Out of options, East Lyme's choice is now clear if it wants to save Hills

As one of the prior owners of the 150-acre waterfront parcel along the northwestern-most stretch of the Niantic River, I read with great sadness reports of its impending development by Landmark Development Group. It is a magnificent piece of property East Lyme could have acquired anytime in the past 38 years.

When my father and uncle, Charles and PJ Matthews, acquired the property in the late 1960s they knew it was valuable but never followed through with their plans to develop it, perhaps for sentimental, altruistic reasons.

Having our property acquired by the town and preserved as open space was always the family’s hope and especially my aunt, former state Senator Cynthia Matthews, who lived across the Niantic River in Waterford, looking out over a mile of pristine riverfront forest.

The town missed numerous opportunities over the years to acquire and preserve this land, choosing instead to kick the can down the road by blocking development through zoning regulation and, most recently, by denying sanitary sewer access.

Now Landmark has overcome the final impediment to development by winning in Connecticut’s courts the right to connect to East Lyme’s sewer. The Supreme Court has affirmed this right. Securing this right has — without exaggeration — increased the value of the property by an order of magnitude making development of Landmark’s affordable housing project inevitable.

So now, after nearly 40 years of can-kicking, the town has run out of road.

Well-meaning preservationists pledge “to work tirelessly to oppose development and to acquire the last unprotected acres of the Oswegatchie Hills.” Unfortunately, the time for Memorandums of Understanding, talk of land swaps, and emotional op-ed pieces by Friends of Oswegatchie Hills and Save the River-Save the Hills has passed.

The choice going forward is now simple and binary. Either purchase the property or allow it to be fully developed.

I hope East Lyme can find a way to buy it.

William A. Matthews lives in Boston, Mass.

 

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