East Lyme selectmen seeking more clarification on $2.3 million land trust proposal

East Lyme - The Board of Selectmen met in executive session Wednesday to discuss a proposal to purchase a 166-acre parcel called the Gurley Brook Preserve, as well as 52 acres near Darrow Pond.

The selectmen did not take a vote, saying in open session afterward that they needed more clarification on the land acquisition proposal.

The nonprofit Woodsmen Land Trust of Old Saybrook, headed by businessman John C. Ellis, had proposed at the last board meeting that the town acquire open space through the land trust for roughly $2.3 million after a $500,000 state grant is factored in. The $2.3 million would be for acquisition of both the preserve and the 52 acres near Darrow Pond.

The land trust has a contract with development company New England National LLC to purchase the 52 acres and an option it holds on the Gurley Brook land, according to Ellis. New England National would then relinquish several easements currently restricting public access to Darrow Pond.

The contract will expire at year's end. If the town approves the land trust proposal, the land trust would then assign or option the land rights to the town.

First Selectman Paul Formica said Wednesday that the land trust's proposal raised many questions that the selectmen discussed in executive session. The board ultimately decided to request more information from the land trust.

The Gurley Brook Preserve parcel is at the headwaters of the Niantic River. The town's Plan of Conservation and Development identifies the area as key for preservation. Several town agencies and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments supported the land trust's application to acquire the parcel for open space in 2012.

The land trust received a $500,000 matching grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to purchase the Gurley Brook Preserve, which makes up 166 acres of a 200-acre property listed at 29 Goldfinch Terrace.

The 29 Goldfinch Terrace property is in foreclosure by Citizens Bank and is due to be auctioned on Jan. 4. KSK Associates LLC, of which Board of Finance commission member Stephen Harney is a member, owns the acreage.

Court documents regarding the foreclosure list the fair market value of the property at $1,648,000.

The Darrow Pond parcels of the open space proposal would allow the town to own the property near the pond in its entirety. The parcels comprise 7 acres on Mostowy Road and 45 acres on Upper Pattagansett Road. The town had previously approved the 45-acre property for 58 units of affordable housing proposed by New England National LLC.

Ellis said the state grant, private donations and other sources of funding could help the town offset the purchase price.

The proposal would need approval from the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and residents.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Planning Commission, members noted that they had sent a letter of support for the application for the DEEP grant for Gurley Brook, and it would be redundant to write a letter of support for the proposal, since the land area is already mentioned in the Plan of Conservation and Development.

New England National LLC has ongoing litigation against the town in bankruptcy court in connection with property near Darrow Pond.

k.drelich@theday.com

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