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Voters OK Money For Open Space



By MARK SPENCER
Courant Staff Writer

November 8 2006

SIMSBURY -- Open space advocates succeeded Tuesday in their drive to preserve land owned by the Ethel Walker School by committing $7 million in town money for the first phase of a two-part deal.

Several changes to the town charter also were approved in another ballot question.

In a close vote, residents approved spending up to $7 million - $5 million from bonding and $2 million from town reserves - which will be used to purchase 330 acres of the 420-acre parcel.

Although the fate of the land has been an issue in town for years, the current deal surfaced a few months ago, pitting residents who wanted to see it saved from development against those concerned about the cost. Opponents also decried what they called a lack of public information about the deal.

The total purchase price of the whole parcel is $13.9 million, but several other sources offered help. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation organization, pledged $2.75 million. The town also has received $900,000 in state grants, which it can use to acquire open space.

The first part of the land deal has a March 2007 closing date, at which point the town also will set aside a $1 million deposit, securing an easement on the remaining property and locking in a price of $3.1 million for the remaining acreage.

In April 2012, the town would have to choose one of several options for completing the deal or lose the $1 million deposit. The changes to the town charter included requiring notice of capital improvements projects a year before a vote and changing the terms for land use commissions from six to four years.

Contact Mark Spencer at mspencer@courant.com.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant