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Rosenthal Invites Residents To First Of Several FFH Info Sessions



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First Selectman Dan Rosenthal is launching the first of at least four Fairfield Hills information sessions on Monday, September 23, in the hope of bringing complete transparency to the challenges and opportunities he sees the community facing in the coming years — particularly with deteriorating buildings on the town-owned campus.

The first selectman told The Newtown Bee this week that the first public forum will be held in the auditorium of Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Road, from 7 to 8:15 pm.

“I’m planning at least four sessions, or maybe five or more if they are needed, or we may change the planned format of these sessions as they develop so we can share as much information with the public as we possibly can,” Mr Rosenthal said, adding that the sessions will be an exercise “in total transparency about the future of the campus.”

The first selectman said the September 23 session agenda will be restricted to covering the history of Fairfield Hills since its purchase by the Town in 2004. He is preparing a short PowerPoint presentation that will cover:

*What buildings were in place at the time of purchase?

*What buildings remain/have been renovated/demolished?

*What improvements to the campus have been made?

*What challenges still exist?

Questions individuals would like answered regarding Fairfield Hills can be sent to Mr Rosenthal via e-mail at fh@newtownct.gov. They will then be addressed in the appropriate upcoming session. Residents are requested to include their name and Newtown home or business address in the e-mail.

Written questions can either be brought to any of the sessions to be addressed or mailed to First Selectman’s Office, 3 Primrose Street, Newtown, CT 06470.

Mr Rosenthal is assuring residents that all questions received will be addressed by the end of the planned info session schedule.

“I anticipate our second session will involve covering anticipated costs to remediate and demolish the deteriorating and unusable buildings left on the campus,” he said. Session three will likely involve a presentation about the limited options currently available for the campus, and a fourth planned session will invite potential developers who have made inquiries about creating mixed use facilities in some of the remaining buildings that still have re-use potential.”

The Newtown Bee has already reported Mr Rosenthal as stating any current proposals that have been floated would likely involve a mixed-use residential component.

The Final Say

Mr Rosenthal, who is not being challenged for reelection this November, has committed that any decisions about the future of mixed-use development at Fairfield Hills will be in the hands of taxpayers and qualified voters, who will be asked to weigh in on one or more referendum questions on next April’s budget ballot.

“I can’t reiterate enough, nothing is happening without a referendum,” he said.

The issue has generated substantial public interest since a Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee voted unanimously to recommend a mixed-use residential option among future developments that could occur. The committee convened about a year ago to review the existing master plan document, which guides reuse and development at the town-owned campus and will recommend updates to the plan to the Board of Selectmen.

That work included a survey that took most of the possible future options for remaining institutional buildings on the campus into consideration. The public survey indicated that many residents opposed the idea of housing but desired development, Mr Rosenthal said.

In the past year’s work, the committee also became increasingly concerned for safety because of empty and deteriorating buildings. However, the first selectman points out, there is nothing in the survey related to the future of those remaining buildings if they are not part of a mixed-use development proposal.

“Residents should be reminded that the Master Plan Review Committee is staffed by citizen volunteers, and they did a great job with their survey and report,” Mr Rosenthal said. “But those survey results have to be viewed in respect to the fact that they leave out a big question about what the town should do with the remaining buildings.”

Concerns and misinformation circulating in the wake of released master plan revision recommendations motivated Mr Rosenthal to hit pause as he and other officials conduct community conversations on remaining buildings and the mixed-use proposal before attempting to script one or more referendum advisory questions.

P&Z, Stakeholders Invited

The first selectman said the Board of Selectmen will be attending the September 23 gathering along with invited members of the Planing & Zoning Commission, related town staff members, and other stakeholders.

After each session’s presentation, the floor will be open for questions, but Mr Rosenthal said any significant discussion about housing options or mixed-use development will not be entertained until at least the third information session.

“We would certainly entertain the idea of holding other sessions, especially if ideas develop we have not yet considered or other areas of interest [related to Fairfield Hills] surface in the course of the conversations,” he said. “It has been suggested that I am trying to dictate the path of future development at Fairfield Hills, but I don’t view it that way at all. Whatever path the voters decide next April, I will follow.”

The first selectman said it is critical that residents and taxpayers come to that referendum “with their eyes wide open.”

“Unfortunately, there are not many options considering the extent of deterioration in most of the remaining buildings,” he said. “But it certainly seems we’ve come to the point where the three options are develop, demolish, or do nothing — and doing nothing is really not an option.”

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal is calling residents interested in the future of Fairfield Hills to the first of at least four planned public information sessions Monday, September 23, from 7 to 8:15 pm, at the Newtown High School auditorium.
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