The town’s legislative body is scheduled during its regular meeting Wednesday to take up a vote on the widely discussed question of whether New Canaan should establish a standing fund to tap for the acquisition of open space.
Included on the Town Council’s Feb. 15 agenda (instead of next month’s) following the filing of a petition with 54 signatures, the “land acquisition fund” discussion had emerged during the group’s January meeting as a divisive topic among councilmen.
Members of the Town Council on Jan. 18 voiced support generally for local open space preservation—in fact, the meeting itself saw the legislative body approve a special appropriation of $267,000 to help the New Canaan Land Trust acquire the Fowler property on Silvermine Road—but urged caution in setting up a fund without first establishing an updated, comprehensive plan to guide acquisitions that had received public input. Those hesitant to move forward immediately with the fund underscored the financial impact of spending public funds on land acquisition for properties which themselves come off of the municipal tax rolls once they’re deemed open space.
Yet Councilmen Cristina A. Ross, John Engel and Kevin Moynihan urged the group to create the land acquisition fund straightaway, saying it represented a vehicle only for future open space purchases and that each such transaction would get full public vetting prior to spending taxpayer funds.
Citing a 2004 report supporting the fund’s creation and the town’s inability last summer to prevent the water company from selling to private parties an 18.7-acre wooded parcel on Indian Waters Drive, those in favor creating a fund now pushed back on the argument that large parcels of privately owned land cannot be seen as open space, because they’re not protected.
Ultimately, the Town Council last month said the land acquisition fund question needed further discussion in subcommittee.
“It is quite clear that we have a very aggressive group on the Town Council that want to get this thing through as quickly as possible,” Chairman Bill Walbert said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “But I don’t know that everyone, and especially the taxpayers, are on the same page.”
The matter was to be taken up again by the legislative body during its regular meeting on March 15, but then on Monday the Town Clerk’s office received a petition that effectively moved up that date by at least nine days.
The petition invokes a section of the Town Charter (see Section C4-7 on page 9 here) that says if 50 local electors sign a petition requesting it, the Town Council must meet within 21 days to consider whatever matter is detailed within.
It had 54 signatures and, if those who signed the petition are verified as local electors, would require the Town Council to meet no later than March 6 to vote on whether a special fund of public monies should be established “for the acquisition and preservation of dedicated open space.”
The petition also cites a state law that allows for the creation of a land acquisition fund.
At the Jan. 18 Town Council meeting, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi noted that the New Canaan Conservation Commission recently had been authorized to spend up to $10,000 to hire a consultancy that would help update the 2004 study.