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Town Rejects Option On Fulton Parcel, 'Viewshed' Protections Stand



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Newtown taxpayers will not become stewards of an antique air strip complete with a small air control tower platform, nor will they become de facto landlords over several residential homes on a key Hattertown 17.7-acre parcel already partly owned by the community and reserved as open space.

A conservation easement will stay in place on the entire parcel, however, continuing to block large-scale residential or commercial development in the area bordered by Orchard Hill and Platts Hill Roads, preserving what land use officials call a key local “viewshed.”

On November 17, the Board of Selectmen — with the concurrence of the Legislative Council about a week later — voted to reject an option to purchase most of the remaining Fulton estate. With its sweeping views, the parcel has environmental and historical significance — the workshop, air strip, and home of 20th Century adventurer and inventor Robert Fulton, Jr (1909–2004), remain viable features.

In the fall of 2005, Newtown secured development rights, and obtained a conservation easement on the land with $1.3 million earmarked for such purposes.

As a condition of subdividing the property, the Fultons were required to donate a portion of the property, which had long been used by neighbors for hiking and passive recreation, to the town as open space.

By combining the open space with the parcel under development rights, the town restricts any further development on almost 30 acres in perpetuity, explained Assistant Land Use Director Rob Sibley.

The late and senior Mr Fulton maintained a modest workshop on the property where he worked on numerous projects and inventions including the Airphibian, a multipurpose vehicle that could serve as an aircraft, automobile, and boat.

The local inventor is also credited with developing the Skyhook, a long-range air-sea rescue system that saved countless lives of servicemen from World War II to the Gulf War.

According to Town Attorney David Grogins reporting to the selectmen, the town recently received a letter from an attorney representing a party or parties interested in buying the parcel encompassing the conservation easement.

Mr Sibley told The Bee following the council’s final action November 19, that the easement is intact and will continue to block any further development of the open space.

“When the town acquired that segment of open space in 2005, and purchased development rights on most of the remaining land, it effectively eliminated the subdividing of the original 13-lot subdivision being planned for the location,” Mr Sibley said.

“Now there is only enough subdividable land for the family to construct up to two new residential homes, in addition to the four separate family residences that existed on the property when the town did the deal in 2005,” he added.

Mr Sibley said the development rights component of the 2005 open space preservation initiative was an afterthought.

“The original seller decided to offer it when the town was unable to financially underwrite the entire purchase, to help preserve the area as a viewshed,” Mr Sibley said. “The airport, workshop, and some other outbuildings, as well as the parcel itself, still have some historical significance.”

Mr Sibley and Selectman James Gaston, Sr, echoed that obtaining the balance of the parcel, versus rejecting the right-of-first-refusal option, would put Newtown in the unenviable position of landlord over whomever was occupying the existing homes, and it would create a deactivation of the land as a FAA registered airfield.

“It also would not be consistent with the town’s goals or guidelines for acquiring open space,” Mr Sibley said. “The town is not going to become air traffic controllers, or a landlord.”

Newtown inventor and adventurer Robert Fulton, Jr (below), is pictured in his workshop, one of several buildings on his family estate atop one of Hattertown's highest ridges. The property will remain blocked from further development under an existing conservation easement, although Newtown relinquished its right of first refusal to buy the remaining, preserved parcel in recent weeks.
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