Guilford OKs buying 624 acres

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 4:41 PM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — At a special referendum Tuesday, voters resoundingly approved a proposal to spend $15.45 million on 624 acres of open space along the East River.

The measure, the only one on the ballot, passed by a more than 5-to-1 margin, with 2,645 people voting in favor of the plan and 486 voting against it.

The vote paves the way for the town to buy the East River Preserve, a plot north of Clapboard Hill Road, from the Goss family, which has owned it since the 1920s.

Town officials plan to save much of the property as open space, with about 50 acres that could serve municipal uses in the future. The purchase includes about 40 adjacent acres owned by the Zipp family.

Land Acquisition Commission Chairman Gary MacElhiney called the outcome “phenomenal.”

“It’s amazing that the townspeople are just so overwhelmingly in favor of open space,” he said.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci praised voters for supporting the purchase.

“This is preserving something historic and beautiful,” Balestracci said. “The problem today is we’re faced with such difficult times that it took a great deal of courage for the citizens of Guilford to do this, and I appreciate that.”

People from all five of the town’s voting districts cast ballots at fire headquarters, which saw a steady stream of cars Tuesday evening.

Simon Carrington said he voted for the proposal.

“I just think that what Guilford has done to protect open space is marvelous,” he said.

Carrington, a native of Great Britain, said he recently become an American citizen, and Tuesday was his first time voting in the U.S.

“We’ve lived here about six years, so we’ve taken full advantage of the wonderful open spaces that there are in Guilford,” he said.

Thomas Betts, who also voted Tuesday evening, said he was against the purchase.

“I don’t think this is the right time for the town to be spending a great deal of money,” Betts said, adding that he thinks the land should be reappraised.

The town plans to issue bonds to fund the purchase and has secured a $3 million federal grant, which Balestracci said would become available once the purchase is made. He added that officials will continue working to raise private funds to pay down the bond, which will first fall due in 2012.

At a town meeting earlier this month on the project, Balestracci said that the average annual tax increase for residents over the 20-year life of the bond would be 27 cents for every $1,000 of appraised value, or $108 a year for a house appraised at $400,000.

MacElhiney said there are a number of “documentation steps” the town must take to complete the purchase and the grant process, and he expects the closing will be in the second half of the year.

After more than six years of talks, town officials came to an agreement with the Goss family on the purchase last year. In recent months, state and local officials had extolled the virtues of the Goss property — which includes two miles of shoreline along the East River — as an important ecosystem to preserve near Long Island Sound.

“This is a very, very strong statement by Guilford citizens that this is our will that we preserve the quality of life in the community,” Balestracci said.

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