An urgent push to preserve two Castle Hill properties recently eyed for development included The Animal Center of Newtown/Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.
"From the very beginning, this property has been a place we envisioned for the [sanctuary]," said Animal Center Vice President Harmony Verna. One of the 12/14 victims was 6-year-old Catherine Violet Hubbard, who will be remembered for her love of all animals and her constant smile.
A third-party buyer for the roughly 136 acres has changed the equation for both Ms Verna and the Newtown Forest Association (NFA), which had aligned efforts to raise funds for a counteroffer to an initial proposal for cluster housing from Newtown-based GLT Development Corporation at #20 and #60 Castle Hill Road - the former Gretsch estate. The properties were ideal, Ms Verna said.
"We always thought it would be ideal for the sanctuary," Ms Verna said. "Our goal was to renovate the house and barn and pine-lined drive to its original splendor; to create butterfly gardens and walking trails and restore the beauty of the property without infringing on nature or developing it."
Ms Verna's group had "immediately reached out" to the property owner, the Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation of Bridgeport, after learning of development plans. The Animal Center had wanted to make its interests known.
"We all worked very hard but we simply didn't have enough time to raise the necessary funds," she said, but feels "very positive" with the Diocese's decision to sell the land to Newtown resident Joseph Draper, who is intent on preserving it.
The NFA and Ms Verna's group were also joined in recent fundraising efforts by Aquarion Water Company, and Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company. The NFA Treasurer Guy Peterson said the news is "bittersweet, but at end of the day it won't be cluster housing." He said the NFA anticipates "reaching out to [Mr Draper] and formulating plans to talk with him. The most important thing is to see what his needs and wishes are, and we will respect them."
Ms Verna also "looks forward to having a dialogue with the buyer regarding future plans for the site."
Overall, she said, "This has been such a positive experience for us to see the community come together in pursuit of a common goal, to partner with groups of integrity and to feel the amazing support of so many people in town who care about preserving wildlife and natural habitats.
"From day one, the Diocese of Bridgeport has been accessible and respectful to all parties with an interest in Castle Hill and we are grateful for their cooperation and for being such an important part of the Newtown community," she said.
The Animal Center will "continue to explore Newtown land options and opportunities until we find the perfect spot to build The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary."
Ms Verna said, "We are just at the planning stage of this project but hope that within five years, we will be welcoming the first school children to the sanctuary."
Contributions can be made to The Animal Center, PO Box 475, Newtown, CT 06470, noting on the memo line the donation is for the "Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary"
Mr Peterson said that all contributions or pledges for the Castle Hill fundraising effort will be returned. In an e-mail this week he explained: "We had collected funds, commitments and signed pledges totaling close to $2 million from all partners. At this time most all have been refunded or pledges canceled."
He said, "There is about $15K still outstanding for which we have reached out to the donors."
A letter to these donors expresses thanks, although the NFA and others "were not successful."
"In 20 days we were able to secure almost two-thirds of the funds toward our goal, however, we ran out of time."
The NFA members view the buyer's expressed commitment to maintain the property's character as "a victory nonetheless."
The letter to donors also states that the NFA is "committed to stepping up in the future to help preserve certain properties and has created a Land Acquisition Sinking Fund for when such opportunities or threats occur in the future."