Selectmen Enthusiastic about Acquisition of 72 Acres from Aquarion at Bargain, “Below Market” Price

The Board of Selectmen discussed a proposal on Thursday to purchase and preserve 72 acres of land out of 100 acres owned by Aquarion.

The 72 acres, located at at 836 Lake Ave, would be preserved in partnership with the Greenwich Land Trust.

The agreement would allow for the creation of a trail system that could include benches, bridges with no footing, boardwalks, wayfinding markers, kiosks and educational or enforcement signage.

Pat Sesto, Director of Inland Wetlands & Watercourses, gave an overview of the proposal and conservation easement at Thursday’s meeting.

Describing the proposal as a great deal, she said the land has ecological value and features Converse Pond Brook, which is associated with wetlands and wooded upland areas.

Aquarion became able to sell the property after the land was reclassified from Class I or II Land to Class III, meaning they own the land, but it is outside of the public watershed.

Public Utilities Regulatory Authority’s (PURA), has oversight of when a public utility can dispose of land, and determined Aquarion can dispose of the property.

About ten years ago the town discussed a possible deal with Aquarion, but at the time there was a large gap between what the town thought the property could support (7-10 lots) and what Aquarion thought it could support (14-16 lots). Aquarion was looking for $10 million at the time. No deal was struck.

What a difference ten years makes.

The proposed price for this deal is $2 million, which is below-market value.

Greenwich Land Trust Map.

The conservation easement would assure the protected property is retained in its natural state, and prevent any use that would impair its conservation values.

The public would be limited to passive recreational use of trails.

The land could not be divided, partitioned or subdivided. Nor could fees be charged for public use. Existing stone walls cannot be altered. No building, vehicles, camping, signs, billboards or fencing. No snowmobiles, ATVs, dirt bikes, motorcycles allowed. No changing topography or placing soils such as landfill or dredge spoils.

It will be possible to alter vegetation and topography to create on-site parking areas and access ways, and to use vehicles to manage and protect the property.

Also it will be possible to “conduct a management plan for animal species, including lethal means, when such management is prudent for public safety, habitat protection/restoration, or other conservation goals.”

Sesto said Aquarion will seek to develop 2 four-acre lots off of Cherry Valley Road, and have submitted to IWWA an application for the subdivision and are on track to go before P&Z.

“Aquarion would hold 20 acres as class I/class II land, and 8 acres for two lots, leaving 72 acres to be protected for the bargain price of $2 million.”

Pat Seto, Director of Greenwich’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency

The 100 acres was valued at $6 million.

Greenwich Land Trust would pay $1 million and the Town would pay $1 million. In the end, Land Trust would own the parcel and maintain it. The Town of Greenwich would have an overlying easement guaranteeing public access.

“I feel like this is a great opportunity for the Town. We spent $1 million for 72 acres of open space for public use and someone else maintains it,” Sesto said. “I’m feeling like that’s a great deal.”

The Greenwich Land Trust will create a management plan every 10 years that the Town would conduct a review to make sure the plan is being implemented.

“It’s a very exciting development for our Town – to add to open space and add to our hiking trails,” said First Selectman Fred Camillo.

Camillo noted that the land is in close proximity to other open space owned by the Town that are available to the general public.

“This kind of connects to the Babcock property,” he said. “To access that from this 72 acre parcel, will we be given access?”

Sesto said Aquarion is open to discussing whether to allow pedestrians to traverse their property to get from one trail system to another, but it is not part of the structured deal.

The Board of Selectmen will do a second read of the proposal on July 22.

Should they vote in favor, the next steps are for the acquisition and easement to go before the P&Z commission for MI approval.

Finally, in September it would go before the RTM.