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Across the aisle 10.29.21

To put it mildly, the approach our Town leaders are taking with respect to the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW) property is not in our best interests as a town. Since the CCW’s acquisition, our leaders have forgotten, or ignored, the reason for the purchase to begin with – to prevent wholesale development of what is arguably our most valuable remaining unprotected tract of land.

New residents may not be aware the town bought the CCW more than ten years ago when the Club was going bankrupt. While many voters came out to protect the land from development, subsequent town leaders have reflexively pushed for housing development on some or all of the property. In the face of strong opposition to these proposals, there have been some amateurish attempts to find the “pulse” of town residents regarding what to do with the property. Unsurprisingly, conversations with residents who lacked the facts about the property’s feasible options, and the potential costs of housing development on the town’s budget, school system, traffic, etc. ended in no clear consensus. How could they end any other way? Nonetheless, in the most recent survey two-thirds of responders wanted the CCW to remain a golf course or become permanent open space. Only one third wanted housing.

Ignoring that survey, there are now two development proposals before us. Were they solicited? No. And therein lies the problem with the town’s leadership on the CCW issue. Our leaders have failed to identify the best, highest use of the property, then go after that use in earnest. Instead, they have passively waited for the next suitor, and then assess that proposal’s merits with no way to measure how it stacks up with what the Town wants to do with the property.

Over the years, nearly every proposal receiving attention has called for dramatic development of the property for housing. The type, quality, quantity and density have varied, but it’s been all about housing. Are our Town leaders focused on housing, or is it just that those are the only proposals that are coming through the door? In the absence of a well-thought-out RFP, my guess is the latter. Past Republican Selectmen have advocated for a professional consultant to assess the most beneficial options for the property and then seek proposals that align with the top choice. That has never happened, even though $28,000 was budgeted for a CCW consultant for that very purpose. Budgeting the consultation money may have been nothing more than a political move to quiet criticism –nothing more. Maybe that money could be spent now on a professional survey to discern the pulse of our residents today – through a survey grounded in facts and devoid of an agenda. That would be a good start.

It is obvious from the developer’s sole public presentation and Q & A that the Arbor Haven plan is conceptual only and far from fully thought out. So why did our town leaders proceed to give the developer access to multiple Town Boards and Commissions to present their plans? It appears that our leaders are attempting to “sell” this plan to these groups to build support. That’s also no way to go about this. If they are committed to selling the land for housing, they ought to solicit multiple offers, just as you would selling a house. At a minimum, where is our counteroffer? Do we even have an appraisal of the property to compare to this offer? Apparently not.

The $9M offer seems to have visions of sugarplums running through some leader’s heads. Yes, a large cash influx could pay for the next big capital expenditure on the current Town leadership’s radar: a new police station. But at what cost? The proposed plan ignores the permanent yearly costs of residential development which will burden future budgets. Selling an asset is often-time an act of fiscal desperation. And the CCW property is quite an asset in its current form as open space. Are we really so fiscally desperate that we should sell the property for one-time cash infusion and ignore the permanent, yearly costs of residential development? I would say no.

We would be wise to step back and ask what we are trying to accomplish. From a fiscal perspective, the fact is that adding more residents to a town, any town, is never a money-maker. It adds ongoing costs for education, police, fire, public works, etc., which translate to ever-higher taxes.

The one-option only approach to the CCW does not serve the town well. Let’s find out what the residents want to do with the property after being fully informed of the various options and their pros and cons. And only then, let’s go after it wisely.

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