ORANGE - The taxpayers of Orange will have an opportunity to acquire 43 acres of open space later this month, but if the referendum is approved it will cost the town $4.3 million.

The land residents will vote on is the former Ewen Farm located at Lambert and Tyler City roads. A town meeting will be held on the issue 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the High Plains Community Center. A referendum will be held at High Plains from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. Jan. 31 on whether taxpayers should approve purchasing the land.

At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting an almost two hour discussion was held on the issue. While the Selectmen had previously voted unanimously to put the issue to referendum Selectman Mitch Goldblatt stated at the meeting that he has some questions concerning the referendum.

Goldblatt said he's concerned there was not a full appraisal of the property. The administration has appraised what a typical building lot would be sold for, which is about $410,000. Goldblatt said he's not disputing that the $4.3 million that taxpayers are being asked to approve is the actual appraised value of the land, but he said a full appraisal should be done to confirm that fact.

Goldblatt said he's not against acquiring the land, but believes more time is needed to answer several questions.

But First Selectman James Zeoli said that the town has been given a deadline of Jan. 31 to acquire the land from developer Gary Richetelli, vice president of Colonial Properties of Orange. Zeoli also said the selectmen voted 5 to 1 with Goldblatt casting the dissenting vote to set a referendum date. He said acquiring the land for open space has been a priority for years.

Goldblatt also said he is uneasy about taxpayers' approving the bond authorization without knowing exactly how much state aid will be on the way. Zeoli has stated that the town will likely receive some state aid for the purchase. Zeoli reiterated that he is confident that the town will receive some money, but the amount will not be known until late spring at the earliest.

Zeoli said there is no way to speed up the General Assembly and that he is working in a bipartisan manner by consulting with state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Orange, and state Rep. Themis Klardies, R-Derby.

Goldblatt also said that the town is almost finished with its audit and a significant surplus is expected. He said it might be prudent to wait until the surplus is known to see if its possible if the town can pay cash for the land instead of resorting to bonding.

Zeoli reiterated that preserving the land just makes sense because it's one of the last major parcels in the center of town and offers beautiful vistas and views.

"We need to get this done and it's time to let the people decide," Zeoli said.

Already $2 million in bonds has been set aside for an open space acquisition, and the funds could be used for the Ewen Farm acquisition.

Dr. Edmund Tucker, president of the Orange Land Trust and Chairman of the Orange Conservation Commission said the Ewen Farm has been on the priority list for purchase since 1967. He also said neither board has had the opportunity to discuss the purchase in detail yet. However Tucker believes the property is valuable in preserving.

"The proposal at this point preserves the rural views from both Lambert and Tyler City Roads. It is important certainly to the open feel driving around Orange. It is unfortunate it doesn't include the center portion. People simply have to look at it and ask themselves if it is important to them," Tucker said.

Bridget Albert contributed to this story.