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The Board of Selectmen last week approved a request from the Conservation Commission to disburse $150,000 toward the New Canaan Land Trust’s purchase of a historic home, located next to the Grupes Reservoir on Valley Road.
The Board of Finance and Town Council also must approve the $150,000 allocation for the Land Trust’s purchase of 1124 Valley Road, officials said at the June 20 selectmen meeting.
The money will be paid out of the town’s Land Acquisition Fund.
The property is currently owned by the Norwalk First Taxing District, and had been slated to be demolished.
The First Taxing District has agreed to sell the house and adjacent property for a total of $500,000, according to Art Berry, treasurer of the New Canaan Land Trust.
Chris Schipper, the chair of the Conservation Commission—which voted unanimously in favor of recommending the $150,000 allocation at its June 8 meeting—said the price tag represents “a true bargain purchase.”
“But it’s a little bit like a gift horse,” Schipper said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “The house itself needs work. We not only want to do a sustainable renovation, but some historic renovation as well.”
The 1.8-acre property will connect directly to the Browne Preserve, one of the first properties to come under the protection of the Land Trust. According to the organization’s website, the home was once a farmhouse for an expansive farm during the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to reconnecting the historic property with its former land, the acquisition will also become the headquarters for the Land Trust.
John Winter, the Land Trust’s executive director, said during the meeting, “It also gives us a visible presence in town that we don’t really have now, in our basement offices, so people will see us out and about.”
Planned renovations for the home will include providing it with more sustainable energy, as well as building demonstration gardens to show off the local plants, Schipper said. A parking lot will also be constructed, although it will mainly be used by members of the Land Trust, he said.
“We see the parking [for the Preserve] continuing to be on Colonial, more than we see it in the new parking area,” he said.
It is estimated that renovations will cost another $250,000, according to Schipper.
“And beyond that, we will also be raising for an endowment so that it is sustainable,” he said.
If approved by the town’s other funding bodies, $150,000 dollars provided via the Land Acquisition Fund will be the first disbursement since it was founded in 2017, officials said. However it will also deplete the entire fund. While there is currently no consistent stream of income going into the Land Acquisition Fund, Schipper proposed some solutions during the meeting.
“The Conservation Commission is promoting the thought of taking some percentage, or some basis points, of the real estate sales conveyance fee, the 25 basis points that the town charges on each sale towards this, just like the town takes 100 basis points of every building permit fee towards affordable housing, this would be an example of putting funds away towards open space,” he said. “My argument for that is if you are a private citizen in town and you thought you could secure an acre of land for $150,000, you would do it all day long because of how valuable it is, and our belief is that by the town being a player in open space, it adds value to all the surrounding properties. This is going to be a long term opportunity for New Canaan to be able to accumulate land.”
The Land Trust is prepared to cover the balance of the purchase price, Schipper said.
“We have already approached several of our lead donors and have secured significant pledges towards the purchase of the property,” he said when asked where the rest of the money will come from. “Also the board of the Land Trust has made a significant contribution, and we are in a position to apply some of our treasury towards this acquisition.”
The Land Trust plans to close the purchase by September, although they still face a few roadblocks, officials said.
“The element is the Planning and Zoning approval, so we need to give ourselves a little bit of time to work through that process,” Schipper said.