Open space nears vote in Guilford

Monday, December 22, 2008 6:31 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Officials have set Jan. 27 for a townwide referendum on spending nearly $15.5 million to preserve 624 acres of open space along the East River.

In October, the town announced an agreement with members of the Goss family, which has owned the land since the 1920s, to buy the area known as the East River Preserve.

The town plans to keep 577 acres as open space, and possibly develop about 70 acres as playing fields in the future.

The referendum would also include purchasing about 40 adjacent acres from the Zipp family estate, First Selectman Carl Balestracci said, to be included in the open space preserve.

Both parcels lie in the area of Clapboard Hill and Podunk roads, north of the Exit 59 interchange off Interstate 95.

The selectmen, Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved bonding for the project and voted to send the question to voters.

A town meeting is scheduled for Jan. 14 at the Guilford Community Center, with the referendum taking place Jan. 27.

All five voting districts will vote at the fire station at 390 Church St.

The town has already received approval for $3 million in federal funds toward the project, although Balestracci said the grant could expire if the project is not approved by March.

The state legislature also approved a $3 million grant, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell has not signed the legislation.

“Any monies that come in from the state will be used to pay down the bond,” Balestracci said.

Despite the adverse economic climate, town officials are enthusiastic about the purchase and are hoping that voters will support it.

Balestracci called it a “one-time opportunity” to preserve the area for future use.

The owners had considered subdividing it into more than 100 parcels.

“A lot of people are nervous about this because they’re saying that in the difficult economic situation that we’re faced with, it’s really going to be difficult for people to vote to approve something like this, but my answer to that is this is an incredible opportunity that we have,” Balestracci said.

“It’s going to take a great deal of courage on the part of the citizens of Guilford to vote, but we do have the $3 million from the federal government.”

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