Following a closed session during its March 19 meeting, the Legislative Council reconvened in public and unanimously endorsed the acquisition of a 36.89-acre parcel off Chestnut Hill Road that will become permanently preserved for the community as open space.
While the cost of the acquisition is $255,000, the town anticipates receiving a grant from Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that will offset about 60 percent of that purchase price.
The balance of funds that would be required to complete the purchase, after the grant, are already available and bonded as part of a long-term open space program established during the administration of former First Selectman Herb Rosenthal.
That fund still contains $155,000 according to Deputy Land Use Director Rob Sibley, who has been overseeing negotiations on this parcel along with the town’s Conservation Commission since 2008.
In the event the town does not receive the DEEP grant, Mr Sibley said the balance would be covered by a $200,000 open space allocation in the current (2013-14) Capital Improvement Plan or CIP.
In the weeks leading up to the council’s action March 19, the parcel has been recommended to be acquired by the Conservation Commission, the Boards of Selectmen and Finance, as well as the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob told The Newtown Bee following the meeting that open space opportunities like the one approved Wednesday evening go a long way toward serving a large local constituency.
“For me, this is just another example of working to serve all the residents in our community,” Ms Jacob said. “Particularly folks who enjoy open space activities like horseback riding and hiking.”
Ms Jacob said that provided Newtown receives the DEEP grant, this acquisition will preserve almost 40 acres of open space at little cost to taxpayers.
“Ultimately it will help us maintain the character and quality of life we all enjoy in Newtown,” she said.
Council Vice Chair Neil Chaudhary added that every open space acquisition represents significant taxpayer savings potential because it permanently blocks those parcels from residential development, which almost always adds students and their related cost to the school district, as well as related service costs from town agencies.
“I’m a fan of open space because of those budget implications,” he said. “This parcel will provide another nice place for Newtown families to enjoy outdoor recreation.”
Mr Sibley expressed confidence that Newtown would qualify for the maximum 60 percent in matching funds from the DEEP, saying this acquisition is “a poster child” for the statewide program of reserving 21 percent of all Connecticut land as permanent, protected open space.
Mr Sibley said now that final approval to acquire the land has been provided by the council, he will complete and hand deliver the DEEP grant application to Hartford next Monday — just days before the March 31 deadline for this year’s grant program.
“This is really a grand slam all the way around,” Mr Sibley said, “and we don’t have to spend any more money than was already allocated.”
Provided the DEEP grant is forthcoming, it would still leave approximately $245,000 in the acquisition reserve for other key properties on the Conservation Commission’s radar, he added.
Mr Sibley said that the parcel links and abuts current town-owned open space, and it would create a 70-plus-acre preserve with public access from Chestnut Hill Road extension and the adjoining existing open space.
He said the parcel is already crisscrossed with trails, and there is even room to create a small parking area for visitors off Chestnut Hill Road.
The parcel has been rated and recommended by conservation commissioners with emphasis on the scenic, aesthetic, protection of water quality, and linkage to other protected lands qualities. And prior to launching the acquisition process, two appraisals were commissioned for the grant, meeting the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions standard.
Mr Sibley noted that the owner has tentatively accepted Newtown’s offer to purchase the land.