New Canaan Advertiser Coverage of Aquarion's Indian Waters Watershed

Articles, Editorials and Letters to the Editor from the New Canaan Advertiser regarding proposed sale of Aquarion property abutting Indian Waters Drive in New Canaan, CT 


Updated: 18 acres for sale raises concerns about development

Seller envisions two lots fronting Indian Waters Drive

By Greg Reilly on February 17, 2016 in BusinessBusiness NewsLatestLatest NewsLead NewsLead NewsNewsReal EstateState governmentTown Government · 0 Comments

This is at the end of Indian Waters Drive, which is a half-mile in from Weed Street. To the right of the road is the area where Aquarion envisions selling their land for two house lots. — Greg Reilly photo

Photos added Feb. 18, 1:30 p.m. Aquarion Water Company announced that it intends to sell 18 acres of vacant land off of Indian Waters Lane, and that has raised concern among some neighbors about the prospect of development there.

The property is bordered also by properties on Welles Drive, Thurton Drive and Weed Street, as well as from Indian Waters. The Noroton River runs through it.

Aquarion Director of Public Relations Peter Fazekas said the company already has an agreement to sell eight of the 18 acres to a neighbor whose property adjoins the Aquarion land.

According to Indian Waters Lane resident Susan Bergen, who has expressed her concern about potential development on the 18 acres, the neighbor buying the eight acres lives on Weed Street and is doing so to protect his privacy and prohibit access to the land from Weed Street.

Susan Bergen and her husband Peter Bergen live adjacent to the 18 acres of land on Indian Waters Drive, which Aquarionintends to sell. Here, the Bergens stand at an entrance to the Aquarion property on Feb. 18. — Greg Reilly photo

Regarding the other 10 acres for sale, Fazekas said the vision is for two lots, both with frontage on Indian Waters Lane.

He said that he expects Aquarion to work with Town of New Canaan land use commissions in April, in order to determine how much of the land is buildable. Aquarion needs this information before selling to a potential developer. The land includes wetlands.

Fazekas said that the company is selling the land because it is not land that protects a water source. The nearest reservoir is about three miles away, he said. The Noroton River is not a water source.

Question of conservation

Bergen’s concern about development is written in a Letter to the Editor.  She said, “It is my sincere hope that this land can be preserved as a wildlife sanctuary under the auspices of the New Canaan Land Trust.”

“These 18-plus acres were originally purchased in 1907 by the Noroton Water Company to protect the Noroton River watershed …. The varied terrain supports an abundance of bird and wildlife. It is part of a larger ecological greenbelt which encompasses open space behind Country and West schools, as well as, Irwin Park, the New Canaan Nature Center, Bristow Bird Sanctuary, and Waveny Park,” Bergen wrote.

New Canaan Land Trust President Chris Schipper said that from his standpoint, New Canaan needs a balance of development and conservation. “There is an conservation opportunity here.”

“The Town has pushed hard for general development, especially new homes, and there is an opportunity to balance that,” Schipper said.

Schipper contends that, while some towns encourage new development in order to increase their Grand List of taxable properties, they actually increase their costs by a larger amount, considering costs of educating young new residents, maintaining roads, and other costs associated with increased populations.

Assessor Caldarella said, “I cannot disagree.”

The 18 acres currently has a total assessed value of $167,720, an exceptionally low amount for so much land in New Canaan. At the current mill rate of $15.98, the assessed value means Aquarion pays about $2,680 in taxes for the 18 acres.

According to Town Tax Assessor Sebastian Caldarella this low assessment is because Aquarion received an exemption from the State of Connecticut because the land is forested and vacant, and the state encourages preservation of open space.

The sale of all or part of the land is subject to approval by the State of Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), Fazekas said. Aquarion plans to seek approval from PURA in March and then would expect to get PURA’s decision in August.


Letter: Protect Aquarion property as open space

By New Canaan Advertiser on February 17, 2016 in BusinessBusiness NewsLatestLatest NewsLettersLetters to the EditorNewsOpinion · 0 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

I am writing out of concern for the proposed sale and subdivision of Aquarion Water Company land adjoining Indian Waters Drive, Thurton Drive and Welles Lane. It is my sincere hope that this land can be preserved as a wildlife sanctuary under the auspices of the New Canaan Land Trust.

