A proposal to sell roughly 19 acres of a 29-acre town-owned parcel on South Park to the Aspetuck Land Trust will be decided by Easton voters at a May 3 town-wide referendum.
The South Park property sale was one of seven agenda items presented and discussed during a well-attended Annual Town Meeting at Samuel Staples Elementary School on Monday. The town’s annual budget, the Region 9 School District budget, and a Demolition Delay Ordinance are also on the ballot, but it was the proposed sale of the South Park property to the land trust that generated the most comments during the meeting.
Most residents spoke in favor of the sale, citing the land trust’s reputation for preserving land in Fairfield County, and being potential stewards of the Mill River on the property, a class 1 wild trout management area recognized by state environmental officials. Citizens For Easton, a local environmental group, and the Nutmeg chapter of Trout Unlimited, an organization dedicated to protecting coldwater fisheries and their watersheds, also back the sale.
Resident Rocky Sullivan, who chairs the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, spoke in favor of the sale because he does not think the town has the expertise or funds to adequately maintain and care for its open spaces.
“If we really want to protect that land, we should put it in the care of the best people suited to care for it,” Sullivan said.
Still, some expressed concerns for the roughly 10 remaining acres on the parcel if the land trust purchases the 19 acres. Some called for deed restricting the remaining acres to safeguard it from development, a measure First Selectman David Bindelglass said could be considered by the Board of Selectmen. Others spoke in favor of selling or leasing the entire parcel to the land trust.
Under a new land ordinance, the 10 acres and any town-owned or leased property must be approved by voters through a town-wide referendum vote.
June Logie, the treasurer of Citizens for Responsible Government, made a motion to table the proposed sale until the town had a plan for the entire parcel because “it was opening the door to development” on the remaining acreage. A debate about Robert’s Rules of Order and Sec. 7-7 of the state statute that governs the town’s annual town meeting ensued regarding her motion. In the end, her motion was overruled.
The 10-acre plot has been identified in the town’s draft affordable housing plan, a state mandate that requires all towns have a plan in place to address affordable housing issues. It is one of several possible strategies outlined in the plan that includes repurposing a portion of the old Samuel Staples Elementary School for housing, modifying zoning regulations to allow smaller lots for affordable units, and offering CHFA mortgages to buyers.
A public hearing on the draft affordable housing plan will be held on May 26 at 7 p.m. at Samuel Staples Elementary School. Bindelglass urged residents to attend the public hearing before the Board of Selectman approve the draft plan.
Residents also approved to bring to a machine vote the town’s annual budget of $46,721,617 for fiscal year 2022-2023, and a Demolition Delay Ordinance that would help preserve Easton’s historic structures.
Voters also approved four other agenda items that will not be brought to a machine vote: a five-year capital plan project; setting July 1, 2022 and January 1, 2023 for the 2021 Grand List bill; an amendment of the library ordinance that will allow for alternates; and an Open Space Warranty Deed for 40 Far Horizons Drive from Stefan Abelin.
The archived video recording of the meeting can be accessed at the following Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/EastonCTBOS/videos/532560025118252.