Vacant storefronts are on the forefront of Woodbury residents’ minds whenever the business climate in town is discussed.
At the Wednesday, Oct. 16, “Question the Candidates Night” hosted by the Woodbury Business Association, an audience member asked what can be done about the empty buildings in Woodbury and specifically cited vacancies at one end of town.
This article is the second in a series from the debate. The first article can be found here: Woodbury Debate: A Matter of Civility.
While the audience member didn’t specifically mention Woodbury Green South, that cluster of buildings remains vacant and is located at one end of town. Readers weighed in on what kinds of businesses they thought would succeed there in this Visions for Vacancy article.
Zoning Commission candidate and Democrat Bob Clarke first wanted to debunk a theory about the commission.
“I think one of the problems is there’s a feeling in town that the Zoning Commission is responsible for the empty buildings in town because Zoning is anti-business,” he said. “Zoning is anything but anti-business in town.”
Clarke said the town has regulations that dictate where businesses should go and rules must be followed. If people take issue with businesses not moving into town, he said: “I don’t want to lay this on the real estate people, but…” and trailed off.
A Platform Promise
Incumbent First Selectman and Republican Gerald ‘Jerry’ Stomski responded to an audience question on his campaign promise to bring new businesses into Woodbury.
Winding Drive Jams & Jellies was going to move to Oxford but “we convinced them to stay here,” he said, adding that his team helped them fill out land use applications.
Dorothy 'Dorie' Sperry, owner of Dottie’s Diner, stood up and said that she and Winding Drive Jams & Jellies are looking to move out of Woodbury because they have the same landlord, are saddled with a septic system that doesn’t work and the responsibility is put on them to make changes, especially when the Pomperaug District Department of Health gets involved.
She wondered why the town allows landlords like that to come into town.
“The town has no interest or responsibility in an agreement between you and your landlord,” Stomski said.
Regarding the PDDH, he said if a business is not in compliance, that falls under the purview of the PDDH and not the Board of Selectmen.
A follow-up question from an audience member pertained to what help the selectmen could give a local business owner if they had an issue with a septic system and a landlord.
Stomski said the town could help the business owner network and take an appropriate course. But if it’s a civic matter with a landlord, he said the business owner would have to work with the landlord or an attorney.
Martin Overton, Democratic candidate for selectman, addressed the matter in his closing remarks. He said the business owner reached the end of her tether and government said, “It ain’t us.”
He said surely the town could do something, even if the ‘something’ was taking the landlord out for a cup of coffee and saying, “give it up, help this lady out.”
“We’re letting bureaucracy get in the way of government,” Overton said.
He said getting engaged with the community will solve that issue.
How can politicians attract more businesses to town?
This question was addressed to petitioning candidate for first selectman, Bill Butterly, who said doing away with the ‘ad hoc’ nature of the Business and Economic Development Committee is a good place to start, but he said that must be done via a charter revision.
He said the committee could assist with getting the town grants to help with economic development.
An Untapped Resource
If people own a home-based business in town, Butterly said getting in touch with owners when their businesses are just starting up could be a great boon. If or when the home-based business is in need of expansion, he said the town can provide assistance as soon as they're ready.
What do you think about the business climate in Woodbury? What's good about it and what could be improved?
To share your thoughts on candidates and to read what other residents are saying, visit You've Got My Vote: Woodbury.