Studies Support Open Space Purchases

  Preservation Panel Makes Case For Limiting Development

 

The Hartford Courant, September 26, 2003

By JESSE LEAVENWORTH, Courant Staff Writer

 

NEW HARTFORD -- The town has ample open space and the means to protect it from development, according to two studies done for the open space preservation commission.

 

Chairwoman Caren Ross said Thursday that the studies, which cost the panel about $6,000, prove the necessity and feasibility of proposed open space bonding. Earlier this month, the selectmen asked the board of finance to consider a bonding package that includes $1.5 million to purchase open space.

 

The Buildable Lands Study done by the Farmington River Watershed Association concludes that 10,762 acres, or about 44 percent of New Hartford's total land, could be developed. The great majority is zoned for housing, and most of that buildable residential land - 8,790 acres - is in parcels zoned for 2-acre housing lots, according to the study.

 

"The continued development of these areas is a potential problem for the tax base of the town because of the costs of providing services to residential areas versus the tax benefits gained from residential development," the study's authors wrote. "The `build-out' of these residential areas would also mean a very significant increase in town population and automobile traffic.

 

"These facts strongly support open space acquisition and preservation as a strategy to ease financial burdens of the town."

 

The other study was done by a national group called The Trust for Public Land. The organization looked at the town's financial condition, its bonding history and a reasonable amount for the average household to contribute toward a campaign to preserve open space.

 

The study begins by asking why taxpayers should fund land conservation. The answers are:

 

New Hartford residents want open space protected. Land conservation was the top concern in a recent planning meeting. In a recent telephone survey contracted by the economic development commission, 93.8 percent of the 401 respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed to the statement: "New Hartford should use existing developed lands before developing in rural or underdeveloped areas."

 

Losing open space increases demand for public services; decreases quality of life; degrades water quality; and reduces wildlife habitat.

 

"Local funding is critical to success," the study says. It gives the town more control.

 

The study includes a fiscal profile of the town that notes its upper medium bond rating from Moody's Investors Services and ample capacity, within a debt limit of about $23 million, to issue bonds.

 

Funding a $1.5 million general obligation, 20-year bond would cost the average homeowner $38.52 a year, according to the study.

 

Of the town's 24,362 acres, about 14 percent is permanently protected. The goal of the town's open space plan is to preserve at least 30 percent.