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Reservoir Road, Part Of Rochambeau Trail, At Issue In Castle Hill Development



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Story Update: The May 22 Borough Zoning Commission meeting/public hearing has been canceled.

Update 2: A comment from Public Works Director Fred Hurley was removed. Hurley's words of support were referring to new trails in general, not specifically the trail at 20-60 Castle Hill Road.

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The discontinuance of a paper street, Reservoir Road, in September 2023, is being challenged by a local organization, Newtown Conservation Coalition (NCC), who says that state regulations around the discontinuance were not properly followed.

The Board of Selectmen, under former First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, voted unanimously in September 2023 to discontinue the path as a paper street. There is still a legal right of way along the corridor, however, as it provides access to an Aquarion water tower.

In a recent letter to current First Selectman Jeff Capeci, NCC head David Ackert stated that in his review of CT Gen Stat § 13a-49, it includes specific public notice and disclosure steps that were required prior to holding the September 14, 2023, meeting to discuss and vote upon the discontinuance. According to the statute, “Thirty days prior to the date of such meeting, the town shall post a sign conspicuously on both ends of such highway or private way, or land dedicated as such, or part thereof, which shall include the date, time, place and subject of such meeting…

“There is no evidence that any signs were posted as required by state statute,” Ackert stated in his letter. “Unless the town can provide such evidence, the Newtown Conservation Coalition hereby requests that you take whatever action necessary to reverse and/or find the conditional approval granted on September 14, 2023, null and void, and provide public notice as such, as well as notification to the developer as soon as possible.”

Ackert said the request is time-sensitive due to an upcoming Borough Zoning Board public hearing scheduled for May 22.

Capeci responded asking for evidence that signs were not posted, noting that the burden of proof should be on the accuser.

In an interview with The Newtown Bee this week, the first selectman said he had a number of conversations with town officials concerning the road but felt like he was “drinking from a firehose” in attempting to get ahead on an issue that started with his predecessor. Capeci said he has received hundreds of emails concerning the development and the Rochambeau Trail.

“If [Ackert] has any information that would help, that would be great,” said Capeci.

NCC’s concern about Reservoir Road centers on its status as being recognized by the state as part of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, often referred to as the Rochambeau Trail.

“What we need to preserve is the undisturbed nature of Rochambeau’s Trail, and the land around it,” said Ackert. “What makes our Reservoir Road section so special is that it and the view around it are undisturbed … one of the few places left that people could go to experience what colonial troops experienced. The folks trying to disturb all of that, and get the town to convey ownership of it to them [for free], will be quick to point out that they already plan to preserve it as a trail.”

Land Use Director Rob Sibley said that the road, like many roads in town, was established in the 1800s, and was adopted by the town in 1952. He said it hasn’t been in use “for at least 100 years,” and that it’s unimproved so it “only exists in maps.” Sibley also noted that the discontinuance of the road “only goes into effect if all approvals [from the Inland Wetlands Commission, Borough Zoning Commission, and the Planning & Zoning Commission] are obtained.”

Developer George Trudell sought discontinuance of the road so that he could develop homes only in the single area he is looking to develop. The plans for 20-60 Castle Hill Road call for 112 homes on 40 acres of the 136 acre property, with the 85 acres closest to Taunton Lake remaining untouched.

Trudell said the land held in a conservation easement would have an easement for public access, allowing people to walk a trail along Reservoir Road’s corridor. The town would also maintain a utility easement on the former road, and that the “bike and trail folks would be looking to build a loop” trail for bikers and hikers.

In a May 15 interview with The Newtown Bee, Trudell said that he informed the Town in writing of his request for discontinuance of the unimproved section of Reservoir Road. It was, he said, placed on an agenda and approved.

Trudell also said that while the road is discontinued, it is on the portion of the property that will remain undeveloped. The developed 40 acres are well away from Reservoir Road.

“Reservoir Road and the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route will be preserved as is in perpetuity; it will not be developed or touched,” said Trudell. “There will be a public easement for pedestrian and bicycle use, but not motorized vehicles.”

Trudell noted the right of way will remain for Aquarion to access a water tower that is accessed through a gravel driveway, but said the water tower is currently unused. The town also has the right to maintain it and use it for utility access.

“What’s important there is we are not touching Reservoir Road, nor will there be any construction near it,” said Trudell.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route

According to Wikivoyage.org, The Washington–Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is a 680-mile National Historic Trail that describes a Continental Army campaign during the American War of Independence. It was designated in 2009, and has interpretative literature, signs and exhibits that describe France’s role in the war.

