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Council, Selectmen Discuss Property Disposal Process



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With two controversial issues potentially impacted by the town’s process for disposal of property, the sale of 6 Commerce Road and the discontinuance of Reservoir Road on 20-60 Castle Hill Road, both the Legislative Council and the Board of Selectmen had extensive discussions around the issue at recent meetings.

Additionally, a public hearing set to be before the Borough of Newtown’s Zoning Commission on May 22 regarding 20-60 Castle Hill Road was canceled at developer George Trudell’s request.

At the council meeting on May 15, Newtown Conservation Coalition head Dave Ackert spoke during public participation, noting that Chapter 8-10 of the Town Charter, concerning the disposal of town-owned property, was worded in a confusing manner and should be clarified.

First Selectman Jeff Capeci agreed, saying that the “charter needs to be reworked to be clear” and that there was “a lot of room for interpretation in the way” the section was written.

Councilman Heather Dean asked if there was a plan to change the charter to make it clearer, and Capeci noted that the council itself, as the town’s legislative body, was in charge of deciding if and when to revise the charter. The charter is usually reviewed every five years.

Council Chairman Keith Alexander explained that the council had been keeping its distance from the issue of 6 Commerce Road as there was currently no sale or anything else before the council concerning the property.

“That’s why this board has not felt it has anything to do [concerning 6 Commerce Road],” said Alexander.

Council Vice-Chairman Jordana Bloom said that while 6 Commerce isn’t before the council, there were a lot of questions surrounding it, which she found “concerning.”

“We need more information,” said Bloom.

Capeci said he would continue research into both 6 Commerce Road and the discontinuance of Reservoir Road and put together a report for the council’s next meeting on June 5.

“You guys [the council] are our representatives; if people see you have questions, you should be armed with answers,” said Capeci.

Concerning the discontinuance of Reservoir Road, Capeci said he was in communication with Ackert. While the town does not discontinue roads frequently, he said his office would make sure the process was done correctly, and “if not, find out what the remedy is.”

At the May 20 Board of Selectmen meeting, Capeci told his fellow selectmen that “Chapter 8 speaks of a lot of things that need to be done,” but if the “steps need to be done in order is in question.”

Capeci said he spoke with Town Attorney Jason Buchsbaum, who recommended the council form another Charter Revision Commission (CRC) to take a look at Chapter 8, and Capeci said he agreed with that assessment.

Selectman Michelle Embree Ku said the issues have made her “think a lot about the process.”

“It’s important to know the process and for the public to know the process so we’re all on the same page,” said Embree Ku.

Embree Ku said there is “a lot to be done before a property goes on the market” and she said it has to go through the council and selectmen multiple times.

“It’s a long, onerous process but it allows the public opportunities to weigh in at several points,” said Embree Ku.

Capeci said he was part of the CRC that revised chapter 8 and that the “language seemed like a good idea at the time,” as there were two land use attorneys and several town residents on that commission in 2015.

Selectman Dan Cruson said that one question that was still not able to be answered is where to go concerning Reservoir Road, which is “still in the process of being researched and discussed.”

Capeci noted that the borough zoning commission meeting concerning 20-60 Castle Hill Road and Reservoir Road was canceled due to questions around the discontinuation of Reservoir Road.

Reservoir Road was voted to be discontinued in September 2023 by the previous Board of Selectmen. However, Ackert had sent a letter to the town noting that a state statute concerning signs warning about a potential discontinuance being placed at the entrances to a road to be discontinued did not appear to be followed.

“The town attorney is working on a remedy,” said Capeci. “I’m guessing we’ll have to go through the process [of discontinuing the road] again.”

Embree Ku noted that in some cases the Town Charter overrides state statute but most of the time state statute takes precedence.

Capeci also said the town attorney was looking into whether a land transaction had taken place concerning the road discontinuance. He believed the fact that the town would receive the road as an easement for a trail meant it was not a property transfer.

Embree Ku said another question is concerning the state’s requirement that 6 Commerce Road be used for economic development, and whether that requirement could be removed.

Cruson said that if the town does not develop 6 Commerce at all, there is no time frame for when the state could decide the town has not met requirements and “in theory” the state could claw back 6 Commerce Road “at any time.” However, he did not believe such a development was likely. He also said that the requirement was “widely vague.”

“There are a lot of potential uses that could fall under the umbrella of economic development, which is both good and bad,” said Cruson, who noted that ball fields could be economic development since they bring people to town.

During public participation, Terry Hennessey said that the town should work with the state to leave 6 Commerce as open space.

“Why should we be forced, so to speak, to develop the land if the constituents do not want it developed?” asked Hennessey.

Capeci told Hennessey that the town would “research all options.”

Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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