Losing ground: At what cost? - Community forum

Orange is at a critical junction and local farms are in the forefront of a fight to aid in the Town's future health.

One way to assess our community is by its environmental health. Particularly important are development trends. Meadowbrook Farm owned by Jim and Sharon Ewen, Lambert and Tyler City Roads (also known as Shamrock Farm for Jim Zeoli's nursery stock and produce stand) is one parcel which can contribute to the community or be lost to development forever.

Land use is so closely tied to our wellbeing that most people now realize that our short life on this biotic enterprise comes with an ethical responsibility. Yet there are many people who have not realized the impact of local actions. Zoning decisions impact habitat, biodiversity and ecosystem services but have not been given any weight in decision making. If not considered then there will be no parcels left for natural system functions.

When the unseen impact of development is considered most building lots consume and cost the community nearly twice the visible impacts. In Orange most lots are used for residential development, consume land faster, and by design, are low density large-lot construction. The outcome is a shortage of senior housing, large square-foot construction, and permanent forest and habitat corridor loss.

Why did the Town increase lot size for residential development? It was argued that by increasing lot size there will be fewer residential development units. But consider the cost. Increased lot size allows for larger houses to be built and obviously consumes land faster; just the opposite of what is needed. Nor would it make sense to increase the lot size to two, three or even five acres so that we increasingly fragment watersheds. Simply, the logic of larger lot size is contradicting. Household sizes are shrinking while homes are getting bigger meaning more resources are being consumed per person. Not just familiar ones like energy but the nonmarket resources.

Affordability is an issue too as demand for housing increases so does demand for land. As land prices increase ($400,000 for an acre on Lambert Road) there is a need for developers to build larger houses to generate the same return on investment. Developers propose large number of units on parcels as land prices increase but Town zoning regulations steer them in another direction consuming the remaining land faster and for the benefit of only a few people not the community.

What can be done?

Buy the farms; funded locally via the $2 million open space bond issue of 2004 and from the state ($5.5 million for CT's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant program) and national sources.

Call for meaningful land use by the Town's Plan for Development to be updated this year. Mandate conservation bylaws, ordinances and regulations especially for all zoning decisions so as to consider the nonmarket value of ecosystems, biodiversity, and habitats.

Charles R. Waskiewicz is a resident of Orange.