Council votes to donate $4,448 for preservation of parcel

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Fri., Aug. 26, 2011
Councilman Craig Nussbaum had concerns over the town's obligation regarding that specific property. Photos by Steve Smith.
Councilman Craig Nussbaum had concerns over the town's obligation regarding that specific property. Photos by Steve Smith.

On Aug 23, the Tolland Town Council voted to approve the donation of $4,448 to Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust, for the stewardship of the 26.98-acre Lemek Property, along the Skungamaug River, off of Goose Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission had approved the subdivision, known as “Lemek Acres,” in May of 2008. Customarily, open space remaining from a subdivision is turned over to the town, but language in the specific contract allowed it to be given to a land trust. The tract was turned over to Joshua's Trust in November of 2010.

The town's Conservation Commission had previously recommended that the town not make the contribution, but after John Pagini, a representative of the trust, spoke at the commission's Aug. 11 meeting, the commission voted to “rescind the July advisory on the Lemek property based on additional information and clarification of issues... and recommend to the Town Council that it would be advantageous to approve the request.”

The dollar amount was arrived at by a formula the Trust uses of $180 per acre, but a letter from Joshua's Trust President Allison Burchell-Robinson stated, “Because of this transition period, we have asked less of the town than we would have under the current policy.”

It was further explained that the Trust policy requests donors of land to contribute funds to meet the requirement of its standards and practices pertaining to its ability to “maintain, improve, monitor, and enforce restrictions on properties and easements under its control.”

At the meeting, Pagini said the request would not go to the immediate stewardship needs for the property, but would go toward a pool of funding for all of the trust's properties, to provide for long-term protection.

“If there were to be a problem of someone encroaching on our property,” Pagini said, “we would go to this one fund...if [for example] to remedy this situation, it would cost $12,000, we would take the $12,000 out of that fund. It is not limited to $4,448.”

Pagini said the $4,448 is a one-time installment to ensure the maintenance of the property, and would allow the town to not incur any maintenance liability or oversight responsibility.

One of the sticking points for the commission seemed to be confusion over whether the area would have public access, but it was clarified that there are no trails planned, so the term “limited access” may have been confusing, as the land will be available for hiking, etc., but will not have marked trails.

The trust has 60 other properties that are funded and maintained under the same strict code. Of those, 56 already include public access, as will the Lemek property.

Still, Councilman Craig Nussbaum said that he was not sure about supporting the donation, because the town did not, in his opinion, own the land.

“If the town had received ownership of this land – and not Joshua's Trust – it would fall under the guidance of the Conservation Commission,” Nussbaum said. “We've been funding them for about $250 a year for all of their properties. We're being asked, now, to fund $4,000 for a single property.”

“I'm not sure just where we fall into this,” said Councilman Jack Flynn.

Burchell-Robinson's letter stated that if the land was not turned over to the trust, the town would have had to assume the same costs of stewardship.

“Because the trust is assuming the cost of public open space, then we believe that it is appropriate that the town participate in the funding of future stewardship costs,” the letter said.

“If they had not offered to donate it to Joshua's Trust, then it would have come to the town and would have become our financial and legal responsibility for maintaining,” said Councilwoman MaryAnn Delaney Tuttle.

“Clearly, the town does not have an obligation here to make the donation,” said Council Chair Fred Daniels. “They've come to us, and the hope is the land donor is going to make the donation. The fact that that didn't happen [means] Joshua's Trust is looking to the town. I think Joshua's Trust is a worthy organization. I think they'll properly administer the funds.”

The council voted 5-2 in favor of the donation.

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