I found this article very interesting. I have a few questions and welcome a thoughtful discussion.
- What is the “long term plan” for the care of the forest associated with this parcel?
- What do you think about the purchase price and the fundraising needed to execute this effort?
- Are you opposed to any and all development plans that could happen?
- Is ALL development, bad development?
THE PRESERVE: Environmental groups strike deal with developers after 15 years of wrangling over 1,000 acres of coastal forest
By Ann Gamble
OLD SAYBROOK – The Trust for Public Land recently announced an agreement with River Sound Development, LLC to purchase the 1,000 acre tract of uninterrupted coastal forest known as The Preserve.
River Sound tried unsuccessfully over the past 15 years to develop the property. Plans ranged in scope from the original proposal of more than 200 homes and a golf course, to smaller “pod” developments with the carrot of town ball fields added to the mix. All proposals met with strong opposition and lawsuits from environmental groups and local residents.
“I’m delighted, and it’s about time,” abutting property owner Bob Lorenz, a local photographer, said. He still lives on the 40-acre parcel of land his parents purchased in the 1950s, and has personally filed several lawsuits over the years aimed at defeating River Sound’s plans. “I thought it was important, and it needed to be done,” he said of his personal crusade. Lorenz, who serves on the board of the Old Saybrook Land Trust, sued the developer as a property owner and not as a member of the trust.
Lorenz grew up “in a rural environment, playing in the woods, eating fresh food in season, canning and freezing everything.” He worked to preserve the land to provide future children the wild opportunities he enjoyed. “Old Saybrook has a lot of open space, but there’s also a lot of pressure to develop it,” he added.
Of the years to come, Lorenz said that while it’s a huge positive step, “there is still a lot of work to be done, details to figure out,” such as where the funds will come from and what the final ownership and use status will be.
The purchase agreement requires a $10 to $11 million fundraising effort by June, 2014. If successful, “the land will be permanently protected from future development and open to the public to enjoy for passive recreational activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing,” Kate Brown of the TPL said in a statement, announcing the agreement.
“I am truly excited that an agreement has been negotiated and will work with the TPL, and all interested parties, towards closure on this beautiful piece of property,” Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna said. “I was approached early in 2012 by reps from the TPL about their interest in attempting to negotiate a deal with the then owner,” at about the same time, River Sound approached him with a much smaller development plan than previously proposed. “Obviously, a lot of work remains. Money needs to be secured from the state and, likely, the federal government. In addition, a significant amount of private funds will have to be raised. The town’s contribution, if any, will be dictated by our bonding model. Old Saybrook residents will be asked to borrow money for a new police station, school projects and the WPCA project over the course of the next year so funds for this purchase from the town will be dependent on the cost of those other capital projects,” he added.
The majority of the Preserve’s acreage is in Old Saybrook with smaller parcels in Essex and Westbrook. The area includes 38 vernal pools and 114 acres of wetlands and more than 3,100 linear feet of watercourses. Migratory birds use the area as a stop-over, and the forest’s many vernal pools support amphibian species such as the northern dusky salamander, spotted turtles and box turtles. Bobcats and fisher cats have also been spotted on the property, along with rare plant species such as the eastern prickly pear.
State Representative from the 36th District, former Essex First Selectman and tenacious opponent to the development of the Preserve, Phil Miller, describes the land as a “wet rocky sponge,” which helps to drain surface waters on the property to important watersheds: the Oyster River, Mud River and Trout Brook and then into Long Island Sound.
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