The route passes by many sites of early United States history, and connects to routes such as the Underground Railroad, Plymouth to Hampton Roads, St Augustine to Hampton Roads, and American Industry Tour. It travels through Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

The trail begins in Newport, R.I. The northernmost end of the trail is in Boston, where Rochambeau’s troops left the United States on Christmas 1782.

The southern end of the trail is in Yorktown, Va.

The Bee reached out to Congressman John Larson, who was instrumental in getting the Connecticut section of the route listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but was unable to reach either him or his representatives.

Dr Sarah Sportman, Office of State Archaeology, wrote in a letter to the Town: “In addition to its sensitivity for Native American sites, the property includes much of Reservoir Road, a portion of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the 1781-82 march route taken by French Expeditionary troops under Rochambeau, as they crossed Connecticut to meet Washington’s troops in New York, before heading south to the battle of Yorktown. The National Register nomination form states, ‘The segment of the French army’s march route represented by the northern portion of Reservoir Road is significant because it retains the undeveloped qualities that allow one to imagine the route as the French passed over it.’

“In this case, the significance is not only part of the march route, but also that it retains the general character of the 18th-century landscape. Significant changes to the landscape in this area may constitute an adverse effect to this resource. Additionally, the eastern part of the property contains a documented historic-period archaeological site, state site number 097-073. This site includes a rich, stratified midden deposit containing domestic artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries. The presence of this site along Castle Hill Road suggests the potential for the archaeological remains of an 18th-century house nearby.

“Given the presence of significant, documented historical and archaeological resources within the property planned for development, the Office of State Archaeology strongly recommends that an archaeological reconnaissance survey be completed in areas of proposed development prior to any ground disturbing activities on the property. The survey should be conducted in accordance with State Historic Preservation Office standards summarized in the state’s Environmental Review Primer for Connecticut Archaeological Resources. This survey would consist of an historical and environmental background review of the property to better document its past use and soil conditions, a visual inspection of the property to assess the potential for intact soils and archaeological deposits, and the excavation of archaeological shovel test pits to establish the presence or absence of archaeological remains within the project area. If artifacts or cultural features suggesting the potential presence of a significant archaeological resource are encountered, additional testing may be required to establish the site’s limits and National Register eligibility.”

In a recent press release, NCC wrote, “Newtown’s historical significance goes beyond the role it played during thousands of years of Native American, Colonial and American history. According to the Connecticut State Archeologist, Newtown’s historical sites are some of the only remaining undisturbed sites, including our section of Rochambeau’s Trail known as Reservoir Road. Reservoir Road runs across Castle Hill in Newtown and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its historical significance and because it is a rare historical treasure where people can still go to experience and see what the colonial soldiers experienced and saw on their way to meet General Washington in Virginia to help win the Revolution.

“Castle Hill is home to other historically significant sites and artifacts as well. According to archaeologists and historians, there are multiple locations on Castle Hill where evidence of and artifacts from various indigenous settlements over the centuries have been found, and there are likely many more that have yet to be discovered. In the early colonial period, the area was part of Paugussett territory. Some discoveries there date back several thousand years. It’s not clear what those people called themselves, but they were likely the ancestors of later groups.

“The nation will soon celebrate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. Instead of planning for this important celebration and for ways to honor Newtown’s significant role in it, residents instead must work to protect historically significant parts of Castle Hill from being irreparably disturbed, and to protect our preserved section of Rochambeau’s Trail from being ‘discontinued’ by the actions of its former Board of Selectmen, who recently agreed to hand it over to a private developer for his financial gain.”

NCC is looking to ensure Reservoir Road is not conveyed to the owner of 20-60 Castle Hill Road, discontinued, removed from any map, or approved for any activities that would disturb it or the undeveloped sight lines from it, out to 250 feet.

The press release further states that “Any planned development, ground disturbance or building activity needs to be reviewed by appropriate historical and archaeological experts, for their recommendation on how to proceed and preserve.”


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

An unfinished section of Reservoir Road, which the Board of Selectmen discontinued as a paper street in September 2023, has significance to eras of American and local history. The road and pathway are among the concerns of residents who do not want to see the area developed. The next public hearing concerning the property will be conducted by the Borough Zoning Commission on Wednesday, May 22. —Bee Photo, Taylor
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1 comment
  1. tomj says:

    I think that it is a shame that the NIMBY Coalition is preventing the town from reverting this paper road back to its original owner. If, by some magic of beurocratic shamemanship the NCC is successful I think the Town should pave the road. Some of it is already a gravel road, paving this section of road would allow residents to avoid traffic at the flag pole by cutting through the newly paved “Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau Road”. Ok, we have to work on the name of the road. Just think of the traffic freed from having to go through West Street or around to Taunton Hill.

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