These 18-plus acres were originally purchased in 1907 by the Noroton Water Company to protect the Noroton River watershed. While the property has changed hands a few times, it has been conserved for over one hundred years.

This tract includes a stretch of the Noroton River, riparian habitat, extensive wetlands and mature forest of oak, tulip poplar, maple and beech. The varied terrain supports an abundance of bird and wildlife. It is part of a larger ecological greenbelt which encompasses open space behind Country and West schools, as well as, Irwin Park, the New Canaan Nature Center, Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Waveny Park. All of these properties are located within a mile or two of each other as the crow flies.

As suburban towns develop, greenbelts are becoming more essential to safeguard our biodiversity. In addition to supporting wildlife, natural habitats, such as this, also sequester carbon, filter water and prevent soil degradation and erosion.

As a conservationist, I applaud the Town of New Canaan and the New Canaan Land Trust, in particular, for their commitment and foresight in protecting our open space. It is my understanding that about 8% of our town is currently considered ‘open space.’ The state’s goal is for municipalities to set aside 22% by 2023). There is a limited amount of undeveloped acreage left in New Canaan and this land represents a particularly large piece. It would be a shame if this subdivision were allowed.

I very strongly urge the Town Council, P&Z, the New Canaan Land Trust and fellow New Canaanites to take advantage of this rare opportunity to acquire and set aside this property as permanently protected open space.

 Susan Bergen


Letter: Urging Town to keep 18 acres open space

By Catharine Sturgess on February 24, 2016 in LatestLettersLetters to the EditorNewsOpinionTown Government · 0 Comments

A view from within the 18-acre Aquarion vacant land shows varied elevation in the distance. — Greg Reilly photo


Editor, Advertiser:

I read with interest of the proposed sale and subdivision of 18 acres of Aquarion Water Company land off of Indian Waters Drive. What an opportunity for our government and the NC Land Trust to act on their commitment to protect open space in our community.  A public-private partnership to preserve this wildlife sanctuary would be wise and forward-thinking.

As past director of the Nature Center, I know the challenges of managing open space and the irrefutable benefits of protecting undisturbed land. Undeveloped spaces increase community livability, enhancing property values. Green open spaces act as the community’s “lungs,” offsetting air pollution. Open spaces provide habitat for mammals, birds and insects. Protection of wetlands is essential for water quality and flood control.

I commend the Town and Land Trust for their work to improve the parks and trust properties for active/passive recreation. Our work should not stop there. With only 7% of New Canaan as dedicated or protected open space, according to our Adopted Open Space Map, we should grab opportunities that arise to obtain open land.

In 2004 New Canaan approved an Overall Open Space Strategy. It states clearly that our strategy should incorporate converting managed open spaces, including water company lands, to dedicated spaces to establish a meaningful overall open space system. Mentioned also are open space bond issues, State of CT open space grants and private philanthropy. In the 2014 Plan for Conservation and Development, preserving open space and protecting water resources are highlighted implementation proposals.

What a confluence of positive factors. We have open space available, a Town with the ability to bond relatively inexpensively, an active and effective Land Trust and interested neighbors. Why not act now?

As a voter, taxpayer and fundraiser, I must ask the question. Could…would…should the Town government consider taking a leadership role, in partnership with the Land Trust, to use the tools at its disposal?

Conservation Commission, selectmen and finance board, please be stewards and get involved. Issue a bond to raise one-half the money needed to save this property. Challenge interested community members with means to raise the rest.

Catharine Sturgess



Acquire Aquarion land and keep it open

By Louise Reid on February 25, 2016 in LettersLetters to the EditorOpinion · 2 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

I am writing this letter in support of Susan Bergen’s request (Letter to the Editor, and article in Feb.18 New Canaan Advertiser) to the Town Council, P&Z, the New Canaan Land Trust and fellow New Canaanites to take advantage of acquiring for the Land Trust the 18-plus acres bordering Indian Waters Drive now owned by the Aquarion Water Company, slated for subdivision and development.

