EDITORIAL BY EASTON COURIER-LET VOTERS DECIDE ON SOUTH PARK

Let voters decide on South Park

EditorialWhen the New England Prayer Center’s lease/purchase option for the 29-acre South Park property expired in October, intense debate ensued over what to do with the property.

Under the terms of the lease option, South Park became the property of Easton taxpayers. The Board of Selectmen and the bipartisan South Park Action Group want sell the property to a developer who will put it to desirable and responsible use and pay taxes — or payment in lieu of taxes in the case of a nonprofit — to generate revenue and pay off the remaining $4.9 million debt.

Citizens for Easton and individual preservationists want the town to retain ownership of the site, lease the land for organic farming as is done at Samuel Staples Elementary School and continue to lease the existing house to help pay down the debt.

Six potential buyers have stepped forward, including Sacred Heart University, with a campus nearby and the need for an aquatic center that would be open for town use and athletic facilities.

Another potential developer under serious consideration is Jewish Senior Services, which wants to build housing for elderly people. Easton has no such housing, and elderly residents who no longer want to or are unable to maintain a single-family house must move out of town. The New England Prayer Center has presented a new proposal.

The town has 6,859.4 acres of open space, about 11 square miles, or just over 37% of the town, according to the 2006 Plan of Conservation and Development. That’s more than the neighboring, affluent, rural towns of Redding and Weston.

It was interesting to learn that Citizens for Easton was formed in 1972 to protect the same property that today commands center stage. South Park, as the property has come to be known, is a flat plain bounded on one side by the Mill River and on the other by the road that bears its name, according to the Citizens for Easton website.

The Board of Selectmen, as the executive branch, has the power to decide South Park’s fate. The selectmen have been holding meetings and information sessions and seeking proposals. Should they decide to sell the property, they would hold a public hearing, as required by town ordinance.

The selectmen are not required to hold a referendum on the future of South Park but would be well served to do so, even though the result would be for advisory purposes only.

The referendum could pose the question, Should Easton retain or sell the South Park property? In addition to the advisory question, the referendum could ask voters their first, second and third choice among the six proposed development projects.

Easton residents revere open space on a par with family, faith and freedom. The choice to develop South Park or leave it be will have long-term consequences. A vote cast in the privacy of the polls would give the selectmen important guidance on how to best serve the will of the taxpayers.

2015 CFE Annual Newsletter

2015 CFE Annual Newsletter

Please join us for our annual meeting on Monday, June 22 at 7:00 PM in the Easton Public Library.

Featured speaker: Douglas Thompson, Author of The Quest for the Golden Trout

WHY SELL SOUTH PARK?

The town-owned property at 22 South Park is unique. Located immediately after the “Welcome to Easton” sign at the southeastern entrance to Town, it is a magnificent pastoral field bordered on 3 sides by the Mill River, which according to the Mill River Improvement Project, is one of only nine brown trout breeding streams in Connecticut.

Currently, the town owes $4.9 million dollars on the property, which costs each household approx. $120 per year on average – approximately .7% of a $43 million annual budget. And this is for a 20 year term only, after which the property costs us nothing.

The town owns very few parcels of land, and keeping this parcel for future generations is comparatively very cheap. After all, once developed, it is gone forever. So why sell it? Certainly, the economics do not make sense.

We saved it…Don’t sell it

Almost 30 acres could be lost forever:

The Easton Board of Selectmen is considering development proposals for selling the South Park Avenue property, consisting of almost 30 acres, located at 22 South Park Avenue. They have indicated that they plan to make a decision very soon, possibly as early as their meeting on May 7th. Citizens for Easton urgently asks for your support in taking action to retain town ownership of this valuable natural asset for current and future generations by maintaining it as it presently exists for use as a town park or, as befits our agricultural heritage, with a portion leased for organic farming. If preserved, residents could enjoy the tranquil beauty of this scenic treasure in southern Easton; if developed, it would be lost forever.

How you can take action:

Attend Easton BOS Meeting Tonight, 4/16

“Discussion and possible action on the South Park Avenue property” is on the agenda for the Easton Board of Selectmen meeting tonight, 4/16. It is within the Selectmen’s powers to vote to sell the South Park Avenue property, and they are considering four development proposals. Citizens for Easton supports the Town retaining ownership of this valuable asset for current and future generations and urges you to attend tonight’s meeting, Easton Town Hall Conference Room, 7:30 (public comment at beginning of meeting) or email the Selectmen: First Selectman Adam Dunsby, adunsby@eastonct.gov; Selectman Scott Centrella, scentrella@eastonct.gov; and Selectman Robert Lessler, rlessler@eastonct.gov.

