East Lyme will try to buy 255 acres for $2.25 million
East Lyme ― A real estate deal more than two years in the making received the unanimous endorsement of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night when it authorized First Selectman Kevin Seery to offer $2.25 million to the East Lyme Land Trust for about 255 acres of open space.
The centerpiece of the deal is 114 acres of pristine, aquifer-heavy land near Lake Pattagansett long recognized as a preservation priority by those involved with planning for the town’s future and the quality of its water.
The sale would also secure for the town 120 acres situated within the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and 22 acres of trails in the Giants Neck Beach area. Minus an expected $400,000 grant from the state and $200,000 already in the town’s open space fund, the cost to taxpayers would be $1.75 million.
The land trust took ownership of the land near Lake Pattagansett, known as the Hathaway property, for $2.3 million dollars last September. In order to preserve the parcel, they offered their Oswegatchie Hills and Giants Neck tracts as collateral. Now, the non-profit organization needs to sell in order to avoid foreclosure.
Members of the land trust have said the purchase of the Hathaway property was a stop-gap measure to secure the important asset for eventual purchase by the town.
Finance Director Kevin Gervais said the sale, if bonded over 15 years at his recommendation, would cost taxpayers $166,000 a year. The amount represents an extra $13 annually for someone paying taxes on a home valued at $300,000.
The town’s offer is based on the June 1 appraisal of the Hathaway property at $1.6 million, the Oswegatchie Hills properties at $575,000 and the Giants Neck property known as Ravenswood for $125,000.
The appraisal states the “highest and best use” for the Hathaway property is primarily passive recreation now that most of the land fronting the road and the most desirable lakefront areas have been sold off.
It describes the properties as largely undevelopable due to rough terrain and lack of access. One exception is the western end of the Hathaway property along a shallow cove of Lake Pattagansett, which he said is “highly desirable” for high-end home construction.
Seery told selectmen the developable area of the property could fit about 30 single-family homes.
Purchase of the parcels in the hills would give the town ownership of the full 400-acre Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and enable officials to make sure it is preserved in perpetuity.
If the land trust defaults on its mortgage and loses the collateral properties, it could leave a hole in the middle of the preserve.
The land trust’s decision to use some of its properties as collateral was a controversial one that led to multiple complaints lodged with the state Office of the Attorney General about opening up the properties to potential development. One of the complaints came from a land trust donor who deeded a 10-acre portion of property in the hills to the conservation group with a caveat that it remain undeveloped.
Elizabeth Benton, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, on Wednesday said there have not yet been any findings in the investigation and it’s too soon to tell if a formal report will be issued.
Terms and conditions
The purchase agreement is contingent on numerous factors including approval by the town’s Planning Commission, Board of Finance and by voters at a referendum. It also rests on confirmation that the land trust’s $400,000 grant from the state will transfer to the town.
A spokesman from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was unable to determine by press time if the grant funding would carry over.
Town attorney Mark Block on Tuesday told selectmen he has had informal discussion with land trust attorney Anthony Novak that led him to “reasonably believe” the two attorneys would be able to agree on a $2.25 million contract under the selectmen’s terms and conditions.
“I don’t anticipate we’re going to go back with $2.25 million and they’re going to come up with another number,” he said.
Novak on Wednesday said he’d only been notified of the selectmen’s vote that afternoon.
“Whether it’s reasonable or not, I leave it to my client and his client to work out the details,” he said.
Seery on Wednesday said including all three properties in the deal was necessary to ensure the town isn’t overpaying for what it’s getting.
“We’re hoping, for the good of the town, that this is an acceptable offer,” he said. “To keep places that have been enjoyed for a long time preserved so they can be enjoyed forever.”
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