Town Solicits Proposals for Country Club Master Plan
Following up on a vote taken by the Board of Selectmen in July of 2022, the board on June 14 voted unanimously to approve the wording for a Request for Proposal (RFP), looking for a Master Plan for the Country Club of Woodbridge. First Selectman Beth Heller said that in addition to herself, the RFP was worked out with input from Selectmen David Vogel, Sheila McCreven and Paul Kuriakose, and with guidance by Finance Director Anthony Genovese.
According to the RFP, which is posted on the town’s website, the town is looking for competitive proposals from qualified consultants “to create a comprehensive plan to provide detailed recommendations regarding the use of the former Country Club of Woodbridge. In addition to being posted on the town’s website, the RFP is also posted on the State Department of Administrative Services website. According to Genovese, they are also planning to publish it on other industry websites in the upcoming weeks. “Any proposal should balance ‘residents’ desires for environmental protection, fiscal responsibility, diverse housing types, active or passive recreational infrastructure and/or opportunities.”
The town purchased the approximately 153 acres in 2009 from a private club that was about to go bankrupt, for $7 million. The purchase included a large clubhouse, several outbuildings, an outdoor pool and tennis facility. It is unclear whether the intention at the time was to prevent any development or prevent uncontrolled development in order to allow the town to use it for its needs going forward, and that question has been hampering any proposal since.
The history of failed attempts to develop the property is outlined in the RFP: “In 2011 First Selectman Sheehy released an RFP to develop 17 of the 155 acres for housing. The proposal was taken to a Special Town Meeting and rejected by a townwide referendum. In 2014, First Selectman Ellen Scalettar led two community conversations to gather input and ideas from residents about how to use the property. Consultants Milone & MacBroom suggested that the “highest and best use” of the property was housing. First Selectman Scalettar released a RFP for development in 2014 and received two housing proposals. The Board of Selectmen, at the time, were not unanimously in favor of any proposals and none were put to a vote by the public.
“In 2016 the Town also received two proposals to revive the golf course and a third for golf. None were taken to the public for a vote. In 2018 First Selectman Heller conducted a community survey to gauge resident feelings about the property’s use. Survey data confirmed that residents are deeply divided on the issue.
“Under First Selectman Beth Heller the Town received a housing proposal in 2019 and another in 2021. Both proposals were withdrawn.
“The Town maintained the pre-existing golf course operation until 2016 and the pool until 2019. The Town held an auction to sell furniture and items from the clubhouse in 2019 and the utilities to the 43,000 square foot building have been turned off.”
The consultant will need communication skills, be able to build trust with the public and be willing to interact with educated and engaged stakeholders. “The selected consultant should also demonstrate experience in building consensus, understanding different points of view on a very divisive issue,” the RFP reads.
“Our hope is that the consultant will be helping the town to move forward and come to a consensus,” said Selectman David Vogel at the July 2022 meeting of the Board.
But members of conservation-minded groups such as the Land Trust and Park Association, as well as the Conservation Commission, have not been idle in the meantime. In November of 2022, a member of the Conservation Commission invited the Audubon Society to perform a habitat assessment, which resulted in a report. They saw some 22 fairly common species (listed below), but the report also speaks of the value of large tracts of forests for the health of the bird population.
“The property is part of a corridor of undeveloped land that connects the Regional Water Authority’s Maltby Lakes Recreation Area, the Yale Golf Course, and surrounding woodlands to the south with West Rock Ridge State Park and other RWA (water company) lands to the north. That corridor is largely forested and has immense value for habitat connectivity within the surrounding urban landscape.”
Cathy Wick, a member of the Land Trust’s Board of Directors, addressed the selectmen at their June meeting to request that the public have the chance to interact with any consultant, and to share with them the report. In a similar vein, former First Selectman Amey Marrella expressed concern that the town will hand the consultant the housing report, but not the report on bird species. “That would show steerage of a consultant for a particular outcome, which is contrary, I believe, to good government,” she said. While housing may have been a focus of this administration, given the lawsuit pending against the town, Marella reminded the board that open space preservation is also a state goal.
Paul Harrigan, a member of the Conservation Commission, encouraged the selectmen to have the consultant look at each of various options and do an analysis of each one, with data pertinent to Woodbridge, including the scenario of a conservation easement, which would prevent any future development.
If negotiated with groups like the Park Association and the Land Trust, who have offered to pay the town to reimburse it for the development potential, it could mean cash to the town with no expense, he suggested.
Indeed, the RFP is looking for fair and unbiased financial data to help the town make choices about the uses of the property which are in the best interest of the town.
Proposals must be received by August 18, and a Master Plan will be identified in September.
In addition to being posted on the town’s website, the RFP is also posted on the State Department of Administrative Services website. According to Genovese, they are also planning to publish it on other industry websites in the upcoming weeks.
Birds observed: The report of the Audubon Society noted the following species during its field visit at the Country Club in November of last year: Canada geese, mallard, American black duck, Great blue heron, turkey vulture, belted kingfisher, yellow-bellied sapsucker, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, blue jay, American crow, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, Northern mockingbird, American robin, American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, and northern cardinal.