As a resident of New canaan for almost 60 years, I have seen many changes in our town. Imagine New Canaan without Mead Park, Waveny, The Bristow Sanctuary, Irwin Park, The Nature Center, and numerous pockets of open space under the auspices of The Land Trust. We are so fortunate to have these open spaces.

New Canaan has been proactive in acquiring open land as it has become available, and it is my sincere hope that this 18+ acre parcel can be added to the list of open spaces that we treasure here in New Canaan. Remember, once that open space is gone, we can never get it back.

Louise Reid


Let’s not miss Aquarion land opportunity

By Jon Stone on March 3, 2016 in LettersLetters to the EditorOpinion · 0 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

In an article about the potential development of 18 acres off of Indian Waters Drive in the Advertiser, (Feb. 18, page 2A, ‘18 acres for sale raises concerns about development), I was pleased to see Town Tax Assessor Sebastian Caldarella point out that the low assessment that the Aquarion Water Company received as an exemption from the State of Connecticut is because the parcel is forested and vacant, and the state encourages the preservation of open space with this exemption.

Mr. Caldarella is correct. The statute under which Aquarionqualified for the exemption is State of Connecticut Public Act 490. It acts to “preserve agriculture land, forest land and open space land by assessing these lands at their use value, not its market value.” Who is the Act really intended for? Dairy farmers, who can hardly pay market rate taxes on their hundred acres and keep farming. Owners of forest who may use their acreage to tap trees for maple syrup. But with Aquarion’sannounced plan to subdivide their 18-acre parcel into lots for developers, “preserving agriculture land, forest land and open space land” is clearly not their intention.

That parcel is going from its annual tax bill of – get this – about $149 an acre, to an asking price of probably well over a million bucks for each building lot. Pretty good appreciation! Is that being earned by a land speculator, taking his risks in the open market? No, that’s a water utility making that killing.

You shouldn’t be able to reap the tax benefits of claiming that land is worth next to nothing, and then work the system to sell it off for a fortune. Of course, Aquarion was only acting within its legal rights, using the system to its advantage.

Let’s use the system to New Canaan’s advantage, to make some mutual arrangement between Aquarion, Planning and Zoning, New Canaan Land Trust, Conservation Commission, and other interested parties, to convey this wildlife-rich acreage to the town for open space – in perpetuity, and for the enjoyment of all.

Because one thing about open-space acreage: They ain’t makin’ any more.

Jon Stone

Deny Aquarion ability to subdivide land for development

By Peter Bergen on March 11, 2016 in LettersLetters to the EditorOpinion · 0 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

Based on what I’ve read about Aquarion’s proposed sale of “protected land” adjacent to Indian Waters Drive, it appears that the thought process at Aquarion is as follows:

1. Acquire hundreds of acres of land in New Canaan.

2. At a time when property taxes have increased substantially for most residents, successfully petition Connecticut and New Canaan to lower its taxes by 80% — from $833,490 in 2002 to $167,720 in 2015 — in just 13 years.

3. Burnish “green” credentials by adopting motto: “Stewards of the Environment.”

4. After four separate reductions in taxes, sell land adjacent to Indian Waters, Thurton Drive and Welles Lane to developers for market value: much higher than the current assessed value.

5. Repeat process throughout New Canaan.

The hypocrisy here is mind-boggling. If “Big Water” companies like Aquarion really are “Stewards of the Environment,” the watersheds and open land should be preserved for future generations. If not, Aquarion should repay New Canaan the millions of dollars in lost tax revenue that has accrued over decades.

I urge the Planning and Zoning and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commissions to deny Aquarion the ability to sub-develop this land for the purpose of selling.

Peter Bergen


Let’s not go backwards, New Canaan

By Sue Stone on March 11, 2016 in LettersLetters to the EditorOpinion · 0 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

Some residents, including me, have taken for granted as conserved open space, much of the open acreage around town. Water companies own nearly 600 acres of it, and Aquarion holds more than a third of that, including 18+ acres of woodland and watercourse in my neighborhood. Hence, my own rude awakening.

