Preserve Ethel Walker’s Woods,0,697200.story

Preserve Ethel Walker’s Woods

September 19 2005

SIMSBURY — A report that the Keep the Woods citizens group intends to withdraw its legal challenge to the Ethel Walker School’s plans to build a large luxury-home subdivision on its wooded campus in Simsbury is encouraging.

The group’s appeal of the town conservation commission’s approval of a campus wetlands map that is needed to proceed with the project created unnecessary animosity and divisiveness. No one, not even the trustees of the school, which has kept the land in pristine condition for 90 years, wants the development.

Unfortunately, the school must seriously replenish its shrinking $10 million endowment to secure its future, and the housing proposal offers one sure way to raise the needed money.

Another solution would be if the town could purchase the development rights to the land for an amount that would satisfy the school’s long-term needs. A previous attempt to negotiate such a sale yielded an offer of $6 million, which the school said wasn’t enough.

Members of Keep the Woods say they are withdrawing the suit because they are optimistic that three-way talks among the town, the school and the Trust for Public Land will yield a new agreement for the purchase of the development rights.

Presumably, the selling price would be appreciably higher than $6 million.

If the talks break down, however, there appear to be few obstacles to the school’s developing the land for housing.

The 450-acre parcel is properly zoned for residential use. Plans call for construction of more than 120 houses on 165 acres of the property. Homes would be built on 1- and 2-acre lots and sold for about $1 million apiece.

Ideally, the need for Ethel Walker to develop and sell such a large piece of its beautiful property will be avoided through the efforts of those trying to find an alternative that will preserve the open space and keep the school solvent.

Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant

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