Land purchase: Why I voted no

The Town Council is considering the purchase of four properties at Church Hill Road and South Edgewood, across from the library. First Selectman Tim Herbst is urging this acquisition. He said the land might be used to add parking for the library, or to provide access to the Valley Trail. Alternatively, the land might be used to build a senior center. But currently, there is no specific intended purpose. 

I voted at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last week against recommending that the Town Council buy buying these properties. Here's why:

* The economic development director said the town anticipates that the four properties will cost between $1.3 million and $1.5 million. We should not commit $1.5 million of the taxpayers’ money on a speculative acquisition where neither the need nor the purpose is laid out. 

* Once the town acquires these properties, there is no more zoning control. Municipal government is not covered by the zoning regulations. The town could do anything it wants. Ultimately this will harm property values in the vicinity. 

* The first selectman cites the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development as recommending this. He said the POCD "calls for the Town to develop properties in close proximity to our municipal campus." But there is no mandate to buy anything, certainly not sections of a stable residential neighborhood. The plan does say: "Trumbull will benefit the most from appointing a special committee or task force to undertake a comprehensive community facility study." Such a study, the plan continues, would evaluate the need for new or expanded town facilities, and one of the criteria might be to maintain the Town Hall area as a municipal hub/campus. 

In other words, plan before you act. But there is no plan. There's just a rushed willingness to risk damaging a residential neighborhood, all with minimum community awareness and participation. Absent a comprehensive facilities plan, absent appropriate community input, this is just ad-libbing. It's improv. It's hasty, it's risky and it's expensive. 

* The first selectman has been describing his tenure as a period for smaller and smarter government. You can have smaller and smarter government. Or you can spend more than $1 million to buy land to expand the municipal facilities. You can't have both.

I urge the Town Council to vote against moving ahead with this rushed acquisition, which will permanently alter a perfectly healthy residential neighborhood. At least wait until a community facilities plan is completed before we spend as much as $1.5 million upending people’s homes and lives.