Conservation Commission Chair Proposes Solution To Build Up ‘Land Acquisition Fund’


The southwest corner of Irwin Park, looking from the rear of the main house. Credit: Michael Dinan

The chair of the Conservation Commission this week proposed a new way for the town to help build up its reserve fund for acquiring land to preserve as open space.

The Town Council created the Land Acquisition Fund in 2017, prompted by Aquarion’s effort to subdivide and sell a 19-acre parcel at the end of Indian Waters Drive. 

Since then, the Fund has accumulated just $150,000, Conservation Commission Chair Chris Schipper told the Board of Finance during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

“We looked at 11 years of conveyance fees,” Schipper said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.

He added: “The town can charge a 25 basis point real estate sales conveyance fee through a Connecticut statute that allows it. And the intention, the legislative intention of that statute was the town would use those monies to preserve open space for future generations. To date, that’s not what has happened. A little further on the Town Council passed a resolution to create a Land Acquisition Fund. That happened in 2017. In that time, the town has only managed to accumulate $150,000 in that fund over five years, which is comparable to some small contingencies on various projects we do.”

Schipper said his own past suggestion of taking some of those 25 basis points and putting the money collected toward an open space fund was “met with some resistance.”

“So what I’m suggesting is that if you look at the experience over the past 11 years, conveyance fees averaged $1.6 million a year, with a low of around $1 million and a high just above $2.5 million,” he said. 

“What I’m going to suggest is a mechanism, fairly elegant, that says the first $1 million of conveyance fees goes to the town,” Schipper continued. “Anything above that gets split 60-40, town 60, the Land Acquisition Fund 40. And the mechanism is such that in the cyclicality—given it could go down to as low as $1 million and as high as $2.5 million—the cyclicality is an automatic stabilizer for the town in terms of its revenue. The mechanism would have yielded, if we did it over the past 11 years, it would have yielded $1.6 million in total in average conveyance fees, of which $250,000 would have gone into the Land Acquisition Fund per year. The split, then, if you take that number, it would have meant that 85% of the conveyance fee goes to the town, and 15% would go into the Land Acquisition Fund.”

The comments came during an informal update to the finance board that was not on the agenda. Schipper, a New Canaan Land Trust board member who also has led local efforts to restore Bristow Bird Sanctuary, noted that by the next Board of Finance meeting he would no longer be chair of the Conservation Commission. (Prior to the meeting, he left a jar of honey procured from beehives along the New Canaan Pollinator Pathway for each Board member.)

Over time, the cumulative Land Acquisition Fund figure—about $2.5 million after 10 years—would give the town leverage in property acquisitions, he said.

“So I bring this algorithm to your attention,” he told the Board. “I hope that you will find a way to do it because it has automatic stabilizers in it.” 

Schipper added that dispersing the conveyance fees this way “meets the legislative intent.”

“It meets the goals of accumulating a Land Acquisition Fund and over 10 years, you might have $2.5 million, which is not a big amount of money, but very leverage-able in terms of doing deals,” he said. “So with that, I leave it in your able hands.”

Board Chair Todd Lavieri said he promised the proposal would be in front of the appointed body during the fiscal year 2025 budget process.

“We all love conserving the land,” he said.

Lavieri also noted that the town spent $20 million acquiring Irwin Park in 2006.

“I think it needs to be said,” Lavieri said.

He added, “We have spent a lot of money on open space in this town over the decades. So I don’t want to make it sound like we’re not using the 25 points and so forth. We buy when we should, or when we can, or when it makes some sense. I think we got to give the town a little credit for that.”

Schipper agreed, saying the town had done well to acquire Waveny in 1967 and Irwin in 2006. He added that “there are a lot of other transactions out there” and the town needs to have “a ready tool” so that it can be considered “a ready partner” in a real estate transaction, “because there are very few land deals that will wait for the deliberation process.”

Board member Colm Dobbyn thanked Schipper for his persistence and thoughtfulness. He asked what other nearby towns are doing.

Schipper said that some look at repossessed properties, while others accept payment in lieu of open space. Others require that if a municipality sells a property then the revenue goes into an open space acquisition fund.

“It’s a host of mechanisms in the town and our town has tended to take on debt to do a big deal, but the truth is many of these deals going forward are small,” he said.

8 thoughts on “Conservation Commission Chair Proposes Solution To Build Up ‘Land Acquisition Fund’

  1. One of the most elegant and least costly solutions to preserving the largest open space parcel with the highest point value on the town’s roster of properties is to protect the land behind West School. (769 PONUS RIDGE ROAD-WEST SCHOOL-1961-SURVEY MAP-3514 from the Building Department Documents on Demand for 769 Ponus Ridge) The school and ball fields occupy 11 acres (Parcel A). There are easements granted to Aquarion to provide water to all the properties East of there in Parcel B. The septic fields are in Parcel C. Over 3.3 millions of gallons of rain per inch of rain that falls drains through there to feed the Noroton River. Let’s apply ourselves to prote ting land that the Town already OWNS before we try to acquire other lands.

  2. It’s not clear from the article whether the Town is currently collecting those 25 basis points on real estate sales and using them elsewhere within the budget or if Mr. Schipper is suggesting that the Town begin charging those 25 basis points effectively increasing taxes. Either way, the net effect is a new tax or redistribution of funds leaving a shortfall within the current budget that would have to be made up by the taxpayer.

    There are already too many taxes in Connecticut and we don’t need anymore.

    • Angelo,
      Thank you for asking for clarification regarding the New Canaan real estate sales conveyance fee. The 25 basis point or 1/4 of 1% conveyance fee already exists and is charged whenever you sell your house or apartment. I learned this when I recently downsized my accommodations within New Canaan. When I researched the reason for the fee, I found that the CT State Legislature permitted Towns to charge the fee, with the legislative intent that the funds be used to preserve open space for future generations. I am simply asking that some portion of those fee’s be set aside as intended – to preserve open space for future generations. I hope this clarifies the position.

  3. It’s not an increase in spending. It’s spreading the expense out evenly over many years, and growth of the fund is limited by the real estate market. The Conservation Commission’s proposal is that each household contribute an average of $31.25 per year into a fund so that we all share the burden equally when an opportunity presents itself. Example: The Fowler purchase of 6 acres cost the town, state, land trust and donors about $1 million combined and would not have happened if the money wasn’t made available quickly. Now those walking trails now connect to the 40 acres of Audubon trails and are an important asset for the whole town. So, please, if we are going to put green space, conservation and environmental health into the POCD and call it a priority let’s not wring our hands over allocating $31.25 per household toward that end. Nantucket has such a fund, and it’s a major reason the island is not overdeveloped and the property values rise. We should be embarrassed that we have failed to fund The Land Aquisition Fund since 2017 for about a tenth of what we’re spending on the Playhouse roof and less than 1% of what the community spent on a Library.

    • Thanks for spending my money John, if you feel so strong about it why don’t you pick up my share and everybody’s else’s. Government taking money from anyone IS the definition of a tax.

      • “Mr. Justice Holmes said ‘Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.’ Too many individuals, however, want the civilization at a discount.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt (1937)

  4. Could not agree more with previous comment. Perhaps a portion of the Covid recovery funds from the federal govt should have been used to build up this fund? Or, what about finding some ‘less deserving’ expenditure in the town budget as a funding source?

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