Ledges land deal is near

A cell tower on the property is no longer considered a possibility.

The land includes steep woods off the northerly side of Ledges Road. —Ian Murren map

In what may be a third bite at the apple of steep, rocky open space, the Conservation Commission is once again nearing a deal to purchase 28 acres off Ledges Road — with no plans to put up a cell tower, this time.

“We have theoretically an agreed deal to purchase the property that we’ve been looking at for the last several years — the property that we tried to purchase as a joint venture with the town and the town would use its part of the purchase for a cell tower,” Ben Oko of the Conservation Commission said late last week.

“But, as we need to remember, the citizens of the town did not wish to have money spent by the town for a cell tower,” Dr. Oko said.

“So we’re buying this with conservation money, and our money is for the purchase of open space, not for the purchase of a cell tower. So this property will not have a cell tower on it, if we purchase it with conservation money.”

The purchase would have to be approved by voters at a town meeting, even though the $825,000 price would not be coming from tax dollars.

The “conservation money” Dr. Oko spoke of is the Open Space Conservation Fund, made up of private donations and also contributions from land developers seeking to avoid setting aside physical open space land in a subdivision.

The commission is soon to begin the annual appeal that builds up the open space fund.

Discuss this on The Ridgefield Forum.

In 2011 the Conservation Commission and the Board of Selectmen collaborated on a proposed $1-million deal that would have had nearly all of the Ledges Road property purchased as open space, using  money from the conservation fund, but with about a third of an acre bought with separate town money so it could be rented as a cell tower site.

After months of controversy, public debate, and fierce neighborhood opposition, the proposal was voted down in June 2011.

That fall, the Conservation Commission tried to work out a renegotiated purchase without the cell tower. There was even a town meeting called, and Dr. Oko appeared before the gathered townspeople to say the sellers — a partnership of three — had apparently backed out of the deal.

As of the middle of this week, Dr. Oko said the Conservation Commission had gotten a signed contract back from one partner, and was awaiting signed copies from the other two. He expects the paperwork soon since the sellers seemed eager to complete the deal.

“We’re 98% sure we’re going to get the contracts back, and then we’ll schedule a public hearing and a town meeting before the end of the year,” he said. “We’re trying to accommodate their wish to get it done.”

Dr. Oko said he had no reason to believe First Selectman Rudy Marconi or the Board of Selectmen would not support the purchase of the property exclusively for open space — as they did in late 2011, when the commission came back with a second proposal after townspeople had rejected the cell tower plan earlier in the year.

“We’ll go through the process,” he said. “The thing that people are talking about, everybody wants to know about the cell tower.”

The loss of electrical and other utility services during the recent Storm Sandy has emphasized the difficulties people in parts of northern Ridgefield have as a result of poor cell service there — problems that also came to light in last fall’s storms, Irene and Alfred.

With the price of the land down from the previous $1 million, the Conservation Commission may now pursue the deal without getting additional money from the town by tacking on a cell tower site — and inviting neighborhood opposition the first time around.

“We’re not going down that road again,” Dr. Oko said.

“We were going to buy the land, but we couldn’t afford it. Now the price has dropped and we have enough to purchase it without the tower construction.”

He won’t ask First Selectman Marconi to schedule a public hearing and town meeting until all the paperwork is in order.

“Given the history of this property,” Dr. Oko said, “Rudy wants to wait until we have signed contracts until he schedules anything.”

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  • CMcQuilken

    A few thoughts:

    1) I appreciate the Conservation Commission’s efforts.

    2) But that said, is it possible we are paying too much for this property? So much of the property is a near vertical cliff rendering it unsuitable for building houses. What’s the right price for all those vertical acres that can’t hold a house? What if we didn’t buy it, would a builder put houses on all 28 acres? I don’t think that would be possible. To me, it’s a little like someone offering to sell us the sky. Just think, we could own the sky and brag about it, but is it really necessary to own the sky if it would be there for us to look at anyway without paying a dime?

    3) Maybe we shouldn’t buy it and the Conservation Commission could use the $825,000 to purchase something else in town. Then essentially two properties could be protected from major development.

    4) The article states,

    “The purchase would have to be approved by voters at a town meeting, even though the $825,000 price would not be coming from tax dollars.”

    The source of the money might not be directly from taxes, but it’s money belonging to the taxpayers. The Conservation Commission isn’t a private entity. It is department of our municipality, just like our highway department or police department. All municipal money belongs to the taxpayers. And as such, taxpayers should get the final say on how the money is spent. IMHO.

  • It’s possible we’re paying too much for the land. The dollars used to purchase the land is not borne by the taxpayers, unlike the costs for the highway or police departments so we really have NO say as to how the conservancy money is spent. It is a done deal now that the town financed cell tower is out of the picture.

  • CMcQuilken

    Conservation Commission, definitely don’t buy this land!

    Forgive me if this is already obvious to you but…

    The other day I put forth the theory that if you don’t buy the land, your goal of preserving the ridge line could very well be achieved because nothing will be built there anyway, much too steep.

    But today there is a new twist. If you buy the land, the BOS could very well put a cell tower on it. You would be achieving exactly the opposite of what you set out to do. You buying the land will enable the cell tower to go up and thus, disturb the look of the ridge line. I don’t think the BOS can do it without you, they don’t have the $825,000. They need your money. Don’t become the enabler.

    So please, don’t buy the land. It now defeats your purpose. IMHO.

  • Apparently I’m wrong.

    Oddly enough, taxpayers DO have a right about what the Conservation Commission does w its own money even though it doesn’t make much administrative sense to me. To me the CC is a buyer, just like any other, competing for pieces of land (in their case, for open space).

    I have been provided two reasons why taxpayers can vote how the Conservation Commission spends its own money: (1) they are a town commission (2) their stated purpose is to take land off the tax rolls.

    I honestly don’t understand why either of these two reasons are applicable. They seem counter intuitive to me.

    I don’t know whether all the other commission decisions are subject to taxpayer vote. Or is this just another one of Ridgefield’s quirks that has to be straightened out by the next Charter Revision Commission?

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