Editors’s note: The following update to First Selectman Bindelglass’s 5/13/22 Message was posted to the town website on 5/17/22.
UPDATED-5/17/22 A Message from First Selectman Bindelglass
As a follow up to my last post, I want to present some updated information regarding the petition I discussed last week. These are the facts as best as I can communicate them on short notice. Included are references to the state statutes and town ordinance.
- The Selectmen are required to warn a town meeting following the submission of a petition with 50 validated signatures (completed).
- The Selectmen are not required to warn a meeting unless the board is reasonably certain that the object of the petition is lawful, proper and not frivolous.
- The easement cannot be permanent because any action taken by a town meeting can subsequently be reversed by a future town meeting. That is a primary feature of our town meeting form of government.
- An easement would potentially reduce the value of the land significantly, so in a future sale to the Aspetuck Land Trust, the town may receive significantly less money. (final appraisal pending as arranged by the Land Trust).
- The fate of the current tenants, the New England Prayer Center, Gina and Daniel Blaze is not addressed. The petition as written makes no accommodation for their staying so petition would necessitate their eviction.
- The petition is for a Special Town Meeting to instruct the town to provide an easement. If this passes in a Town Meeting, then the easement will have to be written by the town (assumedly by the Board of Selectmen). Subsequent approval of the town will be required.
- The land use ordinance prevents any sale of this land to anyone who would develop it without a town meeting. For the town to develop, it would require funding from the town and any amount spent over $20,000 requires a town meeting as well.
Here is the exact petition: The Town of Easton shall provide a permanent conservation easement on the remaining portion of the real property owned by the Town and commonly known as 18-22 South Park Avenue. The permanent conservation easement will provide that the property remains in a natural and open condition for the conservation, open space, agriculture, green space or water supply purposes. The easement will include a requirement that the property be made available to the general public for passive recreational purposes. This permanent conservation easement will not preclude the Town from selling the property to Aspetuck Land Trust Inc. at a time when the purchase price is determined by independent appraisal and Aspetuck Land Trust has the fund to accomplish this sale.
The need to call a special town meeting is governed by state statute and local ordinance. From Easton town ordinances § 200-3 Special Town Meeting.
A Special Town Meeting may be convened for any proper purpose by the Selectmen of the Town or by a petition of 50 (50 takes precedent over 20 in state statute) inhabitants qualified to vote at such meeting submitted in accordance with Chapter 90 of the General Statutes.
From Connecticut general statutes. Chapter 90. Sec. 7-1. Annual and special town meetings. Holding of meetings outside town. (a) Except as otherwise provided by law, there shall be held in each town, annually, a town meeting for the transaction of business proper to come before such meeting, which meeting shall be designated as the annual town meeting. Special town meetings may be convened when the selectmen deem it necessary, and they shall warn a special town meeting on application of twenty inhabitants qualified to vote in town meetings, such meeting to be held within twenty-one days after receiving such application. Any town meeting may be adjourned from time to time as the interest of the town requires.
No duty on the selectman to call a meeting pursuant to a petition where object is unlawful, frivolous or improper. 16 CS 486; 19 CS 216. While the board of selectmen is required to warn a town meeting on petition of twenty (50) inhabitants qualified to vote, there is no duty to warn a meeting pursuant to such petition unless the board is reasonably certain that the object of the petition is lawful, proper, and not frivolous. 32 CS 237.
Below are the codes for the state and town statutes regarding a town meeting:
Please see the legal opinion of the town’s attorney Ira Bloom attached to the bottom of this post.
In conclusion, a conservation easement, even though it does not seem that it can be made permanent will be considered at the town meeting. The significant loss of value and potential sale price is a significant variable to consider especially if the potential gain can be reversed. Whether the easement would get reworked to allow the New England Prayer Center to stay, must be considered as the petition would indicate it was not considered by the signees. The definition of passive recreation may or may not be further clarified.
Editors’ note. The link to legal opinion can be accessed at https://www.eastonct.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif3071/f/news/attorney_-_petition.pdf
The latest Covid numbers continue to rise and are affecting our schools and businesses. Again, this is a legitimate surge with a very contagious virus, but still fortunately not causing a great deal of severe illness or hospitalizations. Nonetheless, catching Covid can be uncomfortable and disruptive. For the week ending May 7, the rate of infection is 68.4/100,000.
Any senior seeking senior tax relief must submit their application to the Tax Assessor by Monday, May 16. I want to thank Paul Lindoerfer, who singlehandedly has tracked down and talked to senior residents for the last several years, including during Covid to make sure they could get the tax relief they deserved as well as updating the relevant ordinance.
Thursday, May 19, the Tax Collector’s office will be closed to allow the staff to attend their statewide conference.
The Town Clerk received a petition signed by approximately 700 residents asking for a special town meeting to discuss placing a Conservation Easement on the remaining property at South Park Ave. Many of you signed it on your way out of the polls on May 3rd. The people who asked you to sign the petition also sent you a leaflet in the mail urging you to vote against the sale to the Land Trust. Ultimately, the town voted by a wide margin to sell approximately 18.70 acres to the Aspetuck Land Trust. The proposed easement would be on the remainder of the property. The Connecticut General Statutes mandate that if the town receives a petition signed by at least 50 verified voters, then it must convene a special town meeting within 21 days. Because of the statute there is extreme time pressure and we are required to make this decision on the easement in an accelerated fashion despite the fact that this has never been proposed before in the 14 years since the town bought the property. Some have already complained this would preclude consideration of any other types of proposals. We are in the process of scheduling the meeting. Setting the agenda for a special town meeting will be considered at the May 19 Board of Selectmen meeting. I will provide as much information on what this all means as quickly as I can. At this juncture, I cannot say that I support or oppose this petition because I have insufficient facts on which to base an opinion–which is the problem for all of us, including those who signed the petition. As you know, land preservation has been a top priority for me, and I’ve worked hard to preserve our precious natural spaces and farms in Easton. However, it took two years to hammer out the smart, bipartisan proposal to sell the first parcel of South Park. We arrived at a great solution because we had a consultative process which gave residents with differing priorities the opportunity to be heard. No one was left out of the discussion. We had the time to conduct financial and environmental studies. We had the chance to consult experts. I have also spent a number of months talking to the Land Trust and Citizens for Easton about a sale of the remaining 10 acres. I am not sure what would happen to those discussions now.
Obviously, this petition takes advantage of the town meeting statute to bypass all this important fact finding and public input by rushing us into a quick vote. I am very concerned. If we move forward so quickly. I believe that the law of unintended consequences puts us all at risk if we push sweeping proposals through without fully examining them. Will this proposal require us to immediately evict the current residents? Will this spark litigation that the town, and ultimately Easton taxpayers, have to pay for? Will this proposal even protect this land adequately? Easements can significantly lower the value of a property. Will this happen to South Park? The petition offers very few details, and I have sought legal counsel to evaluate it. I will report back with their findings, but I have only been able to give them the short paragraph which has been presented to me to evaluate. Expect to hear from me again shortly on this topic, with as much relevant information as I can give you, and please feel free to reach out.
One last point to make clear. You have come to know that I have been a strong defender of our town hall form of government. We have made it so that you, the citizens, have been able to be heard on every question of importance before the town. This has made Easton the most democratic it has ever been. People petitioning for a town meeting is part of that process, and while that should continue, I believe we have shown there are better ways. The Board of Selectmen have considered, and brought to the town several policies which originated with the public and are now ordinances, the proverbial law of the land. The land use and ethics ordinances are examples. These were carefully considered and then passed. Let that be a template for how our government should work.
Next week is EMS appreciation week. Wednesday night, Easton EMT Stephen Brunetti was honored by St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Bridgeport CT with an award for EMS week. EMT Brunetti went above and beyond this past winter. While on shift, he had received a call at our headquarters notifying him to the fact there was a 90-year-old who lives alone in the north end of town and desperately needed heating oil. His driveway was iced over and the oil truck on the scene was going to refuse delivery due to the danger of his truck sliding off the driveway and leaking the oil. EMT Brunetti exemplified who we are at Easton Volunteer EMS and took it upon himself to drive up to the scene in the ambulance. With multiple buckets of salt/sand and a snow shovel he made this driveway safe for the truck driver to get the delivery done. This was not a small driveway and took EMT Brunetti some time to ensure the gentleman would be warm going forward. We are blessed to have such wonderful folks working for our town.
Have a great weekend,