State Approves Controversial Aquarion Land Sale Under Draft Decision; Final Decision Expected Wednesday


Over the objections of the town’s elected officials, open space advocates, conservation experts and a group of neighbors, the state agency that oversees utilities in Connecticut has said it supports the water company’s plan to sell off a large piece of untouched land in southwestern New Canaan, including to developers, under a draft decision issued this month.

The non-binding decision from the Connecticut Pubilc Utilities Regulatory Authority, or ‘PURA,’ is expected to be made final on Wednesday (visit this page after 9 a.m. to listen to the agency’s hearing live).

According to PURA, Aquarion’s approximately 18.7-acre parcel—it’s tucked behind Weed Street and Frogtown Road west of Thurton Drive dead-ends—“has never been used for water utility purposes.”

“It has always remained in its natural state since it was acquired by Noroton Water Company in 1907,” according to PURA’s findings.

“The land is considered to be excess land and is not located within an aquifer protection area or any public water supply watershed. In September 2015, the Company received Class III land verification from the Department of Public Health confirming that the property is located outside watershed or aquifer protection areas.”

Plans call for the property—assessed at $167,720 in 2014 (fair market value of $239,600) after New Canaan in 2002 had agreed to designate it as “forest land”—to be divided into three separate pieces.

An 8.76-acre piece is to be sold to an abutting neighbor for $1.5 million, according to PURA. Of the remaining 9.98 acres, a second piece would be subdivided into two lots for development, at 2.01 acres and 3.8 acres. And the 4.16 acres that remains “may be donated to the Town or conveyed with one of the lots, depending on the approvals from the town of New Canaan Planning and Zoning Commission and the interest of the various parties.”

Meanwhile, some neighbors have filed formal objections to the draft decision from PURA.

In a June 23 letter, Susan and Peter Bergen of Indian Waters Drive thanked PURA for its time and effort and added that “we and our neighbors do not accept your proposed ruling in favor of allowing Aquarion to proceed.”

The Bergens said that an original public notice published in January is “misleading” because an agreement to sell the 8.76-acre parcel to a different neighbor already was in place.

The notice also is misleading in that it identifies the property for sale as being located on Indian Waters Drive, they said.

“As our legal counsel has pointed out, Aquarion does not have legal right—nor has it ever had legal—to use our private road, Indian Waters Drive, to access their proposed subdivision. All five property owners who live on the west side of the bridge have restricted deeds (dating back to 1952 when the road was built) disallowing any further subdivision and restricting use of the road to the property owners. Aquarion is not one of these property owners. Neither Aquarion nor any of its predecessors has ever been part of our road association.”

As PURA notes in its summary of public hearings on the proposed land sale that were held in New Canaan, about 20 people spoke and many “noted the scenic beauty of the land as well as the diverse habitat of the subject property that many believe is a bio-diverse natural habitat.”

“Many believe the land is an intact ecosystem and if developed would be a threat to wildlife and that the land should be preserved,” PURA noted in its summary.

The president of a major advocate for open space in town, the New Canaan Land Trust, also filed an exception letter to PURA’s draft decision.

Noting that several representatives from New Canaan spoke n favor of preserving the woodlands and wetlands in question, Chris Schipper in a June 24 letter to PURA said the Land Trust “formally requests that PURA amend the draft decision to include direction to Aquarion to enter into negotiations with the Conservation Commission of the town of New Canaan and the Land Trust regarding the eventual disposition of all or part of the 18.9 acres.”

He continued: “As PURA correctly queried in its interragatories ‘Will the properties listed above be retained permanently as open space by the town of New Canaan?’ The answer to this question must be ‘yes.’ Aquarion, as ‘stewards of the environment,’ must live up to their motto. The citizenry of New Canaan demands it.”

The submissions from the Bergens and Schipper both will be weighed on Wednesday prior to PURA officials issuing their final decision, according to Michael Coyle, an agency spokesperson.

The draft decision is issued and all participants in a case are notified as an indication to the way PURA sees the facts of the case and analyzes applicable law, Coyle said.

Those at PURA making the decision may change their minds based on exceptions filed with the agency, Coyle said.

“The bottom line is that we do not know what the final decision will be until [Wednesday],” he said.

3 thoughts on “State Approves Controversial Aquarion Land Sale Under Draft Decision; Final Decision Expected Wednesday

  1. I think it is important to know how the Noroton Water Company acquired the land in 1907.

    If that company bought the land and through legal means, Aquarion acquired the land, it is theirs and there is no reason why Aquarion should be subject to any more restrictions on its sale than would any of us were we to have inherited that same land from one of our forebears.

    However, if the land was acquired through Eminent Domain or some other adverse process, the previous owners and/or their descendants should be offered the land at the same price that was paid for it, inflated, of course, to 2016 dollars.

  2. Everyone understands under the law that the Town of New Canaan has the right of first refusal to buy the land? They would be letting it go see: CT Office of Legislative Research Report (OLR) September 28, 2006 2006-R-0597 LAWS REGARDING DISPOSITION OF WATER COMPANY LAND Class 1, 2, and 3 lands (this is Class 3) : The law gives the entities that received the notice a right of first refusal to buy land owned by a private water company, after DPUC has approved its sale, in a specified order depending on the acquirer and the subsequent use of the land. The priorities are acquisitions by:
    1. another water company for water supply purposes;
    2. the municipality where the land is located, for open space, recreational or water supply purposes;
    3. the state, for open space or recreational programs;
    4. a private nonprofit land-holding organization for such purposes;
    5. a municipality for any public purpose, including educational uses, such as schools and related facilities; and
    6. the state for any public purpose.
    When a water company, a municipality, the state, or a land-holding organization notifies DPUC that it wishes to acquire the land, it must comply with the price, terms, and conditions that DPUC originally approved.

  3. Sale of class III land of more than 10 acres that promotes a permanent interest in using the land for open space or recreation purposes
    – If less than 25% of the land will be used for these purposes, 100% of the benefits must go to ratepayers.
    – If 25% to 80% of the land will be used for these purposes, shareholders get 80% of the benefit for that part of the land that will be used (e.g., if 50% of the land will be used for these purposes, shareholders get 40% of the benefits (50% times 80%).
    – If 80% to 90% of the land will be used for these purposes, the shareholders must get the same share of the benefits.
    – If 90% or more of the land will be used for these purposes, the shareholders get 100% of the benefit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *