Agreement to Purchase 171 Acres in Monroe, CT

Monroe, CT, 1/22/04: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced today that it has reached agreements to purchase 171 acres of land adjacent to Webb Mountain Park in northeastern Monroe for open space purposes. Separate agreements have been reached with two different landowners: the first agreement is to purchase 106 acres and the second agreement is to purchase 65 acres on Webb Circle Road. TPL began negotiating to purchase the properties last fall at the request of local officials. The Town of Monroe will purchase these properties from TPL if approved by local voters. The purchase price of $5.196 million is less than appraised values and will be a bargain sale to the Town of Monroe.

“This is a great opportunity for the Town of Monroe,” said Andrew Nunn, Monroe’s First Selectman, “These parcels of land meet our highest priorities for open space acquisition, including the fact that they are adjacent to town-owned Webb Mountain Park and that they will be a critical link in a emerging greenbelt of protected open space and trails available to all Monroe residents. We now have an opportunity to purchase the property for a fair price, but we must act quickly if we are to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“The land and water quality value of these properties is very significant,” said former Monroe First Selectman Karen Burnaska, who led the effort to add open space to Webb Mountain Park during her term in office. “Residents understand the value of protecting open space now and for future generations.”

The Town Council and Board of Finance must approve the purchase before sending it to Town Meeting where residents will be asked to vote on the project. One of the agreements requires that town meeting approval take place prior to March 15, 2004, and both agreements require that the town purchase the properties no later than June 2004. The Town will seek matching grant funds from the State of Connecticut DEP for both parcels if the open space grants program is funded again by the legislature. Private contributions are also being sought to help with the purchase, including the sale of an easement on a small portion of the property. Voters will be asked to approve the entire $5.196 million in case the state and private funds do not become available.

“The first priority of Monroe’s Open Space Committee was to identify and then acquire property that would expand and protect the character of Monroe’s existing parks,” said Bob Martin, Planning and Zoning Commission and former Chairman of Monroe’s Open Space Commission “These two parcels meet that objective beautifully and in conjunction with the Kelda land acquired by the State of Connecticut will maintain the “undeveloped” character of Webb Mountain Park and this area of town. I believe this also meets the goals of the Town’s Master Plan to work to maintain the character of the Town of Monroe by protecting and acquiring undeveloped land where appropriate.”

“The Trust for Public Land is pleased to help provide this opportunity to the Town of Monroe,” said Alicia Betty, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land. “The Webb Mountain Open Space Project will make a truly significant addition to the greenway, protecting important natural resources and providing a peaceful place for people to hike and enjoy the beauty of land that is becoming increasingly scarce in this area of the state.”

The Webb Mountain Open Space properties serve as a critical link in the town’s emerging greenbelt system by connecting town-owned Webb Mountain Park to BHC-owned watershed land and other dedicated open space located in northeastern Monroe. On a regional level, these properties help establish connections to the Means Brook Greenway in Shelton (>2000 acres) and provide improved trail access to the Housatonic River and Lake Zoar, as well as Indian Wells State Park to the south. With the addition of these 171 acres of new open space, there will be a block of adjoining open space totaling nearly 700 acres in Monroe.

The properties feature an outstanding diversity of natural features, wildlife habitat, and water and wetland resources. Dense, uninterrupted forest serves as a natural filter for drinking water supply as well as excellent habitat for a variety of birds, mammals and amphibians. Six vernal pools support populations of spotted salamander and wood frog. Red shoulder hawk (species of special concern) has been observed in the project area and sharp-shinned hawk (endangered species) may also reside in the area. Large-diameter “wolf” trees, large wide spreading trees that grew historically in open fields, still line some of the paths on the properties and hint at Monroe’s agricultural heritage. The well-known field owned by the Knecht Family will also be preserved as part of this project.

Acquisition of these properties is a vital step in protecting the small town atmosphere and natural beauty of Monroe. Conserving these properties will help retain the community character of Monroe and enhance the quality of life, attributes that are increasingly threatened by fast-paced growth and development. In fact, growth in Monroe during the past decade has been among the highest in Fairfield County: the population has increased by 14% and the number of housing units by 10%. A portion of the project area has already received approvals for a 70 residential unit subdivision. The approvals have been the subject of litigation that will soon be terminated as a result of the agreement reached with the Trust for Public Land.

The Trust for Public Land is a national conservation organization dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.6 million acres nationwide, including nearly 3,000 in Connecticut. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation organization, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs, for the second year in a row. For more information, call TPL’s Connecticut office at (203) 777-7367.