East Lyme voters approve purchase of Darrow Pond land

East Lyme - Voters Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $4.23 million bond to purchase 301 acres of open space near Darrow Pond, which supporters say will play an integral role in its regional water connection with New London.

The final tally had 1,631 voting yes and 475 casting no ballots.

Voter turnout was 17 percent, a "decent" figure for a referendum, according to Registrar of Voters Carol Marelli.

First Selectman Paul Formica, who was an ardent backer of the purchase, said he was pleased that voters agreed with the plan.

"I'm glad they decided it was in the best interest of the town," Formica said.

The town partnered with the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land to purchase the land from Webster Bank for $4.15 million. About $85,000 will go toward the financing of the bond.

The trust paid for all of the background on the purchase, including title searches and environmental work.

Darci Schofield, project manager with the trust, said she was "excited and really happy for the town."

East Lyme "has been a great town to work with," Schofield said.

Schofield said that the trust plans to close on the property by Oct. 31. Plans call for about 50 acres to be set aside as location for a water tower that would help control pressure when transporting water to and from the New London-owned Lake Konomoc.

The rest of the land would be kept as open space for recreational uses such as hiking or biking.

The property in the past 20 years had seen several development plans including a golf course and a 660-unit housing development.

In the coming months, Formica said, engineers will begin designs of the Darrow portion of the water interconnection.

"Now we know we have a specific spot," Formica said.

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

Some in town worry that the land could be used as a location for athletic fields in the future, though Formcia has repeatedly said there are no such plans.

Veronica Chambers, a life-long resident, supported the plan saying it would prevent unnecessary development.

"I grew up here, and I've seen so much development," Chambers said. "It's nice to stop some of it."

Greg Rienks, a resident, said he "was on the fence" about the vote.

"I think it's overpriced," Rienks said. "Formica can get a better deal."

Town meeting moderator Eugene Cushman said the aftermath of Irene did not have an effect on turnout.

"It was something to do," Cushman said.

s.chupaska@theday.com

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