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Whiplash and Head Shaking

Last edition this column expressed guarded optimism that Woodbridge was finally headed in the right direction with respect to the Roger Sherman Farm.  The First Selectman had announced in December that she wanted to hire a land use expert to give the Board of Selectmen (BOS) professional guidance on potential uses for this valued piece of public property.  Via this column, Republicans praised the move, adding the best use for that expert would be to author a Build-Out Plan to get an accurate picture of the potential maximum development of each piece of property in town under the TPZ’s new regulations.  Such a report would give our town the necessary “big picture” as we address the concurrent challenges of the farm’s future, the town’s finances and pressures brought on by the state’s affordable housing laws.

At the January Board of Selectmen meeting a majority of the Selectmen wildly reversed course.  Instead of pursuing the land use expert idea, they took two votes with respect to the farm.  In the first vote the majority of the Selectmen rejected a joint offer by the Woodbridge Land Trust and Woodbridge Park Association to purchase the conservation rights of most of the farm.  In the second vote, the same majority agreed to proceed with negotiations with Arbor Haven, a developer looking to build 145 homes on the property.  Both motions carried 4-2 with Selectman David Lober and Selectman David Vogel voting no.  The “Davids” did not support rejecting the conservation offer or proceeding with Arbor Haven.

In taking these actions the BOS majority appears to ignore a resolution offered by Selectman McCreven months ago to delay decisions regarding the Roger Sherman Farm until the Housing Opportunity Study Committee issues the state-mandated report laying out a plan for Woodbridge to meet the state’s affordable housing requirements.  So, are we “on hold” as that approved motion would require, or not?  One minute we are pausing the review of proposals for the property, the next we’re voting proposals down, then we announce the Town will hire a land use expert, then we’re going to proceed with an unsolicited development proposal already rejected by our own Conservation Commission.  What the First Selectman and those going along with her are doing can’t even be called a “process.”  It is driven by the First Selectman’s single-minded focus on increasing residential housing and thereby growing the Grand List in an attempt to bring in additional tax revenue.  This approach is as flawed as flawed can be.

Multiple non-partisan studies presented to the Board of Selectmen document that increasing residential housing does NOT improve a municipality’s finances, it has the opposite effect.  Conversely, maintaining open space helps a town’s finances by minimizing the burden on town services, including education.  It’s possible adding new residents can lead to more retail businesses coming in to serve those new residents.  But considering the extremely small commercial area we have, that’s not in the cards for Woodbridge.  For those eyeing the Roger Sherman Farm development as a cure for the affordable housing challenge, think again.  The proposal includes both ordinary multiple-bedroom homes as well as affordable units so there is barely a change in the percentage of Woodbridge housing that is legally affordable.  And why would a municipality give up public land for the purpose of building affordable housing?  Our town’s very own CUPOP (Committee on the Use of Publicly Owned Properties) has raised this question.

For those tracking the way the Town’s leadership has handled the property since its acquisition, you have to shake your head in disbelief.  One misstep after another.  Look at the condition the property is in now.  Shameful.  The future of the farm is not an “R versus D” issue – it’s “a good idea versus bad idea” issue.  We saw common sense trump politics when the 2 Orchard Road Zoning issue came up – more Democrats than any other registered voter group were publicly opposed to the application because it was bad for Woodbridge.  In 2011, voters of all political parties defeated a referendum to sell the farm to Toll Brothers for housing by a 2:1 margin.  That was no “along party lines” vote.  It was a bad proposal that deserved defeat.  We encourage the Democrat leadership to not waste more time working toward another doomed referendum.  The financial facts don’t support the Arbor Haven proposal, the vast majority of residents don’t support it, and we must stop wasting Town resources on lost causes.  Let’s return to the land use expert/build-out plan approach and do this right.

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