Pro­posed botan­i­cal gar­den with­ers and dies

Foes ‘poi­soned’ sup­port for Mo­he­gan Park project

The Day - - REGION - By CLAIRE BES­SETTE Day Staff Writer

Nor­wich — Mem­bers of the Chelsea Gar­dens Foun­da­tion an­nounced late Mon­day it is will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate early ter­mi­na­tion of its lease for 80 acres in Mo­he­gan Park near the city’s Rose Gar­den, say­ing the well of pub­lic and pri­vate sup­port for the project “was poi­soned” by op­po­nents.

The group’s de­ci­sion, ef­fec­tively kills the project.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate,” Chelsea Gar­dens Foun­da­tion board mem­ber Robert Reed said fol­low­ing a 20-minute closed door meet­ing with the City Coun­cil fol­low­ing Mon­day’s coun­cil meet­ing. “We won the bat­tle, but we kind of lost the war.”

At­tor­ney Theodore Phillips, who is work­ing with the foun­da­tion pro bono, said he will ne­go­ti­ate with city Cor­po­ra­tion Coun­sel Michael Driscoll to ter­mi­nate the re­main­ing years of the 99-year lease the non­profit foun­da­tion se­cured with the City Coun­cil in 1993. Fol­low­ing a record­ing of the lease ter­mi­na­tion on city land records, Phillips said he would file cor­po­ra­tion dis­so­lu­tion pa­pers with the sec­re­tary of the state’s of­fice.

Phillips es­ti­mated the ter­mi­na­tion process will take about 30 days. The ter­mi­na­tion agree­ment will have to be ap­proved by the City Coun­cil.

The foun­da­tion se­cured a ground lease from the city in 1993 and has been work­ing slowly on plans to de­velop a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar botan­i­cal gar­den project that has changed in de­sign and scope over the years. In 2013, the group re­ceived plan­ning per­mit ap­provals.

In a press re­lease is­sued fol­low­ing Mon­day’s ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion, the foun­da­tion said the project has been in the works for more than two decades.

“Botan­i­cal gar­dens are projects that take a life­time to bring from con­cept to com­ple­tion. We did all stud­ies re­quired and paid as we went,” it stated.

But op­po­si­tion erupted in spring of 2015, when the foun­da­tion clear cut 6 acres of trees in an area that would have been the cen­ter of the gar­den project, with a but­ter­fly gar­den, ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter, wel­come cen­ter and walk­ways lead­ing into the re­main­ing park area.

But­ter­nut Road res­i­dent Charles Evans led the op­po­si­tion, be­rat­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion for cut­ting trees in the city-owned Mo­he­gan Park with­out the fund­ing to go for­ward with the project. The group con­tacted sup­port­ing cor­po­ra­tions and foun­da­tions, and voiced ob­jec­tions to the project. Op­po­nents filed a law­suit which a New Lon­don Su­pe­rior Court judge later dis­missed in Jan­uary 2016.

“The foun­da­tion won the 2015 law­suit brought against it by the neigh-

bors,” Phillips wrote in the press re­lease, “but the well for con­tin­ued pri­vate and cor­po­rate sup­port was poi­soned.”

Phillips said not only did cor­po­rate and other foun­da­tion sup­port dry up, but state and fed­eral fi­nances also made it un­likely to ob­tain pub­lic sec­tor grants. Op­po­nents reg­u­larly ad­dressed the City Coun­cil and urged al­der­men not to is­sue any ad­di­tional city grants for the project. Chelsea Gar­dens had re­ceived $262,949 from city sources – mostly com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment block grants, Sachem Fund and the Mo­he­gan Park Im­prove­ments and De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee — be­tween 1998 and 2011 to fund stud­ies and gar­den plans.

Phillips said the foun­da­tion has some funds ded­i­cated to memo­rial gar­dens, and will work out “al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments” with the donor fam­i­lies.

The foun­da­tion will turn over all com­pleted plans and stud­ies to the city in case some­one wishes to re­vive the project in the fu­ture.

“It’s a shame that so many good peo­ple were vil­i­fied sim­ply for try­ing to help their com­mu­nity,” Mayor Peter Nys­trom, a sup­porter of the project, said af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

SARAH GOR­DON THE DAY

A tour group hides under um­brel­las as they walk through Con­necti­cut Col­lege’s cam­pus on Mon­day in New Lon­don.

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