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A Trojan Horse Called Green Haven

Green Haven is a cancer that can destroy Bethany. Will you let it?

Forgive me if I do not greet with open arms the Green Haven Cohousing project’s attempt to change zoning regulations for the Town of Bethany. The project proposal is, in fact, little more than a Trojan Horse that would, if approved, destroy what remains of Bethany’s rural character. It would do so in the name of peace, love, granola and good feeling for all.

Green Haven is a politically correct group who claims virtuous intent. Its web page announces the following purpose: "In our cohousing community members work together to create a socially rich community that is safe, sustainable, diverse, egalitarian, supportive, attractive and affordable.

"Members collaborate to plan and develop their own neighborhood. Homes are owned privately but are deliberately clustered to provide a village-like common space that is protected from vehicle traffic. There is also a common house, which typically includes dining, recreation and childcare facilities and other amenities. In our community there is no effort to establish a religious or philosophical creed; what we share is a desire to live more economically, sustainably, and cooperatively."

It’s unctuous good will like this that makes Vermont look more appealing every day.

Green Haven’s brave new world is targeted for land currently designated by court order for low-income housing, and located at the corner of Amity Road and Meyers Road. It is part of the Elsie Halter farm, land which was the subject of litigation nearly a decade ago when developers persuaded a Superior Court judge to overrule the town’s zoning commission, and to permit low income housing to be built on the property in conformance with the state’s affordable housing act.

Rather than target its efforts at the Halter farm land, however, Green Haven wants to change zoning regulations affecting the entire town. In a series of meetings with zoning officials and town planner Hiram Peck, Green Haven’s lawyer has proposed a bold new zoning regulation that would create Open Space Housing Districts. Parcels of 20-acres or more would be eligible to become such a district, and to build high-density housing. There could be Green Havens scattered throughout the town.

Green Haven is nothing if not determined to change Bethany. At a recent town meeting, supporters of the project first waved the flag of fear about low-income housing. "If not us, then you will be forced to build higher density housing on the Halter farm property," they say. That is a red herring: There is no competing development plan for the Halter property. Green Haven simply appeals to the fear of something worse than what it offers, hoping we’ll forget that there is nothing proposed for the now vacant farmland. Why must we sign a suicide pact with suburbanization?

More frightening is Green Haven’s over-reaching. It claims to have set its sights on the Halter farm land. Then why propose a zone change regulation that would open the entire town, some 45 parcels each of 20 acres or more, amounting to approximately 2,000 acres, to what amounts to condominium development? Forgive me if I prefer not to join a community of geriatric do-gooders dancing around a Maypole. I came to Bethany because it was one of the few places in South Central Connecticut that retains its rural character. It is a place, frankly, where I can be left alone.

Why a zone change aimed at every corner of the town when its proclaimed target could perhaps more easily be hit with a property-specific variance from existing regulations? There is only one honest answer: Demographics are destiny, and some Bethany residents are determined to sell their land to the highest bidder. High-density cluster housing pays a good return if you’re determined to sell the land you inherited.

I was both amused and disturbed at the recent town meeting about the new regulations when zoning board member Patricia Winer stood to ask whether the proposed new housing districts would permit horse lovers to congregate together to create an equestrian community. Does she really believe that this will meet state-mandated requirements for low-income housing? The question was ludicrous, appealing, as it did, to a vision of Bethany the housing districts would destroy: it reeked of bad faith. I am not sure which version of Green Kool Aid Ms. Winer was drinking.

Green Haven looks like another utopian dream. Like-minded, well-meaning people can live together, grow organic vegetables, watch the Sun set, sing Kumbaya at day's end -- welcome to Bethany's geriatric version of Woodstock. But how well will these clustered communities survive once the enthusiasm passes? Some of he bitterest litigation I've ever seen arises from neighbors sharing something as simple as a driveway. Green Haven is a litigator's dream come true.

