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Other Side Of The Aisle 5.6.22

Another Opportunity for Leadership

The withdrawal of the development proposal for the Roger Sherman Farm by the Arbor Haven group given us yet another opportunity to decide the future of the property after 12 years of myopic focus on selling some or all of the property for housing. Without reviewing how many “bites at the apple” we have had over the past to make a decision, it is fair to say now is the time for leadership, not “followership”, which has been the administration’s ineffective practice.

The First Selectman has announced the town will issue a Request For Proposal for what to do with the property. The big question is: “what will we request?” RFPs typically indicate a desired outcome and the responses are evaluated by how effectively that outcome is achieved. Issuing an RFP for the Farm, thus, requires an indication of what outcome the town wants. Formulating priorities is tough work, but it’s a lot better than backing the now-defunct Arbor Haven unsolicited proposal, as our First Selectman did. Jumping on the bandwagon of an unsolicited development proposal is not leadership.

Today, there is an opportunity to follow another path. It should start with listening to the abundance of ideas available from town residents. For example, let’s reconsider two ideas which were functionally kicked to the curb in favor of Arbor Haven. One, which had the backing of 300+ signatories on a petition, suggested allowing commercial development of 10 acres around the clubhouse while protecting the balance of the property for open space. The second, presented jointly by the Woodbridge Land Trust and Woodbridge Park Association, offered a relatively small amount of cash to the town in return for an easement to keep the property as open space. In the end, the RFP should be based on a consensus of the BOS after listening to the many ideas already circulating among town residents.

There are likely other ideas worth considering for all or part of the property, and they should be heard through an organized, time-limited process. Ideally, the process will not be confined to a narrow focus on the property but instead take into account the range of challenges and opportunities facing our town. The future of this town asset should be considered as part of a strategic plan for Woodbridge. Those who endured the April 18 Budget Review “Freeze Out” at the firehouse heard the difficult truth that our mill rate is destined to increase unless the town improves its revenue through commercial development and expansion. At the same time, a new $2.6 Million federal grant gives us the opportunity to invest in improvements that will positively impact our town’s finances long term (hint: invest the money so that it generates commercial tax revenue).

The Board of Selectmen is currently developing a strategic plan. Shouldn’t the future of the Farm be considered within the context of that plan? And shouldn’t town residents be invited – indeed encouraged – to offer their ideas on the plan for our town’s future?

Tying major issues such as commercial development to increase tax revenue; the best use for the farm property; and how to address the affordable housing challenge before us is the task of our Democrat leaders. As mentioned in the previous “Other Side” column, ideas not coming from the majority party have been stifled to the town’s detriment. Woodbridge is a small town. We local Republicans want it to succeed. We take no joy in seeing our leadership flounder in tackling what are arguably the two biggest issues in town – the future of the farm and the financial pressure of an ever-growing mill rate. There are good ideas coming from our side of the aisle, and surely there are many more coming from fellow residents. Let’s take advantage of the creativity and brain power available to address our challenges – and that starts with listening to residents and ends with distilling the input toward a sensible direction forward.

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