The Easton Board of Selectmen are looking to revive the town’s dormant Land Acquisition and Preservation Authority. Town officials say the goal is to ensure Easton has the structure and process in place to maintain the town’s rural character when private land become available for purchase.
“What we’re concerned about is a lot of the farms in Easton are owned by older people who are finishing their farming time and don’t have a great succession plan,” said First Selectman David Bindelglass.
Easton’s acquisition authority was established by a town ordinance in 2005 and met for several years until its membership lapsed and eventually stopped meeting. Chapter 105 of the current town code currently includes four sections devoted to the composition and purpose of the authority, guidelines for the acquisition of land or development rights, procedure and a Land Acquisition Fund.
Once revived, the authority will work to identify land that the town may want to acquire and preserve for public use.
“Land is a limited resource,” said Selectman Kristi Sogofsky. “An acquisition authority gives us a mechanism to evaluate and proactively manage that resource.”
The concept of an active acquisition authority is not new and many Connecticut municipalities have one, including nearby Trumbull. Glastonbury, which is located in Hartford county and home to more than 25 working farms, has acquired more than 2,000 acres of land through its Reserve for Land Acquisition and Preservation Ordinance. A combination of state and federal grants and nonprofits and private donations were used to purchase the acreage, according to the town’s website.
“This idea is not new, but it’s coming to the forefront because we have a number of farms that have the potential to not continue as farms,” said Bindelglass.
Easton’s acquisition authority will be tasked with evaluating land for potential town use and then making recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. The evaluation will be based on the land’s potential use as open space and for recreation.
If approved, the acquisition authority can then make an appropriation request to the Board of Finance. Per a town ordinance, any decision to acquire land will be put to a vote at a town meeting. If the Board of Selectmen deems it necessary, a town-wide referendum will be held to approve the acquisition.
“I believe any significant purchase or acquisition should go to the voters,” said Sogofsky.
Bindelglass concurred that purchases would in all likelihood be deferred to a referendum.
The 2005 ordinance that established the current acquisition authority also set up a Land Acquisition Fund to identify possible funding sources. A specific funding mechanism was not identified, developed or implemented, and consequently no money was put into the fund.
Moving forward, Bindelglass said one possible source for the land acquisition fund could come from increasing building, planning and zoning fees.
Sogofsky said state funding is also an option should a property be identified for acquisition, but it would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection provides municipalities with grants to acquire open space through its Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant program.
The current acquisition authority has five members and two alternates, all appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Because the authority was previously active, some members still have active terms, so the Board of Selectmen will start by looking at previous appointees to reconstitute it.
Both of the towns’ political parties will be able to put forth recommendations for nominees and individuals will be able to nominate themselves through the First Selectman’s office.