Complacency about water company open space is understandable; Aquarion’s slogan is “Stewards of the Environment,” and its PR is all about conservation and preservation.

But, Aquarion is divesting itself of land holdings, currently preparing to sell for development 18+ acres that straddle the Noroton River, nestled between Frogtown, Weed Street and Indian Waters Drive, part of a watershed flowing to Long Island Sound. This land has been owned and managed by water companies since 1907, by Aquarion since 2002. We don’t know what other parcels around town might be next in their, or other water companies’, divestiture plans.

There are numerous reasons to halt these developments: protection of watershed, watercourse and aquifer (that supplies our wells), protection of dwindling wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve, and prevention of erosion, etc.

But, this also presents a perfect opportunity for New Canaan to follow through on goals and recommendations set forth in the Planning and Zoning Commission’s 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development.

The plan calls for New Canaan to preserve and enhance open space, a valuable and integral part of the community’s character.

In fact, the Future Land Use Map published in the P&Z report labels this 18+ Aquarion property “existing open space,” defined as an area “currently preserved or used for open space purposes.”

Also, keep in mind that, at 8%, New Canaan is well below the state’s goal of 21% open space for Connecticut towns.

By letting this opportunity pass us by, we’d actually be subtracting from the small amount of preserved open space we do have in New Canaan.

Let’s not go backwards, New Canaan.

Planning and Zoning, Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions, New Canaan Land Trust, concerned residents, let’s work together to take advantage of this chance to hold onto valuable open space, before it’s gone forever.

Sue Stone


Town Rallies

By New Canaan Advertiser on March 18, 2016 in EditorialOpinion · 0 Comments

This town really rallies around causes of concern.

Citizens concerned about a dearth of open space are coming together to voice their concern to the Town leaders and to Aquarion Water Company, which is in the process of putting vacant land here up for sale for potential development. Increasing direct dialogue with Aquarion has been recommended for long term planning on the hundreds of acres of open space that the company holds in New Canaan.

Another group concerned about local land use has coalesced and is working to find a way to preserve the 1735 house at Canoe Hill and Ferris Hill, and yet not deny the property owner of opportunity to make good on his investment. Nothing like an Intent To Demolish posting to get opponents moving.

Equally heartening is seeing students and parents working together to combat substance abuse and addiction, particularly opioid addiction and heroin overdose fatalities. The Ram Council is a growing group of students making an example of themselves by pledging to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and the Council is taking the lead by conducting a public event to hear directly from those who are recovering from addiction. Adults and parents are directing many of the efforts as part of the New Canaan Coalition.

Also noteworthy is the fact that over 2,000 people per week on average have made their way to Grace Farms in its first five months of operation. Surely many of those are simply curious observers, and others attending are there to take in nature and art. Still others, though, go to the Grace property to do goodTo assist efforts to find justice for exploited children. To forge community with non-profits serving those with special needs. And to contemplate what faith in God calls people to do.

Oh, and how could I forget? A nod of thanks and appreciation should go to the dozens of volunteer elected and appointed officials who rally at this time of year to assemble a Town tax, fee and spending plan that is responsible to the people’s needs and desires. They are in the homestretch with that work.

To all who come together in community for the good of this town, Cheers, and may a good Irish blessing be upon you this day of March 17.


Why the Aquarion land matters

By G. Warfield “Skip” Hobbs, New Canaan geologist, conservationalist on March 31, 2016 in ColumnsGuest ColumnsOpinion · 0 Comments

The March 17th issue of the Advertiser published comments by Town Planner Steve Kleppin to the effect that the 18 acres of Aquarion Water Company land slated for sale has “only limited value to the town.” After walking the property with an abutting landowner, and from the perspective of someone who has been committed to open space preservation in New Canaan for many years, I strongly disagree with Mr. Kleppin’s assessment.

