First Selectman Jim Zeoli is cautious when it comes to formulating a “vision” for Orange. He went to work on Monday and when he came back on Wednesday, the same files were still waiting for him. But between those two days, on Tuesday, November 2, he and about half of all eligible Orange voters went to the polls and re-elected the Republican ticket.
“You gotta know where you came from to know where you’re going,” he said during the swearing-in event. “I’ve been living the vision – it just keeps rolling on,” he said.
By the time we sat down to talk about the issues ahead, he did come up with a number of improvements he would like to see for the town.
The contract with the Race Brook Country Club was the first thing that came to his mind. After months in a holding pattern, the Race Brook board was ready to sign the agreement last week, Zeoli said. The Board of Selectmen had endorsed it as well in executive session in a special meeting on November 3. Zeoli said he was hoping to have the closing by the end of November.
The contract is for the purchase of the 287-acre property, with its myriad facilities — the clubhouse, two homes, maintenance facility; state-of-the-art irrigation system; and more. The town agreed in a referendum earlier this year to purchase the club for $8.6 million, with the club operating largely independently and making lease payments in installments. The sales price breaks down to under $30K an acre, Zeoli said, adding “it’s good planning for future use.”
After a Covid hiatus, development of Fred Wolfe Park also is moving ahead. The playground committee is working on plans for an inclusive playground at the entrance to the park; and the first selectman is looking to create a second access point to the park in order to improve traffic flow.
Responding to requests from residents, Zeoli also is trying to find a private trash hauler to pick up for those Orange residents who would like to contract for that. The town picks up recyclables, but not the refuse. Years ago, there were a handful of companies operating in the Town of Orange, who all competed with each other.
He would welcome Southern CT Gas to expand its grid into more Orange neighborhoods. He said he met with gas company representatives to find out whether there is any interest in expanding the grid.
Looking to the future, he said he is hoping the state will look into installing electric charging stations throughout town. The open question is who will be responsible for those stations going forward.
Zeoli said the town will be working with the school administration to take a wide-ranging look at school building needs. That could include questions such as whether the schools are better served in new buildings rather than trying to renovate the old ones; or deciding if consolidation is feasible.
Meanwhile economic development is always at the forefront of his attention, he said; and it will continue to be front and center. He is working with the Brixmor Property Group to find a new occupant for the vacant AC Moore building. “As Covid lets up, we see increased interest in the town,” he said.
As for 2022, the town will be celebrating its bicentennial. A committee has been named to plan a series of events in June to commemorate its first Town Meeting in 1822. “I hope to be sitting here (in the first selectman’s seat) for it,” he said. However, that does not mean the bicentennial will be the end of the Zeoli administration, he was quick to add.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent