Donation of Route 7 parcel goes to town meeting
A town meeting on Dec. 8 will decide if a vacant piece of land along Route 7 will be accepted as open space. The 7.41-acre parcel is located east of the thoroughfare, and a bulk of it is behind Ridgefield Ice Cream.
The property contains approximately 5.5 acres of wetlands in its northeastern portion, and its southwestern portion is relatively flat with cleared, maintained lawn, according to an environmental report by SLR International Corporation in New Haven. Abutting properties include Ullman Devices Inc. to the south and Pamby Chrysler to the west.
During an initial public hearing earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen discussed the possibility of reserving the parcel’s frontage on Route 7 for future commercial development, with the intention of generating nonresidential tax revenue for the town.
“The location is prime and the opportunity is there,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told Hearst Connecticut Media.
The consideration retained 5.41 acres of the parcel as dedicated open space, which is land a town conserves for the sake of maintaining biodiversity, scenic beauty and a place for outdoor activities.
In an email to attorney David Speranzini, who represents several of the property’s owners, Marconi wrote, “While open space is a critical component of the makeup of our community, non-residential tax revenue is as important to the many residential taxpayers in our town, allowing for a better balance in this area, as well.”
Speranzini replied that his client wished to donate the entire parcel — including the Route 7 frontage — as open space in perpetuity. The designation, he added, may also include passive recreation features such as a ball field, playground and/or a dog park.
Marconi asked the Conservation Commission to record the donation with the allowable uses outlined by the property owners.
The commission aims to make 30 percent of the town’s overall land open space. James Coyle, the commission’s chairman, said about 26 percent of Ridgefield is currently occupied by open spaces.
“We always appreciate donations of land, particularly those that have ecological continuity,” he said. “The location of this particular property is very good with respect to other open space properties … (as) 5.5 acres are heavily wooded.”
Though a slim margin away from its open space goal, Coyle acknowledged that reaching the 30 percent threshold is “aspirational.” Last year the commission was eyeing a 30-acre parcel in Ridgebury to designate as open space, but the property owner wanted $1.3 million, Coyle said.
“We were at half that amount,” he added. “In cases like that you’d need to get the town citizens to commit resources to get a more significant chunk of land.”
For now the commission is identifying state and federal resources to fund the further purchasing of open space properties. In March, Ridgefield received a $42,000 grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to tack on additional terrain to its Bear Mountain preserve.
“Its importance is certainly emphasized on the (town’s) plan of conservation and development document,” Coyle said. “It’s ranked very high, if not number one.”
Voters will consider accepting the 7.41 acre parcel as open space during a town meeting on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m.