EAST LYME – Voters will decide in October whether the town should buy three properties totaling more than 250 acres from the East Lyme Land Trust for $2.25 million and preserve the land as open space.
The Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday night to enter into a contract with the land trust to buy the 114-acre Hathaway Farm property, 119.6-acre Oswegatchie Hills property and 22.2-acre Brainerd Road property near Giants Neck Beach – opening a process that will culminate with a referendum on Oct. 17, allowing town residents will decide whether to approve the purchase.
It was the first public discussion of the potential purchase, which has previously been discussed in executive session, First Selectman Kevin Seery said.
The board discussed four options for funding the purchase on Tuesday, with Seery and Finance Director Kevin Gervais both saying they preferred an option where the town would effectively loan itself $1.75 million – spending out of its fund balance, then restoring that when it issues bonds next year.
That option would cost the town the least interest and have the least impact on the bond rating, Gervais said. But it would raise the mill rate by 0.06 – raising the annual property tax bill on a $400,000 home by $17.
Seery said the land trust purchased the Hathaway Farm property last September, and used the Oswegatchie Hills and Brainerd Road properties as collateral in the sale. Seery said the land trust hasn’t been able to make the mortgage payments, opening the door for the town to buy all three pieces.
“The intent of the town is to keep this as open space in perpetuity,” Seery told CT Examiner.
Two of the properties have potential to be developed. Most of Hathaway Farms has issues with wetlands and access that would prevent large-scale development, but it has a buildable area with room for about 30 houses, Seery said.
The Brainerd Road property has trails maintained by Giants Neck Beach residents, but there are several pieces that could be developed if a road was extended from Giants Neck, Seery said.
Oswegatchie Hills, home to popular trails, would be difficult to develop if it went to a private owner, but that would mean the public losing access to the trails, Seery said.
Seery said Russ Appraisal Services valued the properties at a total of $2.295 million – $1.595 million for the Hathaway property, $575,000 for Oswegatchie Hills, and $125,000 for Brainerd Road. The land trust agreed to sell them to the town for $2.25 million, he said.
The town would partially fund the purchase with a $400,000 Department of Energy and Environmental Protection grant that the land trust already received, and would transfer to the town. The town also has about $220,000 in its open space fund, and would use $200,000 for the purchase, Gervais told the board.
That would leave $1.75 million for the town to fund. Seery said the Board of Selectmen will make a recommendation on how to fund it to the Board of Finance in early October. The Board of Finance will make that decision before voters decide whether to approve the purchase in a referendum, Seery said.
The Board of Selectman intends to set a public hearing on Sept. 27 to discuss the purchase, Seery said.