought the former golf course.  The property should be developed without age restrictions.  “I would like to see as many homes as possible,” he said.

Elizabeth Jacorino expressed concern about environmental risks during construction.  She encouraged the town to be good stewards of the land.

Runoff, flooding, noise and blasting were also of concern to Martha German, who lives across the street from the golf course.

Cathy Wick, who has been an outspoken opponent of previous attempts to sell portions of the property, said the debt service comes down to about $40 per capita, or half a mil per household.  “That’s not a very big number,” she said, comparing it to the price of two pizzas or a tank of gas.

Pat Taylor spoke of the beauty of the property.  “To let that property go and not preserve it for future generations is a crime,” she said.  “You cannot put a price on that property.”

Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman said the center needs some badly needed upgrades to improve the functionality of the space in what was once the town’s elementary school.  The proposed development will increase revenue and allow the town to improve services for its senior population.

First Selectman Beth Heller said in her opening remarks that it had been one of her priorities when running for office to bring forward a “viable plan” for the future of the property.  The town spends about a half a million per year in debt service and upkeep, even though it’s not used.

In a conversation after the informational meeting, she referred to the opinion survey regarding the Country Club she initiated about a year ago.

Of the six possible scenarios presented, none gathered a majority of support.  But one was overwhelmingly rejected:  the suggestion to sell the entire property to build single-family homes.  Short of selling the whole 153 acres, many respondents did support developing a portion of the property for 55+ housing.  Just as many were opposed to it.  But when the survey asked respondents about their likes and dislikes regarding the town they live in, the tax rate was clearly unpopular.

With that in mind, Heller said the board has been considering proposals for the best use of the property.  She said she expects the board to bring one of the two proposals to a referendum.

When asked about her own vision for the property, she emphasized the 90+ acres that will be available for passive public recreation.  “It gives us a chance to preserve and enhance it.”

Some 200 residents came out for an informational meeting regarding development proposals for the former Country Club of Woodbridge.  Opinions about what the town should do with the land ran the gamut.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent 

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