Stonington selectmen support allocating $200,000 for Davis Farm preservation

Stonington - The Board of Selectmen on Monday voted in favor of allocating $200,000 from the town's open space fund to help boost the Stonington Land Trust's goal of preserving 168 acres of the Davis Farm in Pawcatuck.

Selectmen Edward Haberek and George Crouse voted on the measure following a presentation by Stonington Land Trust Executive Director Stanton Simm and land trust member Stuart Cole. Selectwoman Glee McAnanly was not present.

The measure will next go to a town meeting vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

While one resident complained about the spending of town money on land without any expected public access, Simm called the Davis property of the most significant historic sites in the state.

"Most towns would consider this the jewel in the crown, to acquire that," Simm said. "Unless we preserve it now there won't be any chance of getting it later."

The Stonington Land Trust is almost halfway to the approximately $2 million needed to acquire an easement and block any future development on what Simm said might be the oldest working farm in not only Connecticut, but all of New England.

He said the property dates back to 1652 when it was owned by Thomas Stanton. The property is adjacent to Barn Island Wildlife Management area. Simm said 254 acres of the Davis Farm are already protected through a state preservation program.

The land hoping to be acquired by the Stonington Land trust includes 48 acres that borders the waterfront and a separate 120-acre plot north of Barn Island.

"It's an opportunity I think we can't pass up," Crouse said.

While no public use is anticipated, Simm said part of the agreement in acquiring the easement would allow archeological digs and two tours a year. Simm, who along with Cole is a member of the town's Conservation Commission, said the property has long been a priority property for the commission.

Two years ago, the town rejected a request by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center to provide funding to help preserve a large section of the Coogan Farm, a project that calls for "100 percent public access" with trails, programs and a heritage center, according to center Executive Director Maggie Jones.

While Jones said Barn Island and Pawcatuck River areas where the Davis Farm is located are important from an ecological standpoint, she said "a lot of eyebrows will be raised" about its very limited public access.

Cole was one of two land trust members also on the Conservation Commission who voted to recommend the $200,000 allocation to selectmen.

Following Monday's vote, Haberek said he had contacted the town attorney about any potential conflict in having land trust members vote on the measure. Haberek said there was no state law that specifically prevented a vote by a member of a commission when the vote was only a recommendation.

g.smith@theday.com

@SmittyDay

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