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During its regular meeting June 4, the Board of Selectmen unanimously endorsed spending $100,000 from a town open space fund to purchase a development easement at Cherry Grove Farm.
The easement and its related expenses, according to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, is consistent with guidelines set forth in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), and is being done in partnership with the Newtown Forest Association (NFA), which raised the balance of the funds needed to acquire 29.2 acres of the former Mayer family property.
“We really checked all of the boxes on this one,” Mr Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee following the meeting.
“We knew there was a public interest in preserving this property from residential development, and that was evidenced in the significant amount of public contributions that the NFA raised. It really proved there was great public interest in protecting that parcel as public land,” he said.
Mr Rosenthal said the town was not in a position to “write a big check” to make the entire purchase outright, and was glad that the NFA rescinded an early miscommunication that indicated the town might be able to step in to cover the entire acquisition cost.
“If that were true, I was concerned it would have a chilling effect on donors,” the first selectman said. “And in the end, it was the NFA and all those donors who did the heavy lifting to close on the parcel. Now the town’s interests are protected with this full easement.”
Mr Rosenthal said had the town been left with the entire burden of purchasing the property, the price tag would have been “multiples more than the $100,000 invested, and in return for that $100,000, the town has full protection via the easement.”
“The NFA purchased the land, and technically could sell it at some point down the road. But as long as the town holds the easement, it cannot be developed,” Mr Rosenthal said. “And that easement has long-term value to the town and its taxpayers, not that we would ever sell it.”
The first selectman said he believes obtaining conservation easements is the “easiest way to preserve land on behalf of our taxpayers and for the benefit of future generations.”
He said now that the NFA has taken ownership of the deed, its members are working with a developer who owns the rest of the Mayer property at Cherry Grove farm to create a trail network.
“No part of that land can ever be sold for homes — not even a building lot,” Mr Rosenthal said. “My hats off to the NFA for intervening early on when this property went on the market. They recognized the value of preserving as much of the farm as possible, and I’m happy the town could assist in that accomplishment.”
He said one ten-acre cut off the original full parcel off Beaver Dam Road could be used for a one family home, and another cut off Palestine Road is also big enough for one dwelling. The balance of the original farm and its picturesque barn, house, and outbuildings sits on a two-acre plot, and the first selectman said those buildings will eventually be restored.
There is additional family property across the street from the farm structures that is controlled by the Mayer family estate.
The Cherry Grove purchase represents the second local initiative to preserve long-standing and high profile farm land in recent years. The town is also working with the Paproski family to preserve a significant portion of pristine agricultural soils on their Sugar Street property.
What began as an effort to preserve a larger portion of the Castle Hill Farm, a retooled proposal the family is working on would still protect about 30 acres — coincidentally, about the same amount of property involved at Cherry Grove Farm.
Mr Rosenthal pointed out that the town’s original plan was to contribute $450,000 toward the Castle Hill preservation, and the scaled back proposal now under consideration would only require bonding $300,000.
While the $100,000 for the Cherry Grove easement came from the open space fund and not from bonding, he was pleased that Newtown will play a role in preserving upwards of 60 acres across two legacy farms for less than what was originally proposed to preserve just one of them.
The appropriation authorization now goes to the Board of Finance for review at its regular meeting on June 11.
Learn more about the Newtown Forest Association, or make a donation here.