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Land on Hunters Road in Norwich to be preserved as open space

Norwich — Two city-owned land parcels on Hunters Road, once slated for development, will be preserved as open space with diverse wildlife habitat and opportunities for walking trails.

The plots are slated to be transferred to Avalonia Land Conservancy Inc., which Mayor Peter Nystrom said places the land in perpetuity as protected open space. Avalonia, a regional land trust, is a responsible organization that will keep the property clean and manage walking trails, he noted.

"It's a win-win," he said. "The city gains the benefit at the same time it doesn't incur any expenses."

The City Council voted 5-0 on Monday in favor of authorizing City Manager John Salomone to execute the transfer of the two properties. Two aldermen were absent.

At the council meeting, City Planner Deanna Rhodes spoke in favor of turning over the land to Avalonia Land Conservancy, saying it would relieve the Public Works Department of the burden of maintenance and Avalonia would provide “a watchful eye” on the land.

The only council member to comment was President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt, whose property abuts the land. He said he supports the transfer. “Certainly it lends itself to a nice possibility of additional passive recreational opportunities,” he said.

Bettencourt added Tuesday that the properties were in the city's hands but there didn't appear to be any real opportunities to sell them. He thought this would be a good use of the land: "We certainly want to create more recreational opportunities for both adults and youth."

The two properties on Hunters Road — one, referred to as lot 30-1, is about 14.18 acres and the other, lot 30-2, is about 12.81 acres, abut each other — comprise about 27 acres, according to city land records.

Rhodes told The Day that a development was proposed for the properties many years ago but was never built. The city received the land by foreclosure in early 2020, after bringing action against Ponemah Villa Estates LLC and McFarland Johnson Inc., according to the City Council's resolution.

“The city planned to keep both parcels as open space, so the proposal by Avalonia to acquire and manage them for public access and passive recreation is very desirable and consistent with that goal,” she said.

David Stygar, Avalonia's acquisitions committee chairman, said the agency is trying to expand and preserve land in more towns, including Norwich, where it recently received a donation of land on North Wawecus Hill Road from the Polaski family.

Styger said Avalonia did a walk-through of the Hunters Road property —  home to deer, a couple of brooks and rocky outcroppings, which made it difficult to develop — and liked what it saw and decided the property "is well worth protecting and getting the public on there."

He said Avalonia will inventory the land's natural resources and develop a management plan, as the accredited land trust does for each of its properties. Avalonia will work to make the trails, as much as it can, accessible to people of all skill levels.

"This is awesome," Dennis Main, Avalonia finance committee chairman, said in reaction to the news of the City Council's vote of approval.

He said the land, where it appears that Avalonia could readily develop trails and a parking area, will provide an additional opportunity for passive recreation for the public in a city with a population of more than 40,000 residents.

Main said the property, located in a residential neighborhood, provides wonderful habitat and features rocky ridges, wetland slopes and flat trails.

There are birds that include pileated woodpecker, ovenbirds, various warblers, golden-crowned kinglets, Northern cardinals, American robins and barred owl, he said. The land has mature white pine, shagbark hickory, American chestnut, beech and various oak trees, among others.

"It's a diverse habitat typical of Norwich," Main said.

k.drelich@theday.com 

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