What is Woodbridge, CT?

No, this is not a question on Jeopardy, nor is it a rhetorical question. Instead, it seems to be a question at the center of many recent political disputes. When the Woodbridge Country Club went under, the people of Woodbridge voted to have the town take over the property to prevent the land being developed. Later, when the town tried to find ways of financing the debt incurred from the purchase, the people of Woodbridge voted against even a small part of the land being developed.

Woodbridge, CT is not a town that takes kindly to development. Perhaps it harkens back to being a quintessential Connecticut town of steady habits. It is a town with strong environmental and preservation leanings, as seen by the support of the Massaro farm and the recent moves to limit the use of pesticides in town.

This week, the focus shifted to commerce in Woodbridge, particularly in the 'Woodbridge Village District'. I grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The main commercial section of town was Spring Street a road a quarter of a mile long where much of the shopping and social activity took place. It has a very distinct, small New England town feel to it, influenced by the nearby college.

I've only lived in Woodbridge for a few years, although my wife grew up in Bethany and spent much of her childhood visiting her grandparents in Woodbridge. I don't have the same times to any village district here that I had to Spring Street in the Village Beautiful.

Yet I thought about this as I listened to the discussions about the proposed gun shop in the village district. For many, it may be a simple black and white argument about guns. The NRA members very defensive of the right to bear arms, and the anti-gun activists opposed to the introduction of any new ways of guns coming into Woodbridge or the surrounding communities. There are discussions about the gun shop being near a teen center and what sort of impact that might have.

However, most of this seemed to miss the more important and more nuanced issues, what is Woodbridge? What is the village district? What sort of economic development do we want in town? What sort of shopping experience do we want people to have when they come to Woodbridge? Some of the people testifying at the Town Planning and Zoning meeting spoke about how the introduction of a gun shop to Woodbridge would make them less likely to shop in that area. Others spoke about the importance of any new retail shop, including a gun shop, going in.

Would a gun shop in Woodbridge negatively affect other businesses? Should we accept at face value the premise that any type of new retail shop is good for the shopping area? I think we need to question both of these, and return to the question, what is Woodbridge?

No respectable shop owner should want to alienate the people of the town where their shop will be, and townspeople should be careful not to drive away potential shop owners whose shops will truly fit in with the character of the town and promote enhanced commerce between all the shops.

As I listened to the testimony on both sides, I did not feel reassured that the gun shop, the way it is currently being presented, is likely to be successful and add to the commerce of town. I hope both sides can find ways to work together to address this.

Yet the gun shop was not the only topic on the town planning and zoning board meeting last night. Next on the agenda was Tasty Kale. They are looking for a zoning change to be able to dry more kale. Where the discussions about the gun shop were contentious, the discussion of Tasty Kale was light hearted. I had never heard of Tasty Kale, but their appearance at the TPZ may have been some invaluable advertising, at least to those who stayed tuned to the Government Access Television channel after the testimony about the gun shop.

It provided an interesting contrast. While I was at best ambivalent about whether or not the gun shop would add positively to the image of what Woodbridge is, Tasty Kale fit very well with my understanding; entrepreneurial, local, tied to the community, clearly providing benefit. Yes, I want to try Tasty Kale, and if it is as good as the website says, including the accolades from Faith Middleton, then I will gladly spread the word about Tasty Kale. The gun shop hasn't resonated that way.

The third request to the TPZ was from Shakti Bio Research. A long time resident of Woodbridge, who has a company in Hamden, is seeking to move the company to Woodbridge. Where does "Bio Research" fit into the question of what Woodbridge is? To me, in part because I'm married to a molecular biologist and have many friends involved in health sciences at Yale, it seems to fit in very nicely.

So, to the image of professorial environmentalists eating kale chips fits nicely. A gun shop selling 'protection' probably doesn't fit, at least the images in my mind that well, but a gun shop that is promoting safe and responsible outdoors sporting activities might have a chance.

So, what is Woodbridge, CT?

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