Planning Ponders Preserve Purchase

Progress toward purchasing and protecting as open space the 1,000-acre wooded and undeveloped parcel known as the Preserve kick-starts this week in Old Saybrook. While the bulk of the property is within the boundaries of Old Saybrook, significant portions of this coastal forest are in Essex and Westbrook.

On March 12, the Old Saybrook Planning Commission considered whether acquisition of the Preserve property by the town as a municipal improvement is consistent with the Town Plan of Conservation and Development. Crossing this hurdle is the first step on the path toward town referendum and possible approval to fund the purchase of the land as open space.

At the last Old Saybrook Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, the BOS took action that could help defray the costs of a proposed Preserve purchase to the taxpayers. This step was to endorse the Gateway Commission's application to the State of Connecticut for an open space grant to help pay the purchase costs.

With a possible town vote to consider funding the land acquisition, organizations and town commissions are beginning to weigh in with their opinions.

Old Saybrook Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Chairman Marty Ladd announced at a recent BOS meeting that the DTC had voted to endorse town purchase of the Preserve. Similarly, the town's Conservation Commission also voted to endorse town purchase and protection of the Preserve.

Regarding the status of the purchase agreement negotiated last fall between the Trust for Public Land and the property owner, Lehman Brothers, Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna, Jr., commented at the BOS meeting that Lehman Brothers is currently reviewing three property appraisals provided to it by the Trust for Public Land. Lehman Brothers has the option under the agreement to accept the appraisals or to go out and seek its own appraisals, if not satisfied.

Once a firm purchase price is established, town leaders, and later, its electors would be asked to decide whether or not to appropriate the funds needed to purchase the nearly 1,000-acre parcel.

Over the past few months, Connecticut Fund for the Environment and town groups have sponsored a number of hikes and walks within the Preserve land to reveal its assets. For residents seeking to explore the land before casting a vote, other hikes are planned for the next two months. Interested residents should watch for announcements of these upcoming events.

A hike this weekend through the Preserve will be led by Chris Cryder, a local naturalist. Two, 1 ½-hour hikes are planned for Saturday, March. 22. Shuttle buses from the lot to the trailhead will leave from the M&J Bus Lot, 130 Ingham Hill Road, Old Saybrook, at 10 a.m. and noon. Hikers can park at the bus lot.

At the Old Saybrook Land Trust's annual meeting on Sunday, March 30 from 4 to
6 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 336 Main Street, Old Saybrook, Cryder will take the audience on a photo tour of the Preserve. Members of the Trust for Public Land will attend and speak about the current efforts to conserve the forest.

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