OLD LYME — The Open Space Commission has signed a contract for $400,000 to purchase a 35-acre lot on Whippoorwill Road adjacent to the town’s 195-acre Ames Open Space property. In a phone call with CT Examiner, Open Space Co-Chair Amanda Blair said that the commission had approached the owner of the property in December 2020 or the following January.
“It’s a beautiful gravel road and we can put a small ‘hammerhead’ turnaround for buses and cars and that splits existing Ames into two,” said Blair. “You turn right to go to the Native American caves or shelters and turn left to the bird and beaver wildlife observation areas. And this ties into our existing trails.”
On Sept. 7, after discussing the matter in executive session, the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to recommend the sale move forward to a town meeting.
The purchase requires approvals from the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Planning Commission, followed by a town meeting, according to Blair.
On Sept. 21, the Board of Finance approved sending the purchase to a vote at town meeting, although some members of the board expressed dismay that they hadn’t been properly warned of the request prior to the meeting.
Open Space Co-chair Evan Griswold told members that the Ames property has become the “jewel in the crown” of the town’s open space holdings.
“It has outstanding ecological characteristics, as well as historical significance with the Native American caves that were excavated by John Pfeiffer, I think, as part of his PhD thesis back in the 60s or 70s,” said Griswold
But Finance Chair David Kelsey questioned how long the parcel had been on the market, commenting that at about $11 per acre, the price was higher than the town had previously paid for property.
Blair said the Open Space Commission would have the property appraised in the current market.
The 35.14-acre parcel at 41-4 Whippoorwill Road is owned by Steven Ames, and is part of a subdivision approved in 2005. Griswold to board members the property was originally put on the market in 2005 for $439,999.
According to Nancy Johnson at William Pitt Sotheby’s International, Ames also owns 41-2 Whippoorwill Road, a 12.78-acre parcel, which is under contract.
Blair told the Board of Finance that $200,000 of the purchase would be paid from the town’s Open Space Land Acquisition fund, which she said stood at about $418,000, but that given attorneys’ fees, appraisal and additional surveys, paying the entire amount immediately was not feasible.
Blair said that Ames had agreed to provide a mortgage as part of the purchase agreement.
“The owner Steven Ames has agreed to take back a purchase money mortgage of $200,000 for two years at current market interest rates,” said Blair.
She said that the commission had applied for three grants, including the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for half of the acquisition cost.
“We are anticipating using some of our carryover funds for prior years to cover most of our startup costs — kiosks, trails, parking areas, etc. — and we will be applying for grants to reduce our overall expenses,” Blair said.
Griswold said the new parcel would provide excellent access to existing open space, and that he had talked with the neighbors about the town purchase of the property.
“Steve Ames did a lot of work and to his credit put in a very nice gravel road with underground utilities for the subdivision so this parcel has great access and we plan to use the access for the good of the public,” Griswold said. “We have talked to the neighbors — there is one house that comes in off Whippoorwill Road and that’s Joe and Tammy Tinnerello and they are enthusiastic about the town getting this as open space.”
Steven Ames could not be reached for this story, and Joe and Tammy Tinnerello declined an opportunity to comment.
Editor’s note: Kelsey, who is mentioned in this story, is a primary source of funding for CT Examiner.