Webcast Hosting Opponents Of Housing Option At Fairfield Hills
Five local residents who have each served Newtown publicly and privately for many years will discuss why they oppose adding a housing/mixed-use option to the Fairfield Hills Master Plan during a live Tuesday afternoon webcast hosted by The Newtown Bee.
A request to give opponents an alternate for voicing their views beyond the newspaper’s Letter Hive was first suggested by former Police Commissioner Bruce Walczak, who is a local landlord, Lions Club officer, and current State Independent Party candidate for the 5th US Congressional seat.
He is scheduled to be joined by former Legislative Council member and First Selectman Pat Llodra; former Board of Finance and council member Kelley Johnson; former finance board Chairman, Selectman, and Borough of Newtown Warden James Gaston; and former Booth Library Board and Fairfield Hills Authority Chairman Robert Geckle.
The “Alternate Perspectives” webcast can be seen live beginning at 2:30 pm, Tuesday, October 20, through The Newtown Bee’s Facebook site, and a video of the webcast will be archived on the newspaper’s YouTube channel for anyone who misses the live event.
The opponents are coming together for the virtual event following four public information sessions dating back to late last year. Those “community conversations” presented a substantial body of information ahead of a referendum vote that will endorse or reject a housing/mixed-use recommendation by the latest volunteer Fairfield Hills Master Plan review committee.
The first three sessions were hosted live by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, and the most recent session — the last of four promised by Rosenthal — was hosted virtually by The Newtown Bee, due to COVID concerns, and featured input from the first selectman and representatives of two development companies that could be involved in rental apartment conversions on the town-owned campus if the concept is passed by voters.
While there is no organized movement for or against the housing option ballot question, Walczak reached out to Newtown Bee Editor Nancy Crevier saying that opponents to the ballot measure deserved an opportunity to present their positions. The opportunity for Walczak, Llodra, and Johnson to participate in Tuesday’s webcast was offered last week, and was confirmed by Llodra late Saturday, October 17, after Gaston and Geckle were added to the panel.
The three initial community conversations were devised and launched by Rosenthal in the fall of 2019 after the latest master plan review panel unanimously recommended including possible mixed-use development. That advisory committee work included a survey that took most of the possible future options for remaining institutional buildings on the campus into consideration.
While the survey indicated many who participated opposed the idea of housing, many also said they favored revenue-generating development on the campus. However, Rosenthal noted there was nothing in the survey related to the future or disposition of those remaining buildings if they are not part of a mixed-use development proposal.
“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,” he said.
Concerns and misinformation that quickly began circulating in the wake of released master plan revision recommendations motivated Rosenthal to hit pause as he and other officials organized several community conversations on the campus history, potential costs, and implications of a mixed-use proposal before scripting an advisory question for voters to consider.
Plans for holding a final info session with possible developers were delayed until October 5 due to COVID-19 restrictions, but in the meantime, members of the Legislative Council produced the following ballot question: “Should the Town of Newtown consider commercial proposals at the Fairfield Hills campus that include a housing component, provided that a housing component would be limited to no more than two of the existing buildings, and that the renovation is consistent with the architectural vision for the property?”
While the question is technically advisory in nature, Rosenthal said results of the referendum would be binding as far as he is concerned. If the measure does not pass, he has said the town will likely move forward committing future bonding to razing most of the remaining buildings.