The town of Newtown purchased Fairfield Hills so that it could take control of the property and shape its future development. We implemented a master plan that does not included housing as an approved use for the property, and that concept was upheld by a recent town survey and by the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee. A recent proposal to convert Cochran House into 160 apartments has triggered Planning & Zoning to consider allowing big box, high density housing into FFH, and Newtown, for the first time.
P&Z is just one vote short of approving this type of housing development, and their deliberations have turned this housing proposal into a major election issue for P&Z candidates. Their actions also thrust the Board of Selectmen candidates into the electoral fray by virtue of the fact that our selectmen hold sole power of approval of all conforming leases at FFH.
If P&Z picks up a vote in favor of housing in the upcoming election and approves this sweeping change in allowable housing, it would give the Board of Selectmen the power to radically change Newtown in perpetuity - unless action is taken by the Legislative Council to modify or repeal the ordinance that gives the Selectmen sole power over approving conforming leases at FFH.
As our election debate unfolds, the public should seek clarity from their candidates about how they will vote for key issues surrounding housing. We think that the following questions should be answered for the voters by candidates for the Board of Selectmen:
- Do the candidates for Selectmen agree or disagree with P&Z taking up the housing issue considering the expressed opposition of the community, and considering the absence of any application pending which could call for P&Z action?
- Will the candidates for Selectmen support or oppose any housing plan that may come before the board?
- Do the candidates for Selectmen support the continuation of the board possessing absolute power over the approval of conforming FFH leases, housing or otherwise, or do they support the people’s right to vote on these issues?
Let us be clear as to our position. We oppose housing at Fairfield Hills especially high density apartment projects; we think that they represent a clear and present danger to Newtown. We think that these housing projects will bring urban problems to Newtown.
Of particular concern to us is the potential of relinquishing our control over the development of Fairfield Hills. We believe that the housing proposals being discussed lack viability without financial support from outside sources, such as readily available federal subsidies – one example being HUD funding via section 8 subsidies. Outside funding carries with it conditions that will likely cause Newtown to lose control of Fairfield Hills, a result that’s contrary to the very reason we purchased the property.
We believe that as long as P&Z seeks to allow housing, the controversy will remain with us. It is then only a matter of time before just two members of the Board of Selectmen will allow unwanted high density housing projects to become a part of FFH.
We believe that the sole power to approve leases held by the Board of Selectmen, a special exception to our own Charter, is an excess of power that must be repealed. The Legislative Council can easily do that by amending the FFHA ordinance to include a town vote on leases. We believe that better still the council should simply repeal the ordinance in full because we do not need a development authority managing non-existing commercial development and because we think the ordinance has caused our community harm by contributing to the erosion of trust that once glued our community and its government together.
Therefore, we believe that we can only end this housing debate with finality by bringing FFH under our town charter and moving forward with updating the Master Plan according to the consent of the community, which is best established with a town wide referendum.