Perhaps the single most important moment in the debate about whether to approve the Green Haven condominium association project on Bethany’s Halter Farm property took place more than a year ago. That’s when Patsy Weiner, then a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, took the floor at a town meeting to explain the virtues of what proponent’s call co-housing plans.
“You can have co-housing associations for all sorts of purposes,” she said, in her dry, timorous sort of way. “There could be a group devoted to equestrian activities,” she said.
This was before Ms. Weiner was voted off the commission, and before Green Haven’s public relations efforts changed course. Supporters of the project now cannot repeat often enough that Green Haven, an agricultural utopia of transplanted suburbanites, is a one-time affair. They’ve even found lawyers stupid enough to say that what Bethany does as to Green Haven has no precedential effect.
I was reminded of Patsy’s horsey-horse communal nonsense on a walk this morning, when a neighbor – a dedicated horsewoman – made it clear she liked Green Haven.
“The condominiums?” I said.
“No, the cluster-housing project,” she said, dragging out each consonant to make the sound of it seem inevitable.
My response, a play on cluster clucking, is unprintable in a family publication.
Then it dawned on me: Several of our neighbors sit on valuable land, which, combined together, would be just the sort of place to situate the next condominium project in Bethany. I’m betting it’s just the sort of place, perhaps the very place, Patsy was talking about when she floated the idea of a horse-lovers commune more than a year ago.
A sense of inevitability hangs over the Sperry Road/Carrington Road area. Some residents express outrage over the prospect of Green Haven’s fanciful vision of an organic utopia inviting change into a community that hangs, just barely, to its semi-rural character. What happened in Hamden and North Haven, the thinking goes, is inevitable, and it will happen here, too.
Perhaps change is inevitable, but let’s at least be honest about it.
A Superior Court judge years ago approved a high-density housing development for the Halter Farm property. Yet the plan was never developed because it was not cost-effective. There is no alternative plan awaiting approval, no developer waiting in the wings to pounce if Green Haven fails.
When Green Haven supporters wave the threat of an actual housing development with actual low-cost housing, and, let’s face it, although they don’t have the nerve to say it – a diverse population – coming to town, they’re just playing a dishonest version of race card. Come folks -- let’s build a nice white community in town before it’s too late. Approving Green Haven does next to nothing to satisfy state policymakers demanding diverse housing stock in every town.
The Superior Court ruling regarding high-density housing on the Halter Road property is a mandate without effect. It does not mandate that Green Haven be approved; if the court’s ruling did so, no Planning and Zoning approval would be required. Green Haven wants what the law does not require; if the law required it, they’d have it already.
What Bethany does regarding Green Haven does have precedential effect.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is a public body. As such, its decisions can and will be challenged at any point under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United State’s Constitution. Approve Green Haven’s plan and then just try rejecting the next one coming down the pike.
As a matter of law, similarly situated people must be treated similarly. Why can’t horse lovers have their own condominium association if we give one to agricultural visionaries -- and why not one for car lovers, too? Perhaps we can revive medieval guilds in town, with associations for woolworkers, weavers and candlestick makers.
In the end, the law won’t distinguish between differing associational purposes. The transition from so-called cluster housing to condominiums without purpose is the logical and foreseeable consequence of approving Green Haven.
I’ve only lived in town for ten years, but I came here for a reason. If I had wanted a condominium, I would have bought one. If I wanted to live in a town of tract homes, I would have moved to one. If I wanted to live in Hamden, I would have moved there. Watching townspeople swallow Green Haven’s Kool Aid has me wondering whether the best time to remain in town has passed.
Bethany remains a community with a strong commitment to open spaces, independence, and a semi-rural way of life. It’s a way of life, a manner of living, that’s worth fighting to preserve. Green Haven supporters respond that this view is elitist, and results in a form of “snob-zoning.” What a dreary and unimaginative claim. Does Green Haven require that every inch of every town look and feel alike? What crabbed vision of equality requires us all to look alike, live alike and be alike?
Green Haven is well-funded and spoiling for a fight. Just who is paying for their efforts has not yet been disclosed to public view. Something tells me more than a low-cost utopia for aspiring hobby farmers is at stake. I see a future of condominiums dotting Sperry Road, Carrington Road and other roads in town. We’ll have Green Haven to thank when that takes place.
Is it inevitable? Only if we say it is. In the meantime, I find myself thinking more often than not of greener pastures elsewhere.