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Balancing Issues And Reporting On Fairfield Hills



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Balancing Issues And Reporting

On Fairfield Hills

To the Editor:

The Fairfield Hills Advisory Committee has been working for 11 months to create a balance between town control, meeting municipal needs and additional costs to the town. We have moved from being a committee that was split on the viability of town purchase, to one with a unanimous view that purchase is the only viable option. We are not the master planners but instead are charged with answering these questions: Should the town buy? What are the costs? What are some of the uses? How can the town manage the property?

The Bee’s February 25th editorial states:  “… most people would want town needs to be the priority at Fairfield Hills. We know that is our preference.”

It is the view of the Advisory Committee that in addition to municipal office space, parks and schools, “town needs” include fiscal responsibility. The current Advisory Committee vision allocates the land 80 percent municipal, 18 percent commercial and two percent in the entry plaza to be determined. The Bee’s labeling this concept as a “Corporate Park” is a distortion of the facts. With a proposed 3-4 mill increase, not including the rehab work at FFH, shouldn’t we evaluate all our options to minimize tax increases?

In fact, the results of the Save Fairfield Hills for Newtown survey published by The Bee very closely mirror our recommendations. We placed the priorities in order of popularity as reported by The Bee (see the February 18th edition for a full report).

a)… 5/6 School and land building for future school

Advisory Committee vision advocates 20+ acres of the property. Combined with the 20+ acres at Watertown Hall there is enough land to house the 5/6 school and one additional school if needed in the future. Costs included as part of Board of Education  budget.

b)... Municipal recreation needs, including Plymouth Hall gym

Advisory Committee vision advocates Plymouth Hall as a multi-generational community center with 5-7 additional ball fields. The exact location of the fields will be determined after the 5/6 school location is finalized. Moving town offices from Edmond Town Hall creates additional space there for community use.

c)... Open space

Advisory Committee vision advocates 126 acres or 67 percent of the property (some of which will house the ball fields mentioned above). With over 300 additional acres owned by the state as agriculture land means the town has over 425 open  space acres.

d)... Town offices

Advisory Committee vision advocates two buildings, adding 60,000 square feet.

e)... Moderately priced senior housing (empty nesters)

Advisory Committee vision does not include any housing but Nunnawauk Meadows already owns 40 acres, which allows for expansion.

f)... Economic Development

Advisory Committee vision includes 34 acres, 18 percent of the property, to generate revenue to help pay for items a-e.

The estimated cost of the four municipal elements of our plan exceeds $14 million, which includes lead and asbestos abatement, rehabilitating of buildings for re-use and building demolition. These costs do not include any work to nine of the largest and most costly  buildings to renovate. We advocate leasing these nine buildings to a developer who would assume the rehab and abatement costs. We would receive lease payments from the day we lease to a developer and tax revenue when the buildings are occupied.

Some comments from public participants at the February 17th meeting that were included in the article “Advisory Committee Hears Public Skepticism about Corporate Park” need to be clarified:

1. “…some at the… meeting… did not want to buy if it means they will have to settle for a corporate park dominating the area.” Based on the surveys turned in by the participants at that workshop, more than 60 percent of the attendees agreed with using only 20 percent of the land for a commercial presence (see the article “More Opinions on Fairfield Hills” page 4 of the February 25th edition of The Bee).

2. “…inability to attract business.” We have explored the potential for commercial use and have heard from numerous developers with different ideas on how to generate revenue.

3. “…some residents believe a prospective tenant may already be lined up” and “out-of-the-way” town offices are attributed to unnamed sources. If there aren’t enough facts to support these assertions, let’s leave rumor and innuendo to the tabloids.

4. “…hoped for better publicity.” The local press did not help get the word out about the meeting.

5. Numerous participants had concerns about traffic/parking impact. There are fewer than 500 parking spots on the campus. Before any development of the nine buildings in the back is started, we feel a full traffic study is required.

6. “…without a well defined plan, it may never be implemented as suggested.” Our final recommendation will include a mechanism to manage the property outside the political process to eliminate the fear of poor implementation.

In closing, there seems to be agreement on 80 percent of the plan, and the citizens of Newtown need to have an informed debate about the other 20 percent. If we are to buy, the biggest issue will be: the amount citizens are willing to pay, which dictates what level of revenue generation must come from the property. We recommend anyone who wants to make an informed decision about the purchase of Fairfield Hills attend town meetings and our presentation to the Legislative Council within the next few weeks.

Watch The Bee for specific dates.

Thank you,

The Fairfield Hills Advisory Committee

Michael Floros, Chairman

45 Main Street, Newtown                   March 1, 2000

Comments are open. Be civil.

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