Affordable Housing – We Must Step Up Our Game
The affordable housing issue has become, in some ways, an unfortunately divisive issue in Woodbridge. State law allows a developer to exceed density limits in local zoning law if less than 10% of the municipality’s existing housing qualifies as legally affordable. Some residents applaud the law while others critique it for failing to recognize our town’s naturally affordable housing, lack of public water and sewer access, and role as crucial public water supply watershed for the greater New Haven area. The reality is that short of a major philosophic shift in Hartford, state efforts to push more affordable housing are here to stay. So, the question is: How should our town respond? The answer: Better than we’ve done so far.
Last year every town was required to submit an Affordable Housing Plan to the state. The BOS set up an ad hoc committee and promised Woodbridge residents there would be a public hearing on the committee’s draft plan. Instead, our Town leadership reneged on that promise and submitted the plan as final to the state, without the benefit of robust public input. Selectman Sheila McCreven assured one upset resident that the plan could always be amended in response to public comment. But then the BOS Democrat majority set up a new Housing Committee to implement the plan, and never directed that committee to seek public input.
Meanwhile, flaws in our land use regulations have DECREASED the percentage of affordable housing in town rather than incentivizing private developers to build affordable housing.
Example one: the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) recently approved a Merritt Avenue project to build fourteen duplex homes. Public comments overwhelmingly opposed approval, largely due to traffic concerns. The TPZ decided it was bound by the zoning rules and had no legal reason to deny the application. But the TPZ is the body that makes those rules! The TPZ response to the September 2020 Orchard Road application, while denied, was to recast zoning rules in several parts of town, so why didn’t TPZ include changes that would have secured an affordable housing component in this new development where public water and sewer are available? Now, none of those 28 units will be legally affordable – so the total number of “unaffordable Woodbridge homes” just went up. Zoning regulations requiring a percentage of new development to be affordable are allowed by state law – but we missed that boat. Opportunity lost.
Example two: The new Toll Brothers project on both sides of Bradley Road along Litchfield Turnpike exhibits a similar lost opportunity. Once again, the failure of the TPZ to require a portion of the 66 units to be reserved for affordable housing drives up the number of non-affordable housing units and makes our percentage of affordable units worse. Our Town leadership might have responded by reaching out to Toll Brothers – and to the Merritt Avenue developer – offering the opportunity for positive press, tax incentives, and/or community goodwill in return for some voluntary affordable housing component. Instead, nothing.
And what about that new Housing Commission? While as a town we appreciate volunteer service on boards and commissions, the BOS should have directed them to invite and welcome public input into the rushed plan before implementing it. Instead, the entire committee seems to be like-minded in selling the town-owned former golf course to build affordable housing. The committee chair said as much in a Register article several weeks ago. The committee has held no meetings for public comment. Now, the committee is embarked on a strategy, led by a Philadelphia-based consultant, to promote the singular idea of selling the golf course and rallying support among the members of the town’s other boards and commissions.
To be clear, this is not a shot at volunteers on either the Housing Committee or the TPZ. It’s a fair, fact-based criticism of how our Democrat town leaders is handling an extremely sensitive, long-term challenge to our town. They are not doing a good job with the tools at our disposal. We need leadership that does the hard work of building consensus instead of repeatedly focusing all affordable housing efforts on the former golf course. As we approach municipal elections in November, a wholesale change in town leadership must be in the minds of Woodbridge voters.
<span class="fineprint">This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.</span>