Letter to the Editor by Catharine Sturgess

Letter: Aquarion Land Sale Is An Opportunity for the Town To Protect Open Space

I read with great interest last week of the proposed sale and subdivision of 18 acres of Aquarion Water Company Land adjoining Indian Waters Drive, Thurton Drive and Welles Lane. This announcement strikes me as an excellent opportunity for the Town of New Canaan and the New Canaan Land Trust together to put into action their commitment to protecting open space in our community. A public-private partnership to preserve this specific wildlife sanctuary and to protect an even larger contiguous green belt of land would be so wise and forward thinking.

As past Director of the New Canaan Nature Center and a conservationist at heart, I am keenly aware of the challenges of managing open space, but I also know the irrefutable benefits of protecting undisturbed land for all creatures. Undeveloped spaces in a community increase the livability and enhance property values. Green open spaces act as the “lungs” of the community and offset some of the air pollution. Open spaces provide habitat for mammals, birds, insects and seeds. Very importantly, protection of wetlands is essential for water quality, but also for preventing water runoff and assisting naturally with flood control.

I commend both the Town and the Land Trust for their ongoing work to improve and make accessible the parks and more of the existing Land Trust properties for active and passive recreation. However, I do not believe our work should stop there. Given that only 7% of New Canaan is either dedicated or protected open space according to the Adopted Open Space Map for the Town of New Canaan, I believe that we should grab the opportunities that arise to obtain and protect more open land!

I confirmed recently by email with Steve Kleppin, our Town Planner that in 2004 New Canaan adopted an Overall Open Space Strategy, a PDF of which is available here. In this report, it is very clear that the New Canaan Town strategy should include attempts to convert managed open spaces, including water company lands, to dedicated spaces with the end goal of establishing a meaningful overall open space system including a greenway or trail system throughout the town. This report also talks to open space bond issues, State of CT open space grants and private philanthropy. The concept of preserving open space and protecting water resources are again proposed for implementation in the 2014 Plan for Conservation and Development, a report which can be found on the Town website.

What a confluence of positive factors! Why not act now?

We have open space available, a Town with a triple A bond rating with the ability to bond relatively inexpensively, an active and effective Land Trust and interested neighbors. This may be just the first of several opportunities for I understand that the water companies own the nearly 600 acres in New Canaan.

As a voter, taxpayer and fundraiser, I cannot help asking the question. Could the Town…would the Town…should the Town government consider taking a leadership role, in partnership with the Land Trust, to use the tools at its disposal? Is it conceivable that a public-private partnership could raise the needed funds to help save this piece of open space in New Canaan?

Members of the Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen, and the Finance Board, please consider your role as stewards of our community, get involved and act quickly. Issue a bond to raise one-half the money needed to save this property from development. Challenge interested members of the community with means to raise the rest!

Sincerely,

Catharine Sturgess