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Historic Vote On Walker Land




November 21 2006

In years to come, the vote by Simsbury residents to purchase the development rights to more than 400 acres of Ethel Walker School woodland for $13.9 million should be remembered as a turning point in the town's growth and in the movement to preserve open space.

The land not only sits on top of an aquifer that supplies drinking water to 70 percent of the town's residents, it is an important wildlife habitat and migration route, displays vernal pools and borders other protected forests.

Recognizing how critical the purchase is to sustaining Simsbury's rural character, town and school officials structured an agreement that fairly balanced the desires of open-space advocates with resident concerns about the impact on their tax bill and the school's need to replenish its endowment.

Had they not done so, the school was prepared to build a 122-house subdivision on the property.

In the close vote on Nov. 7, residents committed themselves to spending $7 million - $5 million from bonding and $2 million from reserves - toward the purchase of 330 acres. The national Trust for Public Land has pledged another $2.75 million, and the town has already received $900,000 from the state, for a total of $10.65 million. Officials have until 2012 to decide if and how they want to pay for the rest of the property.

Experts on all sides agreed that the purchase price was in line with similar open-space acquisitions throughout the state.

Voters made a very wise choice.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant