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East Lyme hearing set on panel to protect Oswegatchie Hills

East Lyme –– The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday scheduled a public hearing Jan. 3 to amend the 1987 ordinance that enabled East Lyme and Waterford to establish the Niantic River Gateway Commission to oversee development of hundreds of acres in Oswegatchie Hills.

Updating the ordinance could lead to the appointment of members to the commission, which was never formed because Waterford declined to participate.

The commission, which would include three members from each town, would set standards for development in the area that rises above the Niantic River, from Golden Spur near Boston Post Road to the area of Veterans Memorial Park to the south. Waterford is expected to reconsider participation in the commission in the near future.

If approved by the voters of each town, the commission would serve to protect the Oswegatchie Hills area, which the state Department of Environmental Protection has shown interest in acquiring and maintaining as open space. If the DEP purchases the property, the commission would become moot, First Selectman Wayne L. Fraser has said.

Landmark Development of Middletown has development rights to part of the land and has proposed a zone change that would enable it to build nearly 900 units of affordable housing there. Proposed changes to the ordinance would reduce the number of members from eight to six and delete reference to the length of members' terms.

In an unrelated matter Wednesday, Fraser informed the board that he continues to pursue a deal with the DEP that would give the town use of 108 acres of state-owned land near Rocky Neck and Bride Brook Park. He said he wants to use the land for playing fields, walking trails and open space. He said the town could consider purchasing the land, swapping town-owned land for it, or establishing shared use of the land by making it a state park with fields the town would use and maintain.

“We do a lot with the state,” Fraser said, noting that East Lyme is host to the Connecticut National Guard and three prisons. “Even though we receive PILOT money (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) this is another way that the state and town could work together for our mutual benefit.”

Fraser, who plans to meet with a state official to discuss the matter, said the shared use of the land looks like the best option.

“Everything is preliminary at this point,” he said. “All I'm looking for is a cup of coffee and the chance to exchange ideas.”
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