Ridgefield would add 15 acres of open space
The two parcels — 14 acres on Bear Mountain Road and a one-acre parcel off Craigmoor Road near Lake Mamanasco — would be purchased without any use of town tax dollars. The $150,000 needed for the two acquisitions would come from the Conservation Commission’s Open Space Fund, and from grants — including a $10,000 grant from the Thrift Shop.
“We haven’t purchased any open space in town for about 15 years,” Conservation Commission Chairman Jim Coyle told the selectmen. “The acquisition would be purely with open space funds we have. We’re not asking the town for any money.”
Coyle discussed the acquisitions with the selectmen during their June 10 Zoom meeting.
The 14-acre track off Bear Mountain in Ridgebury is wild land that would link a couple of parcels the town already has among its rougly 3,200 acres of open space lands around Ridgefield.
Three acres of Conservation Commission land on Bear Mountain that are now virtually landlocked would be connected by the 14 new acres to the 386-acre Hemlock Hills and neighboring open spaces including the 101-acre Lake Windwing, the 368-acre Pine Mountain property, the 440-plus acre Bennett’s Pond State Park in Ridgefield and Danbury, and other protected lands in both towns that include the Ives Trail.
“That whole area of north Ridgefield and part of Danbury is one of the largest open space areas in the State of Connecticut,” Coyle told the selectmen. “It’s about 2,800 acres — half in Ridgefield and half in Danbury.
“This would be a nice connection,” he said of the 14-acre purchase. “We’d extend the trails from Hemlock Hills up through a parcel which has some very good views to the north.”
“It’s 14 acres, it’s got a value on it of $140,000,” he said. “The property owner has a 20-acre parcel on Bear Mountain Road: Parcel 1, roughly 6 acres; Parcel 2, roughly 14 acres. The homeowner would retain Parcel 1 and sell Parcel 2 to us.”
The Conservatoion Commission is trying to reduce what it would spend on the Bear Mountain parcel with a grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
“We will be applying to DEEP to see if we can be reimbursed 65 percent, which would be about $90,000,” Coyle said.
But the acquisition isn’t dependent on the grant.
“We want to go ahead with this one way or the other,” Coyle said. “The Conservation Commission has voted on this, and they’re all anxious to get going with it.
“The parcel is heavily wooded,” Coyle said. “It’s very much in a natural state. It has virtually no invasive species. It’s a unique parcel and we think it makes a lot of sense to add this to our inventory.”
The selectmen asked what the annual taxes on the parcel are, and Coyle said the property gets a discount under a state law — Public Act 490 — designed to encourage property owners to keep forest and farmland undeveloped by diminishing the taxes.
“Taxes on the 14 acres are only about $600 a year, and taxes are current,” he said.
The grant application to the state DEEP Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program outlines why the Conservation Commission is committed to the acquisition.
“This purchase of this undeveloped land,” the commission wrote, “will accomplish a few critical goals relevant to the preservation of open space in Ridgefield:
• “Connect an isolated 3-acre parcel of town open space to the 386-acre Hemlock Hills open space.
• “Help the town achieve its open space goal of 30 percent (we are currently at 25.2 percent).
• “Preserve the land in perpetuity in its natural, scenic, and open condition.
• “Another positive feature of the site is that it is located in the midst of one of the most expansive collections of open space in Connecticut, bridging two towns (Ridgefield and Danbury), and encompassing nearly 2,800 acres.
“The untouched acreage and woodland edges are home to diverse wildlife, including fox, turkey, bobcat, deer and coyotes. Various species of birds can also be found in the peaceful habitat, including the barred owl, downy woodpecker and goldfinch,” Coyle wrote.
“The densely wooded parcel has oak, beech, hickory and mountain laurel, while several species of moss and lichen thrive on the rock outcroppings. The site has significant northern views along a 700-foot ridgeline. It is truly a unique, unspoiled piece of property.”
Colye said that Ridgefielders had expressed their support for open space in surveys done for the revised town Plan of Conservation of Development (POCD) that the Planning and Zoning Commission is finishing up with a public hearing on June 16.
“Townwide surveys of important issues for Ridgefield residents (as part of the POCD process) places open space at or near top of the list. However, with available parcels becoming increasingly sparse, the time to invest in open space is growing short,” Coyle wrote
“It should be noted that the proposed acquisition is located in an area of Ridgefield that is experiencing developmental pressure — the northern part of Ridgefield at the border of Danbury.”
Ridgefield contains 5,636 acres of public and private open space, equal to about 25 percent of its land area, according to the POCD. Reaching the town’s long-stated goal of 30 percent open space would require adding 1,080 acres, the plan says, citing the town’s Open Space Inventory.
The other open space acquisition, on Craigmoor Road, is a one-acre parcel that is near the Garden of Ideas property — and held by the same owners — though not part of that site.
It also adjoins some existing open space with trails and a pond.
A $10,000 grant from the Thrift Shop is expected to cover the entire cost, Coyle told the selectmen.
Coyle described the acquisition in a document sent to the Thrift Shop.
“The one-acre parcel on Craigmoor Road will provide access to an otherwise inaccessible town open space parcel of 5 acres as well as 4-5 acres of conservation easement with existing trails put in by the Garden of Ideas,” he wrote. “Since the property is on a cul-de-sac at the end of Craigmoor Road, there will be adequate parking for several cars.
“We plan to make improvements to the parcel including trail improvements and construction of bridges/walkways, as necessary,” Coyle said.
“The trail, with bridges and boardwalks, will be of particular interest to families with small children, bird watchers, seniors, and anyone interested in exploring a wetland environment along an easy walking trail. There are platforms along the trail overlooking the pond for observation of the pond area. This property would be a good while small addition to Ridgefield’s Open Space Inventory.
“There are many benefits to Ridgefielders. The new parcel will:
• “Provide new hiking and recreational opportunities for Ridgefielders.
• “Move Ridgefield closer to its goal of conserving 30 percent land as open space.
• “Increase the inventory of threatened natural communities of birds, plants, reptiles and amphibians.
• “Make an isolated open space accessible to the public and provide an easy walk through a wetland near one of the few waterfalls in town.”
In the June 10 Zoom meeting, the selectmen were supportive, although they had questions.
Craigmoor Road is a T-shaped subdivision street off North Salem Road, with the top of the T offering access to homes with frontage on Lake Mamanasco.
The open space the town would acquire is off the south end of that.
“That abuts our existing open space, five acres,” Coyle said. “It would give us better access to our existing five acres.”
“Is this a buildable lot?” First Selectman Rudy Marconi asked.
“Probably not, it’s pretty wet,” Coyle replied.
Marconi also asked about the taxes on the land.
“The taxes on the parcel are about $1,500 a year and they’re paid up,” said Coyle.
The grant already lined up will cover the entire purchase, includes soft costs such as surveying.
“This is wholly funded by the Thrift Shop,” Coyle said. “No town funds involved.”
Selectman Bob Hebert suggested the selectmen delay their vote so neighbors could be notified.
“I’m supportive of this,” Hebert said. “...I think we owe it to the neighbors to let them know what we’re doing.”
“Why can’t the neighbors just be notified and come to the public hearing?” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners..
“In my experience, I’ve never heard of a neighborhood objecting to open space,” Marconi said.
“We’re bringing traffic to the area, we’re bringing people to the area,” Hebert said. “I just think we owe it to them.”
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said the Garden of Ideas — which closed late last year — had been more of a traffic draw than the open space would be.
“The Garden of Ideas was a very popular spot for people to come visit,” she said.
“Weekends it used to be very crowded.”