If New Canaan ends up selling an undeveloped 6.25-acre parcel adjacent to the Talmadge Hill Train Station, those funds should go into a standing fund for acquiring open space, Selectman Kit Devereaux said Tuesday.
Referring to a proposal made public last week by New Canaan’s highest elected official, Devereaux noted during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen that the town just approved $50,000 for its recently formed Land Acquisition Fund.
“Given that we have added money to the open space fund, I think it would be appropriate that that money go toward open space,” she said during the meeting, held on Town Hall.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said he’d “have no problem with that, if that is what people want to do.”
“But I do think we need to be prepared for strategic possibilities—open space adjacent to parks,” he said, adding that New Canaan must be ready to acquire such properties.
“I want to build up a fund like Westport has, they have $3 million in their fund, when something comes opportunistically—land is very opportunistic— when it comes up, you need to be able to jump,” he said.
The exchange came during a discussion of general matters before the town.
Moynihan said last week during an interview that the unused portion of the former of Lapham estate, located below the Merritt Parkway, could be sold for residential development for as much as $2 million. Known as “Parcel A,” it’s one of several parcels that New Canaan acquired from Ruth Lapham Lloyd in 1967 and is the only one whose deed allows it to be sold, Moynihan has said.
The idea for selling the property has been knocked around for years, he said, and the leadership of the Board of Finance recently “asked us to prepare a list of things we could monetize, because they are very are interested in disposing of assets that we can dispose of, to either apply to the debt or others apply to the budget.”
“So my proposal is to either apply any proceeds we can get from that to Waveny House, which is going to require another couple or few million dollars of expenses in the next three-four-five years—we haven’t defined that yet—or just put it into the Land Acquisition Fund for the acquisition of more appropriate open space than that affords New Canaanites, because that property is virtually useless,” Moynihan said during the meeting. “You cannot walk in it right now.”
He added, “And being neatly adjacent to the Parkway, it doesn’t serve as a great wildlife refuge.”
During Tuesday night’s finance board meeting, Moynihan said the original article on the possibility of a sale generated interest from two prospective buyers.
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Bob Spangler called it a “highly marketable piece of land.”
“As we think about our resources, we have to think about what we can impact and what we cannot impact,” Spangler said.
The Town Council during an unusually contentious meeting two years ago voted 7-0 to create the Land Acquisition Fund—an idea that had been recommended in 2004—though it went unfunded until the budget season just ended. Last year, the selectmen recommended that $50,000 go into the fund but it was cut. This year, the selectmen asked for the same amount and it was approved. The basis for the fund’s creation emerged three years ago, when the town found itself unable to prevent the water company from selling to private parties an 18.7-acre wooded parcel on Indian Waters Drive. Months later, the Town Council approved a special appropriation of $267,000 to help the New Canaan Land Trust acquire the Fowler property on Silvermine Road.
Moynihan during the selectmen meeting said, “The Land Trust is our primary alter ego to acquire open space for the town. If the Land Trust went out of business, all of their 400 acres comes back to the town ownership, so I view the Land Trust as not just a nonprofit partner—they are our alter ego to accomplish open space preservation.”
[Editor’s Note: This first reference in this article to the amount of money approved for the Land Acquisition Fund for fiscal year 2020 has been corrected to reflect $50,000, not $25,000.]