A survey designed to gauge public opinion on Fairfield Hills, including what should be done with the campus, drew responses from more than 1,000 residents, officials said Friday.
Based on those responses, housing at Fairfield Hills, specifically condominiums or apartments, drew an unfavorable response from a clear majority of people, according to members of the Fairfield Hills Master Plan Review Committee who met Friday night to discuss the preliminary survey results.
“Housing is not one people are interested in,” said Paul Lundquist, a committee member who specializes in conducting and analyzing surveys.
Housing has surfaced as a controversial potential use at the campus, particularly after a developer approached a real estate broker working on behalf of the town with a proposal to build a large condominium complex at the site of Cochran Hall.
While several people have voiced objections to the proposal at public hearings, the survey results were the closest quantitative evidence officials have that would show most residents are disinclined to support housing at the campus.
“It doesn’t seem to have positive connotations for housing options as a whole, especially when you say condominiums or apartments,” Lundquist said.
The survey, which was opened to the public for three weeks last month, drew 1,041 responses. Except for 18 people who took the paper version, nearly everyone took the survey online. Based on how they identified themselves, responders represented a cross-section of Newtown, including different age groups, Lundquist said.
The committee, which met at the Senior Center, along with First Selectman Pat Llodra, is in the process of putting together its recommendations.
The committee was formed to take another look at the master plan for the campus and gain community consensus on what to do with the property going forward.
Because data from the survey was only available at the detailed level, and needed to go through another level of analysis and summarizing before being presented to the general public, committee officials asked that this article publish no specific numbers when referring to survey responses.
In general, the survey shows that most people agree that Fairfield Hills should be a destination for residents.
“This is a consistent theme that is shining through,” Lundquist said. “It’s a place for Newtown residents to recreate…it’s a gathering place,”
Most survey responders also appeared to favor leasing the land rather than selling all of it, officials said. Also, based on how they answered a couple of questions, most believe the town should be trying to generate income from part of the property but not all of it, Lundquist said.
“It shouldn’t be all of the campus but it shouldn’t be none of it too,” he said of income-generating land.
After trying to gauge the public's attitude when it came to the campus, the survey then tried to identify particular uses, with the top two being:
- Paved trail system for walking, jogging, biking, dog walking, etc
- Include a large town green with an outdoor stage/gazebo for outdoor activities and support for outdoor events like Relay for Life, farmers market, etc
Also, while survey responders favor land banking for open space, there appeared to be little interest in land-banking 60 or more acres for a future school. Llodra said that could be in response to what people perceive to be the high cost of building a new school, particularly in light of the recent renovations at the high school.
In terms of Fairfield Hill’s future, survey responders appeared to be at least somewhat in favor of a "focus on a central park and community reaction" as well as a "focus on local municipal and community needs."
Committee members now will take the information and begin to formulate their own individual opinions before coming back as a group to talk about its overall recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.
The next meeting is scheduled for June 9 at the Department of Park and Recreation conference room in Town Hall South.