Board Moves To Save Preservation Plan
Phased-In Spending May Beat Objections To Ethel Walker Deal
By DIANE STRUZZI
Courant Staff Writer
August 29 2006
SIMSBURY -- In a last-minute effort to revive a land deal to preserve 420 acres at the Ethel Walker School, the board of selectmen unanimously recommended spreading the funding for the acquisition over several years.
The approval Monday night was met with applause from audience members who earlier this month saw the board of finance defeat a proposal for a one-time appropriation of $11.1 million toward the acquisition.
"I think this agreement reflects a common-sense approach to the realities faced by the town and the school," said Selectman Moira Wertheimer during the meeting at Eno Memorial Hall. "A payment over time gives us the opportunity to make that happen."
But those involved in the land acquisition negotiations cautioned that this is still a preliminary step. The school's board of trustees and the finance board must also review and pass on the proposal.
Previously, the school and the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation organization, negotiated an agreement that offered to sell development rights for school property to the town for $13.85 million. The trust committed to raise about $2.75 million, leaving the town's share at about $11.1 million.
In the proposal the selectmen approved Monday night, the total price of the acreage remains $13.85 million. But the payment is structured over time and proposes the town bond $7 million for an estimated 330-acre parcel. On the March 2007 closing date, the town would set aside $1 million from its reserves as a deposit on about 91 acres of additional property.
That deposit would give the town a conservation easement on the property for the next five years and set a purchase price at $3.1 million. In April 2012, the town would have three options: It could buy all of the property for $3.1 million; it could buy half the property for $2 million and receive an additional two years to purchase the rest of the land; or it could choose not to purchase the property and lose its $1 million deposit.
The Trust for Public Land is still committed to raising about $2.75 million toward the acquisition.
Mark Asmar, a lawyer for the school, said the school's board of trustees has some questions about the new proposal. But Asmar said he believes the new proposal is workable.
Iain Sorrell, a member of the school's board of trustees who was present at the meeting, declined to comment about whether the board favors the new proposal.
Susan Masino and Diane Nash of Keep the Woods, a local grassroots organization that supports preserving the land, spoke in favor of the new proposal, saying it would protect an underlying aquifer and give the town an opportunity to take advantage of open-space grants. It also allows voters to voice their opinion on the issue, they said.
Monday night's action was the first step to get a town referendum on the issue onto the ballot in November. To have a referendum this year, the finance board would have to review the recommendation and send it back to the board of selectmen to approve the referendum language by Sept. 6.
Contact Diane Struzzi at email@example.com.
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant