Note: The following “Supplemental Post Regarding the South Park Property” from First Selectman Bindelglass was posted to the Town Website at 4:10 p.m. on Aug. 19.
On August 25th, the Board of Selectmen will consider the next draft of the Conservation Easement for the South Park property. The writing of this has been a collaborative effort between the Selectmen, the town attorney and representatives of the petitioners. I believe an acceptable draft will emerge from that meeting to be put to a Special Town Meeting and then because of its importance, it will go to a referendum.
The May 31st, Special Town Meeting instructed the Board of Selectmen to place a conservation easement on the land. It also recognized that no acceptable easement to record existed at that time. The petition language to call the Special Town Meeting was inadequate to act upon because it was unclear on the issues of what the land could be actually used for (passive recreation, what did that mean? and whether the current tenants would be allowed to stay) and the meeting recognized that there was nothing clear enough to be actionable in the petition to vote on. When I spoke at that meeting I requested, and the town meeting voted to provide guidance so that the Selectmen could construct a comprehensive, appropriate easement. Because that step was necessary in order for there to be an acceptable easement, it would have to be written and then agreed to by a subsequent Town Meeting.
Since campaigning and being first elected in 2019, I have faced multiple questions about our town meeting process. People pointed out that they were often not representative of the opinion of the town nor functioned fairly nor efficiently. Since being elected, we have used the statutory power of the Selectmen to adjourn all questions which are the least bit controversial to a machine vote, ensuring the most democratic possible outcome. This is the ultimate goal of the Town Meeting form of government; to have issues decided by the WHOLE town and it has been well received, without question.
What happens when citizens petition for a town meeting? Unlike a town meeting called by the Selectmen there is a 21-day statutory requirement to hold the meeting. This presents difficulties for the town and the petitioners and we have seen that. Nonetheless, on the town’s part we must make it work and we have. The town had several options by statute. We could have said that because the petition really did not have a legitimate motion to vote on, we could have considered the petition not adequate to hold a meeting for, but that seemed unfair to the petitioners. We could have insisted that because of the controversial nature of the subject, that no resolution could come from the Special Town Meeting without adjournment to a machine vote, but that referendum would not have been able to decide anything, because again, the petition provided no sufficiently actionable motion. Referendum votes can only have yes and no responses. That referendum would have been a waste of time and money. Lastly, we could wait as instructed, to construct an easement and bring it back to a new Special Town Meeting. For the single most controversial issue in my tenure, I am convinced that the only fair way to decide the fate of South Park is by machine vote of the town. It is difficult for me to comprehend why that would not be the case.
What would the town be voting on? The easement could be approved by machine vote and that would settle it. There would be no further question. What would a “no” vote mean? Since the vote would have to be on the full easement document it could be taken to mean that the town was voting against the wording of the easement only, but in favor of the easement as a whole. It could also mean that the town was against the easement, choosing to explore other options or just wait to see what might be possible in the future. As a town we would have to decide what to do next including holding another Town Meeting to rewrite the easement, hopefully more favorably to its passage.
Why is it important to get the draft of the easement correct and balance that against also doing it “expeditiously” as spelled out in the Special Town Meeting vote? This easement is a legal document and needs to be precise. It will control a significant piece of property and it’s use for perpetuity. I remind you that arranging the purchase of the first 19 acres at South Park took two years. While working expeditiously, it is critical that the town do this correctly.
What concerns are there if the process of drafting the easement takes too long? Many of you have seen a development proposal for senior housing. That would have to begin with approval to sell the land to the developer, which by our land use ordinance (recently passed) requires a town vote. Any municipal development would require a significant expenditure which again would require a town vote. A municipal sewage system would require a large expenditure, and therefore, a town vote. Any development would also require plans, engineering, approvals, reviews and probably zoning variances which would at the very least require extensive studies and hearings, not to mention potential legal challenges. It is just unrealistic to believe that any of these options could happen quickly. I will not speculate as to time frame, but projects like this often take years to go from planning to construction. The town meeting to approve the easement will happen in a matter of weeks.
The fate of the South Park property has been a source of contention for 50 years. The town voted to invest $6.15 million in this property. The town has already preserved the majority of this property voting by a wide margin to do so. In determining the ultimate fate of the remaining property, I believe strongly that every person in Easton who chooses to participate should have a say. That is how a town meeting form of government is supposed to work. That is why the easement will be put to a town wide machine vote. The statutes governing town meetings are clear in their intentions to guarantee an opportunity for all to be heard.
A Special Town Meeting will be held on September 6, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. at the Easton Senior Center, 650 Morehouse Road, to discuss and approve the 2022 E-Citation Grant. The E-Citation Grant for the Easton Police Department has multiple purposes. The first purpose of this grant is to secure the necessary funding to implement the E-Ticket/Citation Program. This will enable the Officers to improve the efficiency/safety in multiple aspects of our day-to-day operations, such as time required to fill out an infraction versus handwriting one, electronic data entry being reduced to one time, with automatic transfers to the Centralized Infraction Bureau. The ultimate goal of the E-Citation program is to have all Connecticut municipalities operating on the E-Citation platform which is the direction in which the State of Connecticut is heading.
The second and the most important for the Easton Police Department is the E-Citation Grant provides the ability to fund all necessary equipment, (mobile computers, mounting brackets, E-Citation printers, hardware) and installation for the patrol vehicles. The department currently does not have mobile computers in the patrol vehicles. Without having mobile computers at the hands of officers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform the duties of law enforcement by not having the proper tools for the job. This is also creating a safety risk for the officers as currently the officer has to conduct all Motor vehicle registration, Operators License, and Criminal record checks through the Police Dispatch Center which extremely limits what information the officer is able to obtain. On June 1, 2022 the Easton Police Department was awarded the E-Citation Grant in the amount of $35,954.25 which will cover the costs of five (5) mobile computers, five (5) E-Citation printers, all mounting hardware and installation which will be purchased through Glacier Computers New Milford, CT. This grant is a 100% reimbursable grant.
Please be aware that the potential for fire spread is enhanced and increasing. The prolonged absence of wetting rains, along with moderate to severe drought conditions, have led to very dry soil moistures. Any fire that ignites will easily and rapidly spread in these conditions. That really means any outdoor activity that has a potential for starting a fire. Tossing cigarettes, fire pits, fireworks are all potential causes of fires. All burn permits will be suspended until conditions improve. Many of our neighboring towns have already had fires, putting lives and property in peril. I cannot stress this enough. Conditions are highly unusual. Be careful and let’s hope there is rain in the forecast soon.
Please join us this Saturday, August 20th for a charity ride and classic car show hosted by Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Services at Samuel Staples Elementary School from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Please see eastonems.com for further information.
A note from the Senior Center: The Senior Center is updating the Easton Town Directory. In an effort to offset the printing costs and raise funding for Seniors’ classes, we are seeking donations. Suggested donations: Benefactor ($100), Patron ($75), Supporter ($50) or Friend ($25), however, any amount is greatly appreciated. Please submit your donation to the Easton Senior Center, 650 Morehouse Road, no later than August 25th. We appreciate your generosity.
Have a good weekend,