New open space purchase is eyed
WOODBRIDGE - - A Special Town Meeting, adjourned from it's original June 13th gathering, again failed to achieve a quorum of 100, falling short of the requirement by 47 voters. Consequently, the questions before the Meeting were decided instead by the Board of Selectmen immediately after the Special Town Meeting adjourned.
With one member absent, the BOS voted unanimously to approve the allocation of an additional $2 million to the Open Space Acquisition Reserve Fund. Of this amount, $1 million could be bonded by the town, once a purchase is negotiated and approved by voters. The rest is expected to be raised from private donation and grant money from the state.
While there was no official commitment on what property this new reserve money is meant to purchase, First Selectmen Amey Marrella acknowledged to the Special Town Meeting that the town had received a letter of intent from the Regional Water Authority to sell a tract known as the Racebrook property, back in March of 2000. But Board of Finance Chairman Matt Giglietti stressed to the Meeting that "no specific piece of property was being identified" in the resolution as presented.
Any expenditure of funds from the Open Space Acquisition Reserve would first be presented to the voters of Woodbridge and must be approved, after specific details of the proposed purchase are disclosed. In November 2000 the town applied for a state matching grant to help purchase the Racebrook property and is currently awaiting the results of this request.
The Racebrook parcel consists of some 181 acres of undeveloped land beginning off Racebrook Road near the Orange border and stretching nearly to Johnson Road, ending at the cul-de-sac of Clear View Drive. It is abutted by an additional RWA parcel which is also slated for open space acquisition by the town of Orange
It was reported to the Meeting that the total cost of the Racebrook property in Woodbridge would be approximately $3.1 million and would most likely be purchased in three phases over a seven year period. Phase one would consist of about 60 acres at a cost of roughly $1.26 million The phase two purchase of an additional 60 acres would be completed five years later, and Phase 3 for the remaining 60 acres would close the deal two years after that.
In a brief presentation, town officials projected that the cost of bonds for this new open space reserve funding would result in a .2 mil increase in taxes. If this cost was applied to the average value of a house in Woodbridge — which was given as $320,000 — the average taxpayer would see a tax increase of $44 per year to cover this new bonding.
Public comment included several questions from Michael Luther who inquired about the timing of this resolution coming so soon after the May 21st Annual Town Meeting, and expressed concern that "coupled with this year's reappraisal of property and tax mil increase, any further funding of open space right now would be an additional burden for taxpayers."
In reply, Marrella described how this open space funding had been included by the previous administration in the five-year Capital Improvement Plan presented with the town budget, and was published in the back of the booklet for the Annual Town Meeting.
Also, in response to a question about long-range planning, Marrella expressed her desire to hold "a public forum, perhaps as early as September, to inform the public of the long-range needs of the town" and to get input from townspeople as these spending goals are set.
Cecilia Moffitt, former member of the town Conservation Commission, spoke to the issue of the timing of open space acquisition. She described how the state had in recent years approved the sale of Class Two and Class Three watershed land owned by various water companies. She said that subsequently a "huge increase in available land" occurred as water companies began to divest themselves of these holdings. Moffitt also linked this development to the increase in state grantmaking for open space purchase and noted that this was the source of a significant portion of the Elderslie funding.
At a February 8, 2000 Special Town Meeting, citizens of Woodbridge voted to purchase the 200 acre Wallace/Elderslie property for $4.422 mn, of which $3.3 mn was ultimately bonded by the town that August. The remainder was raised through donations and grants.
Former First Selectman Roger Harrison, speaking as a private citizen to the Special Town Meeting, said the Elderslie property "had been approved for subdivision into up to 90 separate building lots before the town stepped in" to take it off the market by acquiring it as open space.
In response to another question from the audience, Charles Goetsch, former member of the board of selectmen, informed the Meeting that the Racebrook property, though containing some wetlands, "has the potential to be subdivided into approximately 65-70 building lots according to multiple appraisals."