The Board of Selectmen approved the minutes of our Oct. 1 meeting and approved a number of tax refunds as recommended by the tax collector.
Farmland Development Rights
The board was brought up to date on a project to purchase the development rights to the farmland owned by Joan and David Barney known as Lakeview Orchards. The land consists of approximately 38 acres. The purchasers are the Connecticut Farmland Trust (CFT) and the state of Connecticut Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The state will obtain funding for 75% of the purchase price through the federal Department of Agriculture and CFT and the town of Easton will contribute 25% of the funding. The total purchase price is approximately $545,000. The town will fund its share using the agricultural preservation fund created in the 1980s according to Dori Wollen, the chair of the Conservation Commission, which administers this fund.
The fund has approximately $70,000 in it, all from donated monies. This will be the first time the fund has been used. By purchasing the development rights to the farmland, it will be preserved in perpetuity. Since no tax dollars are being used for the purchase, no town meeting approval is required. Nevertheless, the town’s Agriculture Commission, the Conservation Commission and the Board of Finance have, or will need to give their approval.Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force
Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force
The board discussed the desire to modify the charge of the newly formed Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. The board decided to let the new body assess the current charge and make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen for any changes. There is some concern that the charge is too limited in that it only applies to race, and the current membership of the task force may not represent its goals. The board members pointed out that it will not be possible to have the membership be so large that all possible groups are represented. Also, public participation during their meetings as well as the relatively short terms of each seat on the task force will ensure broad representation and a wide range of viewpoints.
Community Connectivity Grant
Most of the meeting was taken up with public comment and discussion of the application for the Community Connectivity Grant to fund an upgrade of the intersection of Center and Westport Roads where the Post Office, Greiser’s Market, Greiser’s Gas Station, the Congregational Church and some private residential property come together. Through the efforts of the town’s land use director, Justin Giorlando, there is an opportunity to receive a state grant to fund the cost of the upgrades with the town contributing only the cost of the design and the purchase of any necessary rights of way. The total construction cost is estimated to be $140,000. The total cost of the design is estimated to be $40,000. No purchase of rights of ways is anticipated.
The question for the Board of Selectmen is whether to apply for the grant at this time. The grant application is due on Oct. 16, so time is of the essence. On Oct. 5, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the Board of Selectmen authorize the application and found the project would be consistent with the Town Plan of Conservation and Development of 2018, and would fill a great need for safety and accessibility to this area of town.
Giorlando presented the results of an online survey conducted to gauge concerns about this intersection. Seventy people responded to the survey with 80% of the respondents agreeing that safety improvements to this intersection are desirable. Giorlando described the project to the board. It will involve a narrowing of the roadway to slow down turning traffic, construction of three small sidewalks, removal of one sidewalk, installation of handicapped curb ramps, safety striping of two crosswalks, restriping of road lanes, installation of two catch basins, a new driveway apron to the church, and new signage. Giorlando described the project as a facelift for the intersection which will make it safer for pedestrians and vehicular traffic.
Giorlando explained that by applying for the grant, the town is not obligated to undertake the work. The design can continue to be refined. The design work will take a bit more than one year and the construction itself will take about three months. The basic view of the intersection will not change as there will be no intrusion into undeveloped areas around the intersection.
An alternate suggestion to install a traffic light will not, by itself, address the safety issues and could increase safety concerns as there would be no slowing of traffic at green lights. Presently, traffic is slowed by the four-way stop signs. Further, a traffic light may cost more, the traffic volume does not justify a light, nor do other typical indicators exist to warrant a traffic light.
Nine members of the public offered their concerns about moving forward with the project. These included a desire for a smaller scale project, objections to tax dollars being used for a project that they feel primarily benefits one private business, concerns that this sets a precedent for other major intersections in town, that liability to the town may increase, there is a risk to the watershed, this could be a slippery slope to Easton becoming like Monroe, there should be an actual traffic and safety study, that a survey using Survey Monkey is not scientific or valid, that the time the survey was conducted was too short and rushed, more thought about the design is needed, it won’t help much on the issue of exiting the parking area in front of the Post Office and Greiser’s, there are too many loose ends, we don’t know the church’s position on the project, Dick Greiser apparently does not want to participate in the project, and we should not move or disturb the bill post which is an antique, colonial-era means of publishing notices about town activities and is part of Easton’s heritage.
Speakers also wondered if the surrounding properties could share in the cost since they will be the primary beneficiaries, pointed out that parking might be expanded on the south side of the Post Office-Greiser’s-Gas Station site, say this will allow Greiser’s to intensify the use of the property and this is a bad idea, argued there should be attention paid to improving the blind spot while turning westbound on to Center Road from the southbound lane of Westport Road, wondering what the Board of Finance’s position is on this issue, and could a survey be conducted at the polls on Nov. 3 — not as a ballot question but as a survey done as voters enter or exit the polls.
Most of the speakers expressed great appreciation and thanks to Giorlando for identifying and presenting this opportunity to the town and for all of his hard work in preparing the application. We all appreciate his ability to locate such resources to improve the town at a much lower cost than if the town had to undertake such a project all on its own.
It was pointed out that the application process necessarily means the project design is incomplete. This will be fleshed out as the process moves ahead. Any benefit to the people of Easton as a whole seems much greater than the benefit to any one entity. The first selectman will work with Planning and Zoning and Giorlando to make sure that their Zoom meeting and the maps, survey and plans for the project are available on the town website for easy public viewing. The changes at Greiser’s Market are a positive thing and create much needed and desired opportunities for communal gathering. This is a great way for the town to spend a little and receive a lot in return.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to authorize the first selectman to apply for the grant on behalf of the town.
First Selectman David Bindelglass updated the board on Covid-19. The Easton schools have completed two weeks of full-time in-person learning without incident. Infection numbers throughout the state are increasing which is cause for concern but they continue to be fairly low in Easton. There have been no changes to how the town is operating since the board’s last meeting.
The First Selectman also indicated that clearing of trees from nearby power lines has begun to move forward once again after a three-year stoppage.
Final Public Comment
During final public comment, three speakers expressed their appreciation to the first selectman and to the entire board for encouraging comment and discussion with members of the public on matters before the board. One speaker reminded everyone that next week is the state’s public hearing regarding the utility companies’ performance during the storm. This speaker also asked if the town has resolved the timing and place (possibly outside) for a future town meeting.
Selectman Lessler noted that upcoming 175th-anniversary activities include a guided tour of the Gilbertown Cemetery on October 24 at 11 a.m., the rescheduled drive-in movie showing of Beetlejuice on October 30, the Bike Race is now open for registration, and — while not mentioned during the meeting — the Arts Council is accepting pictures of Easton which will be posted online with an awards recognition. This will replace their usual fall season photography show. Submissions can be made until Nov. 10. More information about these activities is available at Easton175.com.
The first selectman noted that he will continue to present to the townspeople opportunities and ideas that he believes may move the town forward as early as possible instead of later or not at all.
Selectwoman Sogofsky said, while the town has limited resources to get all meetings online, she will do what she can to make sure that all Planning and Zoning meetings are posted just like all Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance meetings are posted.
Photo at top: Selectmen Robert Lessler and Kristi Sogofsky meet Oct. 15 at Town Hall. First Selectman David Bindelglass participated virtually along with residents who watched and spoke out on Zoom.