Group May Help Town Preserve Tract
By KATIE MELONE
Courant Staff Writer
September 16 2005
A national land preservation group says its ability to assist the town
in preserving a 450-acre parcel on the Ethel Walker School campus will
hinge on whether it can raise sufficient donations.
will take at least a few weeks - and possibly longer - before the Trust
for Public Land can say whether it can enter into an agreement to help
the town buy the land, or the development rights to the land, said Tim
Northrop, the trust's state director.
Preserving the property
took on a new urgency this spring after Ethel Walker unveiled plans to
build a 120-unit subdivision of estate-style homes on the land. The
school says it looked to development after it was unable to get a fair
price to preserve the parcel, bound roughly by Bushy Hill Road,
Woodhaven Drive and Longview Drive.
"The only way you're going
to get this project done is if you combine public and private dollars,"
Northrop said. "There's only so much capacity for public dollars."
None of the parties has disclosed any dollar figures or named a price.
All Northrop will say is that the majority of the funding will have to
come from the town of Simsbury.
The possibility of development
on the property has struck a nerve in town, prompting the formation of
a citizens group to save the land, which is one of the last large
untouched parcels in town. It includes wetlands and is a wildlife
corridor. Many residents have also long hiked, biked and walked its
The town re-initiated talks with the trust over
the past weeks in response to mounting pressure to save the land and
has drafted a "memorandum of understanding" outlining an agreement that
it hopes the trust will sign. Under the agreement, the trust would
purchase the property, or the development rights, and would eventually
convey ownership or the development rights to the town. The town would
then reimburse the trust for a portion of the preservation costs.
the town's dollar share of the cost is likely to be in the millions, a
referendum would be called for, required when a project exceeds 3
percent of the town's total operating budget, or roughly $200,000 last
year. Approvals would also be required by the board of selectmen, board
of finance and the planning commission before a sale is final.
of the sensitive nature of the property, the school has made several
attempts, it says, to sell the land to the town so it could be
preserved, but has been dissatisfied with previous offers, and was
unable to strike a deal with a land preservation group.
The town has also tried to work with the trust in the past, but could
not reach an agreement.
always been interested in preservation but the key was to get fair
market value," said Susanna A. Jones, the head of school at Ethel
The development the school is considering could bring
it millions. The school has conceded that that kind of money could help
bolster an endowment that has dipped over the past decade.
looked at donations, all sorts of things but didn't get very far," said
Kyle Corkum, a consultant the school hired to look into options for
developing the land and present a rough sketch of a development to the
Corkum said the possibility still exists that the
school would develop part of the property, if the town and the trust
can't come up with a high enough price for the entire parcel.
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant