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Land Use Official Explains The Value Of Open Space To The Council



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Land Use Official Explains The Value Of Open Space

To The Council

By Kendra Bobowick

Picture a winter scene: it is six degrees out, and you don’t hear a sound because snow is falling. Maybe you eventually hear a frigid stream trickling in the distance.

After painting the wintry picture, Deputy Director of Land Use Rob Sibley told the Legislative Council Wednesday evening, October 3, “That’s what happens when you preserve open space.”

Giving a presentation of what he called “Open Space 101,” which encompasses the history, current inventory and uses, and future planning for preserving open space, he said, “Open space is quirky and means many things to many people.”

Going through a list of categories including natural resource protection areas, spaces that shape community character and design, historic or archaeological sites, outdoor recreation, resource management, and protection of public health and safety, he said, “Each one of us feels that one of these categories may mean more than the others, and that’s the special character of open space.”

He addressed acquisition, land management, zoning regulations, future planning and its economics, and the very integral way that the town’s geographic information technology, which electronically identifies and provides histories and details of parcels, helps the various town departments best manage its property.

Newtown currently has 350 or more parcels of open space containing more than 1,900 acres of land.

He detailed for the council the means of land acquisition, its process and the bodies involved, means of preservation, and goals and strategies. Twenty-one percent of Newtown-owned land is open space, while 33 percent of Newtown land overall is open space. Land trusts such as the Newtown Forest Association and state property such as the Upper and Lower Paugussett Forest also contribute to open spaces.

What has open space meant for the town? He said, “It’s a natural resource providing habitat and clean water, natural beauty, these things rely on care of open space. That’s the essence of what it is.

What is the town saying to the public? He said, “This is land set aside for you. This is what we have worked to preserve…” The public can learn where parcels are in their neighborhoods, and how to access those parcels for passive recreation, he said. “It’s important that we make open space available.”

Regarding the town’s open space history, he nods to the Plan of Conservation and Development, which “forces towns to look at natural resources so that zoning was not the sole tool.” He said, “Many groups have come and gone and added to the story [of open space] that we continue to write.”

Mr Sibley stressed, “We have to focus on gems that the town won’t have another opportunity to preserve.”

Although a specific identification process exists for securing land, Mr Sibley said his process quite often starts with an informal phone call. “Usually someone says, ‘I inherited six acres, and I want to donate it.’ Or ‘I own a half acre and don’t want to pay the taxes.’” The town then takes steps to begin to locate and qualify the land to determine if it is suitable as open space, Mr Sibley said.

Ultimately, the land use deputy director made an appeal for funding, asking that officials “please continue to support programs that enhance our greenways.”

Although few council members posed any questions Wednesday, Mitch Bolinsky observed, “I admire your passion.”

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