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Review Committee Members Talk Housing, Development



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Review Committee Members Talk Housing, Development

By Kendra Bobowick

Housing, property sales, and a new look at leasing land and buildings — or not — were among ideas a subcommittee of the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee “were looking at, and maybe others should look at too,” said Robert Maurer.

Aware that both commercial development and housing are sensitive topics among residents and officials, he said, “I am hopping to get the debating going — plant the seeds and get some discussion going — these are just ideas to get us talking.”

With a map of Fairfield Hills spread before him Wednesday night, Michael Mossbarger — one of several Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee members assigned to review aspects of housing and commercial development — noted the history of past years’ failed lease attempts, saying, “We’re not going to lease this property.”

Mr Maurer suggested seeking one major developer that could “take on the whole project of Fairfield Hills,” which he indicated in a draft of ideas he referred to Wednesday.

Would the town reconsider selling, rather than leasing space in return for the revenue, he wondered?

Member Alan Shepard then looked at the number of projects aiming for space at Fairfield Hills — Kevin’s Community Center, a Parks and Recreation Department Community Center, possible location for a new police department and Newtown Ambulance Association building, etc — all of which cost money. “How are we going to do this?” he asked.

Mr Mossbarger said, “It’s a lot of money we don’t have.”

He also noted that future plans require demolition of several 80-year-old former state hospital buildings vacated by the state in 1996. The group considered whether or not the town would or could spend several million to abate and raze the buildings.

Mr Maurer, a local realtor, also said, “Look at the leasing structure. Is paying for [a 30-year lease] upfront a good idea? I don’t know if it’s good or not.” Mr Shepard also indicated that “There is a big difference between owning property and a building and building on someone else’s property. If you don’t own it, you can just walk away.” He feels strongly that “a lease isn’t going to work.”

“We have to be willing to part with it,” Mr Mossbarger believes. “No one is going to put money into this and walk away in 30 years.” The approach to leasing “isn’t working,” so far, he said.

Members did not agree with views that a residential element is a necessity for successful commercial ventures. “People will go to a restaurant regardless,” Mr Mossbarger said.

Members also talked about attracting developers. Rather than presenting them with a list of approved campus and building reuses, Mr Shepard like the idea of “flexible zoning — if they want to do something, they can propose it.” He asked if the town could work with the Planning and Zoning department in a way that the builder could submit a proposal for consideration.

The move allows officials and developers to consider what is viable, rather than “what we want, or don’t want,” noted Mr Mossbarger.

Could housing become an approved use at Fairfield Hills? Member Gary Steele cautioned that the topic should be presented carefully.

Touching on housing, members again agreed they would like to look at various ideas before the full Master Plan Review Committee and with the Board of Selectmen.

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