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$500,000 For Land Trust

Donation To Help Buy 400 Acres

By DIANE STRUZZI
Courant Staff Writer

October 5 2006

SIMSBURY -- A national nonprofit conservation organization working to preserve more than 400 acres owned by the Ethel Walker School said a town couple has donated $500,000 toward the effort.

The Trust for Public Land announced Wednesday that it was told about the pledge a couple weeks ago. The couple wishes to remain anonymous, said Melissa Spear, project manager at the trust.

"We're very excited," Spear said. "We are well on our way, but we have a long way to go."

The trust, which is working with the town and the school to preserve the land, has committed to raising about $2.75 million toward the acquisition. Spear estimated that pledges have reached about $850,000. The goal, she said, is to raise all of the money by January.

The trust's announcement comes on the heels of a unanimous vote of the school's board of directors last weekend to support the proposal the town passed this past summer, which would allow Simsbury to acquire the property and finance it over several years.

The total price of the acreage is $13.85 million, but the trust's commitment to raise $2.75 would help defray that cost. The town proposes to pay the remaining $11.1 million, appropriating $7 million for 360 acres of land. At the March 2007 closing date, the town would set aside $1 million from its reserves as a deposit on the remaining acreage. 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. If the town decided to purchase the land, town officials would have to approve the $3.1 million appropriation at that time.

The proposal consists of two questions that residents will decide: The first question will be discussed at a special meeting Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Simsbury High School auditorium, but will not be voted on until Nov. 7. It calls for a $7 million appropriation - $5 million from bonds and $2 million from the town's reserves - to purchase about 360 acres.

The second question calls for the town to set aside $1 million from its reserves on the March 2007 closing date for the remaining land. The public will vote at the October meeting on whether to set aside that funding.

Contact Diane Struzzi at dstruzzi@courant.com.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant