Stonington won't back bonding for Coogan Farm

Mystic - The Stonington Board of Finance told The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and The Trust for Public Land Wednesday night that it will not support the town bonding $1.5 million to help them purchase 35 acres of the Coogan Farm for open space.

The board's unanimous decision dealt a blow to the effort to preserve the property, which supporters say is crucial for protecting the character of Mystic. It would also link other large tracts of open space and provide hiking trails and other passive recreation.

Board Chairman Glenn Frishman said that with the town's annual budget problems and the upcoming vote to spend between $5 million and $7 million on road and athletic field improvements, he could not support spending taxpayer money to buy the land.

He also pointed out the Stonington Conservation Commission feels it is more important to preserve other properties in town before the Coogan Farm. He said he also has reservations about taking such a valuable piece of commercial property off Route 27 off the tax rolls.

"If you can raise the money privately, go ahead, but I can't support spending taxpayer funds on this," he told the two groups, which have a contract to buy the land for $2.8 million from the Clara C. Coogan Trust.

Supporters have raised $900,000 so far and have applied for a $500,000 state grant. Kate Brown of the Trust for Public Land said the bonding would cost the average homeowner $135 over 20 years.

Supporters could try to override the board's decision by collecting signatures to force a referendum vote and then get two-thirds of voters to approve it.

Nature Center Executive Director Maggie Jones said the groups will now discuss their next step, which could include trying to raise all the money privately or force a referendum vote. Supporters said the board's action discourages others from presenting similar public-private partnerships.

"For them to dismiss this concept seems extremely short-sighted to me," Jones said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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