Easement approved

WOODBRIDGE - On Jan. 12, a Special Town Meeting was held to determine if the town should purchase a conservation easement on the Hitchcock property on Center Road. Over 138 people attended. The property is of considerable interest because of its location and historic nature.

The 6.41 acre parcel at the corner of Pease and Center Roads, hosts an 1820's farmhouse surrounded by vestiges of the former farm. The future of the property has been uncertain since the death of the former owner, Helen Hitchcock. Joanne D'Angelo, town attorney, crafted a proposal to preserve the property, with contributions from the Trust for Public Land, the Woodbridge and Amity Historical Association and the Woodbridge Park Association. The result was a resolution to purchase a "conservation and historic preservation" easement for $300,000.

A "conservation" easement is arranged by a property owner through a government agency or land trust to ensure that the property will be protected from development. In exchange, the landowner, as well as all future landowners, agrees to restrictions stipulated by the other party. The agreement can be mutually beneficial. The landowner retains ownership and use of the property while protecting its original character. The other party maintains control over the existing and future character of the property.

The Hitchcock easement mandates that the land cannot be subdivided. The house, also, must retain its external characteristics with regard to style, scale and structure. Any changes that are to be undertaken by the property owner concerning these aspects must be approved by the town. D'Angelo said this allows the property "to be preserved in its open space character."

The town and the other participating organizations felt that this was an acceptable alternative to buying the land. Since the town could not purchase the land, the easement will allow for preservation of the farmhouse in its natural, rural setting. The town will put up $284,000, while the Historical Society and the Park Association will contribute the remaining $16,000.

Don Menzies, president of the Woodbridge and Amity Historical Society, supported the resolution, saying, "It has the look and feel of an old Woodbridge farm."

The Park Association was also in favor of purchasing the easement. Dave Schneider, counsel for the association, maintained that the resolution would, "preserve the historical and rural characteristics of the town."

This support was affirmed by the Conservation Commission, as well. Kathryn Gartland, president of the commission, forwarded a letter stating, "This is a rare opportunity to conserve a centrally-located property for preservation."

Not everyone was in favor of spending open space funds for this purpose. Tom Kenefick, a Woodbridge resident, expressed concerns about the financial burden on the town. "With all the town's expenses and priorities … I don't recommend it."

Mike Luther, a resident and newly appointed member of the Board of Finance, also voiced some reservations. He pointed out that the Racebrook tract phase II plan to purchase 66+ acres will come due at the end of 2006. Spending $284,000 out of the open space funds will put the remaining open space funds below $350,000.

When questioned about the legality of using open space funds, D'Angelo responded that the state statutes allowed for this expenditure. "This has been done elsewhere in the state. It is something that is being done more and more."

The resolution passed resoundingly, with 126 votes for the purchase and 12 against it. Amey Marrella, Woodbridge first selectwoman, said, "I am pleased that town residents supported the cooperative effort of the selectmen, Amity Woodbridge Historical Society and Woodbridge Park Association to protect the character of the Hitchcock Property."