Is a half-acre of open space worth waiving $21,600 in back taxes?

The proposed donation to the town of about half an acre of wetlands off Lakeside Drive will go to a public hearing Wednesday, June 6, at 7:30 in town hall. The land gift is scheduled for a town meeting two weeks later, on June 20, again at 7:30 in town hall.

The property is off Lakeside Drive at the intersection of Cross Hill Road, and the lot borders almost six acres of town open space.

The Conservation Commission, which oversees open space land, voted to support accepting the parcel after walking it, while noting that “there are several dead trees that could fall onto town roads in the future.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission also voted to recommend accepting the parcel.

The lot of slightly less than half an acre is assessed at $140,630. There are some $21,600 in taxes outstanding on the property and nearly as much in interest, pushing the balance due to about $40,000, Tax Collector Jane Berendsen-Hill wrote to the selectmen.

If the land is accepted by the town as open space, it will become tax exempt “and any outstanding taxes should be abated by the Board of Selectmen,” she said.

Annual taxes on the lot were last paid in 2009.

Orlando Romeo, the property’s owner, offered the lot as a donation to the town in 2009,

according to his daughter, Julia DeRoches of Hamden, and she said he apparently stopped paying the taxes in the belief he had given it away.

Romeo, now 85, had bought it in 1966 with his late wife.

“Our hope was to eventually build our dream home by the lake,” he said in a 2009 letter offering it to the town.

At the time of the original purchase it was “an approved building lot,” DeRoches said.

However, a soils study done in 2002 found the property was entirely wetlands and it was no longer considered a good building lot by the town, she said. Her father was working with a lawyer on the wetlands issue as recently as in 2007, but couldn’t get it resolved.

“In the summer of 2009 he sent a registered letter to the First Selectman’s office, as well as the Tax Assessor’s office, with his intention to donate property,” DeRoches wrote. “There are no records to indicate he heard back form either office. …

“My father has always been a hard-working, honest man,” she wrote. “My only assumption, at this point, is that he considered the property donated, and the matter closed.”