Agreement Would Protect Riverside Property in Chester, CT

Chester, CT, 12/3/2008: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, and the Town of Chester announced today that TPL has reached agreement to purchase 4.6 acres on Parkers Point Road with access to the Connecticut River. TPL will hold the property off the market while funds can be raised for the Town to purchase the parcel, subject to a conservation easement with the State of Connecticut. The easement will guarantee that the land will remain forever undeveloped.

The conservation of the parcel would protect ecologically valuable land in an area that is highly developed. The property is mostly forested, with 670 feet of frontage along the west bank of the river, including 410 feet on a tidal basin in the southeast corner. The town’s ownership of the property would provide the public with access to the river for scenic vistas and for recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing and bird watching.

The State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection recently announced that they have awarded a grant of $489,020 to help defray the costs of the property’s protection. This is nearly half of the $998,000 purchase price. The grant is part of the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, in operation since 1998. The program helps towns, land trusts and water companies conserve important land for open space and water supply protection.

The Connecticut River Gateway Commission also strongly supports the project and has awarded TPL a $50,000 grant to help the town acquire the property.

Amy Blaymore Paterson, Project Manager for TPL, said, “Opportunities to preserve land along the Connecticut River do not come about very often. The Trust for Public Land is thrilled to assist the town in protecting this unique and important property. We are so appreciative of the state and Gateway Commission grants as they will help the town to realize a true bargain while enhancing its open space and park system.”

Tom Marsh, the First Selectman of Chester, said, “Opportunities to acquire land with the attributes associated with this parcel come along, perhaps, once in a lifetime. Through this acquisition Chester will meet an objective adopted at Town Meeting in 1999, of securing frontage on the Connecticut River. Residents will have a beautiful spot for picnics, kayaking, canoeing, educational outings or just watching the river go by, for generations to come. I greatly appreciate the financial commitment and collaborative efforts of organizations such as the TPL, DEP, the Gateway Commission and the Chester Land Trust in the endeavor to make this possibility a reality.”

J.H. Torrance Downes, Advisor to the Gateway Commission and the Senior Planner for the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency, which is also an advocate of the purchase, stated, “Through the 35 years since its formation in 1973, the primary mission of the Gateway Commission has been to preserve and protect the ‘natural and traditional riverway scene’ within the Gateway Conservation Zone through efforts including the preservation of riverfront property within the Connecticut River Estuary Region. Even in these unsettled economic times, the Gateway Commission felt it important to commit their limited resources to the preservation of this riverfront property.”

The purchase price for the property is set at $998,000 and TPL must complete the acquisition by March 16, 2009. With the DEP and Gateway grants, the cost to the town will not exceed $458,980. However, TPL has applied for several additional public and private grants and is also working closely with the Chester Land Trust to raise additional funds to further reduce the town’s costs in purchasing the property.

As part of the town approval process, a public information session is scheduled for Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 7:30 pm at The Meeting House. TPL and the Chester Land Trust will also offer guided tours of the site on Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. If the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance approve the project, a formal public hearing will be scheduled in January, 2009, followed by additional opportunities for a site walk and a Town Meeting to authorize the town’s purchase.

Acquisition of the property has received the strong support of the Chester Planning and Zoning and Conservation Commissions. Conservation Commission Chairman Sandy Prisloe stated, “This parcel of land is a major open space opportunity for the Town of Chester. Not only does it have high ecological value, but acquisition would enable the town to finally make good on a long-standing, and as yet unfulfilled, mandate of Chester’s citizens to secure protection of and public access to one of our most precious natural resources: the Connecticut River.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization which works with others 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 5,000 acres of open space, watershed land, working farms and forestland, and historic resources in 32 communities across the state.