The Board of Selectmen, at a May 25 meeting, adopted a plan for housing opportunity submitted by the ad hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee, and subsequently submitted that plan to the state, as required by state law. The vote was 4:2 along party lines.
Selectmen David Lober and David Vogel voted against, saying most comments the board had received asked them for a delay so as to allow people more time to study the report and respond to it. Selectwoman Sheila McCreven, however, motioned to approve, with the understanding “that we are able to make additions and modifications to it at any time.”
The 98-page plan takes an in-depth look at the available housing stock and the demographic projections for the town. The committee worked with the South Central Council of Governments (SCROG) and its consultant RKG to put together the data.
In a preface, the committee addresses directly the steps it would recommend for the town to take. “The Committee recommends that Woodbridge adopt an active plan for widening the scope of its housing options, including Affordable Housing, not only to forestall possible legal ramifications but also to reap the economic advantages that will come with a stabilized and diversified population.”
According to the report, demographic models project a significant decline in Woodbridge’s population over the next 20 years. Hence, “Woodbridge should encourage the development of smaller dwelling units to create a more affordable, diverse mix of housing, including affordable housing, to accommodate both older residents looking to downsize and younger persons and in-town workers who would like to settle here.”
In regards to “naturally affordable” housing – homes that are smaller or older than most, the report acknowledges that there may be a limited number of those, which are not deed restricted. The committee recommends that the town explore subsidy programming to ensure housing quality standards. Furthermore, the committee recommends that the town use “town-owned properties with public water, sewer and access to transportation for high density housing development that will meet the needs of current and future populations.”
There are just two such properties that are town-owned, the Fitzgerald property at the corner of Center Road and Beecher Road; and the Country Club of Woodbridge, and both are on a list of ten properties “where housing investment may be supported.” This list of properties, even if only noted as potential sites that could potentially be developed, did generate public opposition. The first three properties listed are the First Church of Christ, the Fitzgerald Property with its walking trails, dog park and community gardens; and a portion of the JCC parking lot.
“These are difficult choices with long-term ramifications for the town,” said Jonathan Gorham during public comment. But he was sure on one point: the Fitzgerald Property, the First Church, and the Country Club should be off the table, and many of the other commentators agreed on that point.
Attorney Dominick Thomas, who chaired the committee, when asked how the First Church got onto that list, explained that most of the properties listed are in private hands. However, when he and the RKG consultant along with Kris Sullivan from the town land use office took a tour around town they were looking for parcels that were big enough to accommodate development; were located along or near water and sewer lines; and near town services and transportation.
He said although it may seem unlikely that the First Church would sell its property to a developer, Attorney Thomas has recently seen three such cases where parishes or churches are doing just that. Even so, the list is there not to say, “This is where you have to do it,” he explained. Rather, the list is in the report to say, “this where you can do it.”
The other properties listed are in the town’s commercial area, two large parcels on either side of Bradley Road; a parcel off Merritt Ave; the area along Hazel Terrace and Old Amity Road, and a parcel south of Fountain Street.
With the report completed, First Selectman Beth Heller said she will now come back to discuss the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge with the Board of Selectmen. In a news report in the Hartford Courant Heller confirmed that she hopes to put out a Request for Proposal, possibly in early fall. However, the board needs to agree on what they would like to ask for in the RFP, she said. It could be a mix of uses, such as housing, open space and even a solar farm, as some residents have proposed.
In responding to some of the critics of developing the Country Club, Dominick Thomas said it was a misconception to assume that the whole 150 acres of the Country Club would be developed. “You have a property of 150 acres, with water and sewer and potential public transportation,” he said. The town can very well develop 50 acres and leave the rest as protected open space.
As an example, he pointed to the Quarry walk development along Route 67 in Oxford, with commercial, office and residential development. “It’s on 36 acres and it is enormous,” he said.
The committee also recommends that the town establish a permanent committee or commission on opportunity housing, in order to continue to promote awareness of affordable housing and other housing opportunities. “Woodbridge is a town with a sense of community and concern for each other,” the commission wrote. “It is a leader in land preservation with over one-third open space. The need for more diverse, affordable and vibrant housing opportunities is not incompatible with the community life we all enjoy — it will, in fact, enhance that sense of community, continue to preserve open space, and contribute to the planned growth of our populations and economy.”
By Bettina Thiel, Woodbridge Town News Correspondent