The Board of Selectmen, at a May 25 meeting, adopted a Housing Opportunity Plan submitted by the Ad Hoc Housing Opportunity Study Committee, and then submitted that plan to the State, as required by state law. The vote was 4 to 2 along party lines.
Elected officials David Lober and David Vogel voted against, saying most of the feedback the council received asked for a delay to give people more time to study and respond to the report. Coach Sheila McCreven, however, offered to approve, on the understanding “that we can make additions and changes to it at any time”.
The 98-page plan takes an in-depth look at the city‘s available housing stock and demographic projections. The committee worked with the South Central Council of Governments (SCROG) and its consultant RKG to collate the data.
In a preface, the committee directly addresses the actions it would recommend the city take. “The Panel recommends that Woodbridge adopt an active plan to expand the scope of its housing options, including affordable housing, not only to prevent potential legal ramifications, but also to reap the economic benefits that will come with a stabilized population and diversified.
According to the report, population models predict a significant decline in Woodbridge’s population over the next 20 years. Therefore, “Woodbridge should encourage the development of smaller housing to create a more affordable and diverse housing mix, including affordable housing, to accommodate both older residents looking to downsize and older people. young people and city workers who would like to settle here. ”
As for “naturally affordable” housing – homes that are smaller or older than most, the report acknowledges that there may be a limited number, which are not subject to deed restrictions. The committee recommends that the city explore subsidy programs to ensure quality housing standards. Additionally, the committee recommends that the city use “city-owned properties with public water, sewer, and transportation access for the development of high-density housing that will meet the needs of current and future populations.”
There are only two such properties owned by the city, the Fitzgerald property on the corner of Center Road and Beecher Road; and Woodbridge Country Club, and both are on a list of ten properties “where investment in housing can be supported”. This list of properties, although only indicated as potential sites for development, met with public opposition. The top three properties listed are the First Church of Christ, the Fitzgerald Property with its walking trails, dog park and community gardens; and part of the JCC parking lot.
“These are tough choices with long-term ramifications for the city,” Jonathan Gorham said in a public comment. But he was sure of one point: the Fitzgerald property, the First Church and the Country Club should not be discussed, and many other commentators agreed on this point.
Attorney Dominick Thomas, who chaired the committee, when asked how the First Church ended up on this list, explained that most of the properties listed are in private hands. However, when he and the RKG consultant with Kris Sullivan of the city’s land use office toured the city, they were looking for lots large enough to accommodate development; were located alongside or near water and sewer lines; and close to city services and transportation.
He said while it might 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 is where you can do it.”
The other properties listed are in the commercial area of the town, two large plots 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.
After the report was completed, first manager Beth Heller said she would now return to discuss the future of Woodbridge Country Club with the board of selectors. In a report in the Hartford Courant, Heller confirmed that she hopes to issue a request for proposals, possibly in early fall. However, the council must agree on what it would like to request in the request for proposals, she said. It could be a combination of uses, such as housing, open space and even a solar farm, as some residents have proposed.
Responding to some of the criticism of the Country Club development, Dominick Thomas said it was a misconception to assume that the entire 150 acres of the Country Club would be developed. “You have 150 acres of property, with water and sewer and potential public transit,” he said. The city can very well develop 50 acres and leave the rest in protected open space.
As an example, he cited the Quarry Drive development along Route 67 in Oxford, with commercial, office and residential development. “It’s on 36 acres and it’s huge,” he said.
The committee also recommends that the city establish a standing committee or commission on opportunity housing to continue to promote awareness of affordable housing and other housing options. “Woodbridge is a town with a sense of community and concern for each other,” the commission wrote. “It’s a leader in land preservation with more than a third of 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 strengthen that sense of community, continue to preserve open spaces and contribute to the planned growth of our people and economy.”
By Bettina Thiel, Woodbridge Town News correspondent