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Balancing Our Past And Future

Published: February 15, 2018

A housing boom is underway in Newtown that includes multifamily and mandated affordable housing, but which challenges established neighborhoods and the ecosystem. This balancing act between fiscal desires and maintaining the town’s character requires careful steps in the attempt to attract a population eager to support our shops, restaurants, and businesses.

Walking that tightwire needs thoughtful assessment. The magnitude of recent proposals is contrary to the rural atmosphere we have nurtured. If all of the current development proposals for apartments and condominiums in Newtown are approved and constructed, we could welcome more than a thousand new residents over the course of a few years.

Riverwalk on Washington Avenue proposes 74 units; less than a mile up Church Hill Road, 224 units plus commercial space are proposed for the Hunters Ridge development. At the corner of Church Hill Road and The Boulevard, a 72-bed assisted living project will take shape.

The Summit on South Main Street presents the opportunity for 10 to 20 apartments, or a mix of living space and retail space, while Rochambeau Woods on Mt Pleasant Road could boast as few as 29 units or as many as 192, depending on which way the wind blows for that developer.

A mixed-use complex on property abutting Covered Bridge Road will include 180 apartments.
Those 500-700 units will have an impact on Newtown. Dense construction would offer some relief to the tax burden; new residents could boost the local economy. But will they?

Two of the largest developments are sited adjacent to Exits 9 and 10; those residents can hop on the highway to shop in neighboring towns, rather than our small borough.

It would be a coin toss for those who live at Rochambeau Woods: turn right into Newtown, or left to shop in Bethel and Danbury.

Church Hill Village assisted living residents might explore the Queen Street area; window shopping is as likely as actual purchasing, though.

Young professionals who move here must find reasons to not spend their hard-earned cash out of town. Do we dare hope that apartment living here will segue to purchase of a single-family home one day?

Meanwhile, our volunteer emergency services will be greatly taxed by a rapidly increasing population. The fire commissioner recently expressed concern to the Board of Selectmen that even now our volunteer firefighters are half the ideal number to support this community.

Studies show that Newtown could benefit from untraditional housing incorporating an affordable aspect; it is the size of proposals that gives one pause.

Our Planning & Zoning Commission is charged to “promote the orderly and coordinated development of the Town and the general welfare and prosperity of its residents.” Attention to residents’ concerns and true need balanced with growth that honors regulations can move Newtown into the future in a stronger position than if profit-motivated development proceeds hastily.

Steady steps by town officials are the only way to guide development wisely across the high-wire that connects our past to the future.

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