Perhaps town residents are resigned to permitting Bethany to go the way of its neighbors. We can become another Hamden, or Naugatuck, with tiny housing lots crammed one against the other, or condominiums dotting the landscape. We can be much better neighbors wed by our affection for common parks and common space. It’s not what I came to Bethany a decade ago to enjoy; if I wanted to live in Hamden, I would have bought a home there, not in Bethany. It’s not what hundreds of town residents who turned up at a recent town meeting support either.

There are no cohousing projects in Connecticut. Green Haven wants to experiment here, in our town. And it is not content to experiment on one isolated property. Open up the entire town to development. Pave paradise. Put up a parking lot. We’ll only know what we’ve lost when it’s gone.

I for one don’t intend to let that happen without all the fight I can muster.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dave Forman April 18, 2013 at 09:58 PM
When partisan politics gets injected into the proceedings of any of our town boards or commissions, the whole town loses. I served for four years as a member of the Bethany Zoning Board of Appeals. NOT ONCE were any of our decisions made along party lines. When you become a member of a town board you need to leave your party affiliation at the door and work together with ALL the members to reach a decision based on the regulations and the facts of the case. In my time on the Board, I held my colleagues of BOTH parties in the highest esteem and that was returned many times over. Don, as a public official you should know it is improper, and probably grounds for a lawsuit, for any member of a board to judge a case before having a full and fair hearing on an application and weighing all the evidence & testimony together with the rest of the Board. For you to suggest that candidates on "your team" have already come to a decision on the Greenhaven application, should the P&Z consideration of it continue into July, would be sufficient grounds, I think, to call for their recusal. I believe that all the members of our Planning & Zoning Commission are individuals of intelligence and integrity --that is why they were elected. To introduce the poison of party politics into their deliberations does not do our town proud.
Jaimie Cura April 19, 2013 at 04:11 AM
Green Haven Opponents Pack Planning & Zoning Hearing: http://bethwood.patch.com/articles/green-haven-opponents-pack-planning-zoning-hearing
Chip April 19, 2013 at 12:18 PM
The fact is that this piece of property is zoned for a 48 unit development, period. Green Haven is asking to change that to a 35 unit development. It is not about 1 1/2 or 3 acre zoning. This proposal is also not a formal proposal for a development yet. Any developer could currently build that 48 unit development. As long as they met water and septic regulations we could not stop it. Do I personally like either option? No. You are not addressing the facts. Also, as written, the current 48 unit HOD zone could be applied to other parcels in town and we could not stop that either without going back to court. If I had a gun to my head (ha, ha) and was forced to choose between the 48 unit and the amended 35 unit proposals I would certainly choose the later. That is the issue before the zoning commission, not whether approve a 35 unit development or not on that property that has not yet been presented to the commission. Also, regarding Patsy Winer, the original proposal included the floating zone which applied to the entire town and not specifically to the Halter property. Because this was a proposal for a town wide zoning change and not site specific at that time, there was no conflict of interest and hence no reason for her to recuse herself. Patsy might reconsider based on the new admendment. I have to re-read the proposal, especially if the language is cleaned up to clarify the "may" wording. I will have to analyze that.
Chip April 19, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Patsy did not disqualify herself from the original proposed ZONING change because it applied to the entire town and was not site specific to the 48 unit, already approved, Halter property. With the admendment, that might change, especially if the "may" issue is cleaned up.
Brian Laubstein April 20, 2013 at 01:16 AM
This is my personal opinion and not the opinion of the Board of Education or any part of the BOE Green Haven will put pressure on our school system. Building 35 homes with an average of 2.5 bedrooms and 2 person per bedroom according to the Green Haven lawyer. If the parents/guardians are in 1 bedroom who do you think will be in the other 1.5 bedrooms? That will add 60-100 new children to our school system. Where are they going to put them? If the average taxes is$ 7000 per household in Bethany, guess what , Each one of those children will cost an additional $4000-$5000( cost of education per child is $12000/year) or $240,000- $500,000 per year to the taxpayers .It also means we may not be able take the annexes out use because we may need the room for this massive influx of children I say we should vote everyone out who supports this and allow the court order of 1-2 bedroom units to go in.At least the costs to the town will be less along with our taxes

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