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Planned Castle Hill Land Sale Termed ‘Bittersweet’

Bob Eckenrode, president of the Newtown Forest Association (NFA), said Monday, March 25, that the Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation of Bridgeport’s decision to sell 136 acres off Castle Hill Road to a Newtown man is “bittersweet” for the private, nonprofit land trust.

In a statement, the diocese said that it plans to sell its acreage at #20 and #60 Castle Hill Road to Joseph Draper, a Newtown resident who intends to maintain the existing character of the properties, which formerly were known as the Gretsch estate.

The NFA had conducted a fundraising drive with other groups that wanted to buy the properties from the diocese and keep them as protected, undeveloped land.

That NFA fundraising drive had come in response to Newtown-based GLT Development Corporation’s proposal to construct up to 136 individual homes in a cluster-style development there. That project was intended to preserve more than half of the site as open space in the form of a conservation easement near Taunton Lake.

In effect, Mr Draper was a “third party,” other than GLT and NFA.

Town records list the property’s appraised value at $3.66 million. The church is taxed on one of the two parcels.

“This outcome was bittersweet,” Mr Eckenrode said, when considering that the NFA would not be able to acquire the land.

However, the NFA would seek to work with Mr Draper in terms of properly managing the acreage, Mr Eckenrode said. Mr Draper could not immediately be reached for comment. He owns a house at Taunton Lake.

The NFA president said that it is too early to know what effect Mr Draper’s acquisition of the property would have on the three other groups who had allied themselves with the NFA in terms of acquiring the property.

Those groups are Aquarion Water Company, Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company, and The Animal Center/Catherine V. Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.

Overall, Mr Draper’s planned acquisition of the property is “positive,” Mr Eckenrode said.

“The end result is that someone from Newtown wants to maintain the majority of the property in its natural state,” he said.

“We’re hopeful…We look forward to working with out neighbors,” Mr Eckenrode said. The NFA owns open space near the site.

“Mr Draper is a member of a Newtown family with a deep appreciation of the natural beauty and history of the site, and he has pledged to respect that in the future. He is a lifelong resident of Newtown and has no plans for that to change and looks forward to maintaining the integrity of the parcel,” Anne O. McCrory, the chancellor of the Diocese of Bridgeport, said in a March 22 statement. 

Ms McCrory said that in the process of preparing to sell the property, the Diocese became aware of the great interest in the parcel on the part of many of the town’s constituencies who have spoken to the historic and environmental value of the property and the need to preserve it.

“We worked very hard in the last several weeks to consider the sensitive nature of these parcels for the people of Newtown and to make a decision on a sale that could satisfy both the strong desire to preserve the nature of the property and meet our own objectives in selling the land. We feel fortunate that Mr Draper is a Newtown resident who has a strong appreciation of the land and its unique location and is in a position to purchase it,” Ms McCrory said.

The sale is likely to close within 30 days, according to the diocese.

“My family’s purpose in purchasing the site is to maintain this great property largely in its current state. We look forward to meeting with interested parties in Newtown to discuss alternative approaches to accomplish our goal of preserving this site for generations to come,” Mr Draper said in the diocese’s statement.

The diocese acquired the property in 1995 from the Gretsch estate. After initially exploring its possible use as a retreat center, the diocese had held the property unused for many years and recently decided to sell it.

In a statement posted on the NFA’s website, NFA Treasurer Guy Peterson thanked the people who supported the NFA’s drive to buy the Castle Hill Road properties.

“Time was never on our side during this endeavor. The diocese informed us that they had finally made a decision that they felt would satisfy the majority of our community,” he said.

“Collectively, our groups worked very hard, along with a large group of neighbors and volunteers, to launch a very broad-reaching grassroots awareness and fundraising campaign. The fundraising campaign was really getting a lot of traction and if we had more time, we are certain the community would have rallied behind our causes to put us in a position to tender a competitive offer,” he said.

“We could not have gotten as far as we did with the help of these dedicated volunteers and families who donated and pledged funding towards this purchase. The diocese was very cooperative and honest through the process from the start,” Mr Peterson said.

“Although we did not prevail on our initial goal to acquire and preserve the property on our own, we are pleased to see the property sold to someone who will appreciate the natural setting that is known as Castle Hill. The NFA welcomes its newest neighbor and looks forward to seeing the property restored,” he said.

More stories like this: Castle Hill, open space, NFA, Draper
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