The topographically and ecologically diverse Aquarion property is located at the end of Indian Waters Lane, west of Weed Street. It has a lovely flowing stream (Noroton River); a mature maple, oak and beech secondary hardwood forest with an open understory; meandering colonial era stone walls; a red maple swamp teeming with bird life; and is bounded on its eastern side by a tall granite-gneiss cliff. The tramp known as the “Leatherman” who wandered about Westchester and Fairfield counties between 1857-1889, reportedly slept in a cave formed by the rock fall at the base of the cliff.

The property does indeed have significant conservation value and is unlike any of our present public parks and private land preserves. A concerted effort should be made by the Town of New Canaan together with open space advocates such as the New Canaan Land Trust, to acquire the property as a nature preserve. State environmental funds might also be available.

In 1997 the Connecticut State Legislature passed Public Act No 97-227, which established a goal to preserve 21% of our state’s public and private lands as open space. This includes a 10% target for state-owned lands, and 11% for municipalities, water company and not-for profit land trusts. New Canaan has only 6.4% dedicated open space.

When protected open space (land trust) and managed open space (water company lands and private clubs) are included, total “open space” is 13.6% of the town’s area. The New Canaan Plan of Conservation calls for the preservation of open space. As the state has done, New Canaan should establish goals for its total open space preservation.

It does not matter that the Aquarion land is not connected to another protected parcel. It is large enough to make a significant difference as contiguous open space on its own. Further, the land overlies the northern end of a significant glacial sand and gravel aquifer, previously used by the Aquarion Water Company as a pumped water supply. This could again become an important source for potable water in the future when extended drought due to global warming is a distinct possibility.

The immediate neighbors will of course benefit from preservation of the Aquarion parcel from development, but so will all the citizens of New Canaan, as it will add to our publicly accessible open space.

Mr. Kleppin seems to have forgotten one of the important reasons why many of us moved to New Canaan — it’s our town’s very “rural” ambience. Sadly, our country character is rapidly being diminished as New Canaan approaches “100% developed.”

I expect that before the end of this century, two- and four-acre zoning will be legally eliminated as “economically exclusionary,” and increased density development will occur. It is critical that the town, in partnership with conservation groups, acquire and protect every large remaining parcel of undeveloped land when it becomes available.

I urge the Conservation Commission to immediately undertake an evaluation of the Aquarion property before it is lost to development. In matters of land and water conservation, the town must think generationally. We are an affluent community and can truly afford open space land acquisitions, and must do so.

Skip Hobbs is a New Canaan geologist and conservationist


Collaborate to preserve open space

By Kit Devereaux, President, New Canaan LWV on April 28, 2016 in LettersLetters to the EditorOpinion · 0 Comments

Editor, Advertiser:

Aquarion Water Company is awaiting state approval to sell 18 acres of undeveloped land off Frogtown Road. State approval would be followed by several months of hearings, both public and by commissions including P&Z and Inland Wetlands. The League of Women Voters New Canaan would like to share with the community our position on open space.

Long held and reaffirmed in 2012, it states: “Open space preservation needs to be addressed by the Town. Current 2- and 4-acre zoning is inadequate to preserve the sense of open space in New Canaan . . . Town should actively pursue all opportunities to acquire public lands through legitimate negotiations with property owners. When appropriate, the Town should collaborate with private agencies to acquire open space.”

The League encourages informed and active participation of citizens in government. If the state approves Aquarion’s request to sell this parcel of land (a decision is expected sometime this summer), this presents a perfect opportunity for public-private action. We encourage Town, neighbors, citizens concerned about dwindling open space, the New Canaan Land Trust — any and all who are willing to pool time, talent and treasure to acquire this and other properties — to join forces. Not only should we seek a productive and fair negotiation with Aquarion in this instance, but we should strive for a larger plan to address open space acquisition and management in the longer term.

For the landowner, the financial incentive in selling open space for development is obvious. However, we need to measure the impact of additional housing development upon the natural habitat of animals and plant life, depletion of our water supply, assault on New Canaan’s bucolic character and charm, much less the burden to the Town and taxpayers for the extra education and infrastructure costs which, contrary to popular belief, are not actually offset by the increase in property tax revenue from new development.

Let’s all join together in crafting a creative public-private partnership to preserve this precious property for generations to come.

Kit Devereaux


New Canaan LWV