• Before being acquired by the town of Easton, the South Park Avenue property was the object of numerous and contentious development proposals over the years including assisted living and other high density uses. Now that the property is town owned, it would be unwise to lose control of it to a private entity. • No matter what promises a developer makes, there will be risk of pollution and damage to Mill River, which encircles the property. Out of over 300 streams in Connecticut, the Mill River is one of only nine Class A Wild Trout Streams left in the state. • Light pollution would increase with development of the property as well as traffic, including possible road alterations. • The existing house on the property can be leased out at a fair market value and some of the land leased for organic farming. Fair market value for the main house would probably be approximately $3,000 per month, or $36,000 a year, or 12% of what it would cost the Town to keep the property. There is also another house on the property that could provide additional income. • The cost to Easton taxpayers is already being absorbed and amounts to approximately $120 a year per household on average. • Even if the sale to a private developer is deed restricted in some fashion, the restriction could be challenged in the future. • The property creates a scenic gateway to Easton, exemplifying our town’s rural character. • The high pressure gas line on the property becomes more of a potential danger with intensified development. • Development will add to town involvement with hearings and oversight. The town is already burdened by private land development and lawsuits.

Important: Thursday, April 2 Board of Selectmen Meeting on South Park Property

The Easton Board of Selectmen meeting today, Thursday, April 2 may decide  whether or not to sell the South Park Avenue property. Please attend: Public comment is at the beginning of the meeting. The meeting is at Easton Town Hall Conference Room (225 Center Road; enter from Morehouse Road side) at 7:30.

“South Park” comprises almost 30 acres bounded on one side by the road that bears its name and on the other the Mill River, one of only nine Class A Wild Trout Streams left in the Connecticut. This land has remained essentially unchanged for many years. Before being acquired by the town of Easton, it was the object of contentious development proposals over the years including assisted living and other high density uses. Now that the property is town owned, it would be unwise to lose control of it again.

Citizens for Easton supports the Town retaining ownership of this valuable asset for current and future generations.

Why South Park Avenue Property Should Remain Open Space

History

A little over 40 years ago, Citizens for Easton was inspired by a piece of land in the lower part of town, which has remained essentially unchanged after all these years. “South Park,” as this property has come to be known, is a flat plain bounded on one side by the Mill River, and on the other, by the road that bears its name. Once a farm, now a promise. But a promise of what? “South Park” is like so many other “open spaces” in our town – wild, beautiful and waiting. South Park has been waiting for nearly half a century, and for the first time in all those years, the wait is nearly over. The New England Prayer Center’s so-called “lease/purchase option” has now ended, and under the terms of the lease option, South Park has become the property of the Easton taxpayer.

An Opportunity

We at CFE believe that the question of what should happen to South Park should be: How can South Park best serve the future of our town? Viewed from that perspective, we think South Park becomes not a burden but an opportunity. Our organization was directly inspired by South Park in 1972 when intensive commercial development was proposed for the site. A few concerned Eastonites thought such a development would set a precedent for future developments. Our concern then – as now – was based on the self-evident notion that anyone who calls a cherished place “home” should reserve the right to determine what that home should look like. We believe Easton holds a unique position in all of Fairfield County, as the steward of a water supply, and that a threat to open space in one part of our town opens a door to threats in other parts. We believe that development would not only ill-serve Easton, but threaten the Mill River and our neighbors as well. That’s what lies at the heart of CFE’s efforts to seek a fair and environmentally safe solution to the proposed “Saddle Ridge” development, too. Easton has a chance to make the right decisions about South Park, and not just what might be claimed to be the financially expedient ones. We have the luxury of time – time to think about what we want to do, and time to make a decision that will positively impact our town for generations to come.

Keep South Park as Town Property

What then is the best use of South Park? Glance at the property the next time you drive by. Once wild, then farmed, now wild again, CFE’s position is that South Park should remain true to those roots and remain town property. While ideally the entire parcel would remain forever wild, especially in the vicinity of the Mill River, leasing a portion to be used for organic farming, similar to that which exists on the Staples School property, would be in keeping with our zoning and agricultural heritage. The revenue from the farming lease would provide income for the town, in addition to the rental income derived from the house on the property. This would help ensure that Easton remains the jewel of Fairfield County – a “water” town with a vital, strong agricultural base, superb school system, and unparalleled natural resources, thanks to our current zoning regulations. We are a town that will continue to grow, but we also need to grow wisely and in accordance with our character and principles. That’s the promise of South Park and of so many other places in Easton – a promise we have to keep.