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Editorials

When Hearing Voices Is A Good Thing

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But whose will triumphs, and which way will the development of Fairfield Hills go?

While the final report of the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee issued earlier this summer stresses the deterioration and safety hazard of buildings at Fairfield Hills as the greatest concern, one recommendation by the committee stands out. Despite ongoing, zealous public opposition to any housing in past and current years, the committee suggested that the master plan “be modified to allow commercial proposals that include a housing component, provided that the proposal is for no more than two existing buildings and that the commercial component is consistent with the vision of the property.”

The committee also recommends the addition of assisted living facilities to supported uses.

A well-received 2019 survey reflects “Housing was uniformly rejected, with mixed use being the least so at 63 percent total unfavorable.” Though there was also a 62 percent positive response for a “Sense of Urgency to Develop” and recognition of the hazard of continuing to allow buildings to deteriorate, that does not negate rejection of a housing element.

The report acknowledges that “the survey results showed significant distaste for any housing.”

Juggling pros and cons, the committee indicated that parking could be a concern with a housing component. Housing “could shift commercial development to be more service-oriented to those living on the campus,” and threaten a fragile infrastructure.

Preserving architecturally pleasing aspects of buildings and avoiding cost of razing structures, mixed development to offset costs, and addressing the safety issue evidently were powerful motivators in superseding public input on Fairfield Hills housing. In gathering information, it was noted of a belief that “mixed-use development is necessary for re-purposing the larger buildings because access to financing often requires such diversity in the development.” Developers find a commercial/residential blend less risky. A site overlay plan, to make renovations more attractive to developers, is also suggested.

What is not addressed in these recommendations — and remember, they are only recommendations — is added burden for volunteer ambulance and fire companies when Fairfield Hills rentals and/or assisted living add to a burgeoning population, including apartments on Covered Bridge Road and the new Church Hill Village. There may come a point when volunteer services are overwhelmed, and paid services will be required to protect our population.

Surveys since the town acquisition of the property and a master plan tweaked as years go by profess it is small businesses and a parklike environment people support — no matter that the approach is taken “warily,” housing on the Fairfield Hills campus generates a big “No.”

Our recommendation is that decisionmakers handle this particular recommendation with kid gloves. When those who make the effort to speak up feel they are not heard, we risk losing voices of reason and will find future forums and surveys less productive.

It will take brainstorming, aggressively courting the businesses survey takers/forum attendees say are wanted, and providing lucrative incentives in order to support the vision for the campus that does not include housing, be it condos, apartments, or mixed use.

Hearing voices, in this case, is not a bad thing.

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