Agreement Would Conserve Former Griswold Airport Property (CT)

MADISON, CT, 9/30/2009: The Trust for Public Land announced today that it has reached an agreement to purchase 42 acres of land known as the Griswold Airport property from Madison Landing Company, LLC, a subsidiary of LeylandAlliance LLC. The agreement offers the Town of Madison a unique opportunity to purchase the property for both passive and active uses, while protecting this important natural area from the imminent threat of residential development.

The 42-acre property, located on the Boston Post Road, is adjacent to Hammonasset State Park and includes prime wetland habitat, upland forest, and significant frontage along the Hammonasset River. The former airport property was sold to LeylandAlliance in 2007 and permits to construct 127 units of housing on the land were subsequently granted. In 2008 The Town of Madison invited the Connecticut office of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, to negotiate with LeylandAlliance for a conservation solution.

“TPL is delighted to provide this significant opportunity to add to Madison’s charming character and protect the Griswold Airport land from development, creating a new community park where families of all ages can be active and enjoy nature,” said Alicia Betty, project and development manager with The Trust for Public Land. “This land represents one of the last remaining chances to protect such a large parcel along the coast of Connecticut.”

The conservation goals for the property are to maintain the land as natural open space with walking trails and viewing areas along the river, with the potential to restore a portion of the grasslands to accommodate a variety of birds. On the front portion of the property, closest to the Post Road, Town officials potentially envision several recreational fields for use by Town families and possibly a small area reserved for future commercial use compatible with a park.

“This is a ‘Field of Dreams’ for the Town of Madison,” said Al Goldberg, the First Selectman of Madison. “For years, many Madison citizens have hoped the fields of Griswold Airport might remain. I will be thrilled to present this opportunity to the Town of Madison’s voters to create a new park for the enjoyment of this and future generations alike.”

“We are pleased to provide The Trust for Public Land and the Town of Madison with this opportunity to conserve an extraordinary site,” said Howard Kaufman, Executive Vice President of LeylandAlliance. “While we remain extremely proud of our work in Madison and stand ready to build Madison Landing, it is our desire to facilitate this conservation effort. We will continue to work on our exciting mixed-use public-private projects, such as Storrs Center, which we are developing with the Town of Mansfield and the University of Connecticut.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the property would be purchased for $9.7 million, with a closing scheduled for April 1, 2010. Also under the agreement, the town has forty-five days to decide whether or not to offer Madison voters a referendum to authorize a bond to cover $8 million of the purchase price. The Town will likely add as much as $1 million to the $8 million bond to cover demolition and renovation costs which would fund the initial conversion of the airport into a park. Such a referendum would be expected later this fall.

The Trust for Public Land and the Town will seek a variety of grants and other outside funding sources in order to reduce the cost to the Town. In addition, the balance of the purchase price would be funded through a private capital campaign to be conducted by The Trust for Public Land and partners.

“This has been a long battle to preserve a unique parcel of open space on our shoreline, and the effort proves once again that persistence and patience win out,” said State Senator Edward Meyer.

“Connecticut’s shoreline is one of the last havens for the sensitive ecology of the salt marshes. We now have the opportunity to make our mark by stepping up and protecting our little piece of the disappearing marshland so that it will still be here for our children and grandchildren,” said Representative Deborah W. Heinrich. “The fight to protect the Griswold Property is not over. Many people have worked hard to bring us to this point. The last step will be up to the voters in Madison.”

Local citizens, including the volunteer group called Stop Griswold Overdevelopment (SGOD) had contested Leyland Alliance’s proposed development on the former airport property for years. SGOD was concerned about the density of the proposed development and the impact its community septic system would have on the land and Long Island Sound.

“I could not be more delighted that The Trust for Public Land has secured the purchase of the Griswold Airport land. So many people have worked hard over the last eight years to bring us to this point,” said William McCullough, with Stop Griswold Overdevelopment. “The citizens of Madison and our leaders are presented with an opportunity that almost certainly will be our last chance to save this land.”

The land has more than 400 feet of Hammonasset River frontage and a 2000-foot marsh land border with the Hammonasset State Park. It also consists of approximately 10 acres of salt marsh and 32 upland acres. It is part of the Atlantic coastal flyway and serves as a key breeding ground for finfish in the Hammonasset River leading out to Long Island Sound. In 2004 the area was recognized by Audubon Connecticut as an Important Bird Area of global significance due to birds like the Salt Marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows that make their home there.

“The tidal wetlands of Hammonasset Park, which border on the old airport land, have been said by Audubon Connecticut to be the finest remaining tidal wetlands on Long Island Sound,” added McCullough. “I am very hopeful that the Selectpersons will send the decision of the purchase of the land to the people of Madison for a referendum vote.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization which works with partners and communities to conserve land for people to enjoy as working landscapes, parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. TPL has protected over 6,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 32 communities across the state.