East Lyme board delays Darrow Pond purchase vote

East Lyme - The Board of Finance Wednesday delayed a vote on a $4.15 million bond to buy 301 acres around Darrow Pond from Webster Bank, which supporters say will play a key role in the town's plan to connect to a public water supply owned by New London and to conserve land for open space.

The board will hold a special meeting Aug. 17 to discuss the purchase.

Finance board members said they needed more time to evaluate the appraised value of the property and to further study the purchase agreement. "The $4 million sounds high to me," board member Steve Larcen said.

First Selectman Paul Formica said he understood that "it is a big decision for the board and the town."

The purchase has previously been approved by the Planning Commission and the Conservation Commission.

The Board of Selectman approved the bond issue Aug. 3.

The town has partnered with the national nonprofit the Trust for Public Land, which is paying for the legal and environmental work associated with the purchase.

Plans call for roughly 50 acres on the high ground to be used as a location for a 65-foot water tower that would help mitigate water pressure in the water interconnection with New London.

The remaining land would be preserved for open space to be used for trails and other activities.

Formica said a committee would be formed to study the uses of the open space portion of the property.

Formica suggested that at some point in the future some of the acreage could see some sort of development to help pay for the project.

"It makes sense to have options," Formica said.

If the town purchases the land, it would not have access to the pond, as neighbors who abut the property hold easements that restrict public use, though negotiations would likely take place after the Oct. 31 closing date.

Late last week, Formica learned that according to the latest assessment, the value of the property had dropped to $4.1 million.

Formica said there would still be savings because the town is not paying for the legal work on the purchase.

Formica said the purchase fits into the town's debt service plan.

Before the finance board meeting, several residents offered opinions on the wisdom of purchasing the property.

John Strafaci, who lives nearby in the Darrow Ridge development, said the water tower would ruin views from his property.

"The visual pollution would be atrocious," Strafaci said.

Strafaci, like other speakers, were concerned the town would use the property for new athletic fields.

Formica said Wednesday he does not support putting ballfields on the Darrow land.

"It's not a good place," Formica said.

Others balked at the purchase price and the bond issue.

"We can't afford it," Ron Rando, a resident, said. "We have plenty of open space."

Others supported it for open space reasons, but want the town to provide more information about future use before the referendum.

"There are good arguments for this," Michael Banks, a resident, said.

"But there are consequences that go along with it."

s.chupaska@theday.com

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