"It's a Great Day For Bethel!" 72 Acre Land Purchase Approved at Town Meeting

Approximately 200 residents voted to purchase the Franc property

It was standing room only at the Town Meeting at the to decide the fate of 72 acres of land that if purchased by the town, would remain open space. More than 200 people filled the seats and stood along the walls.  One after another, the residents stood up to support the purchase, and to keep the land as open space.

After only one hour of public comments, all but one person voted to purchase the land. “This is a great day for Bethel. We have proved once again that the people will spend the money for the common good,” First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker announced.

The purchase price of the land to the town of Bethel was $855,000, with $95,000 paid by Planning and Zoning from an Open Space fund.

 Bill Hillman felt the decision should be put to a referendum rather than Town Meeting. He felt that the combined costs of the taxes and interest would put the amount of the purchase over a million dollars.

 However, Town Attorney Marty Lawlor said that Hillman's point of order was out of order, and that if all costs were added to every purchase, they would all eventually reach over one million dollars.

 First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker reminded the town that this has been a ten year process and the details of the purchase, while not yet written into the contract, did not include anything other than using the land as open space. “With the Francs and the oversight of Planning and Zoning, the primary purpose is to keep the land as open space, with the possibility of a community garden and walking trails,” Knickerbocker said.

 Bob Eckenrode, of the Newtown Forest Association, said that connecting the Newtown and Franc properties creates a substantially larger 168 acre property. He said the Francs should be commended for their generosity. “The meadows are among the most endangered in Fairfield County. You will have created a legacy,” Eckenrode said.

 If there were any concerns about purchasing the property, it was overwhelmingly that the land should remain in it's natural condition. Many residents asked how they could be guaranteed the land would remain as it is in perpetuity, and what contractual language could be used to overcome any future adminstration's plans to the contrary.

One resident, John Holbrook, suggested that the best way to protect the integrity of the land would be to place it in the Bethel Land Trust.

 The First Selectman said that it was his intention to put together a committee immediately to determine what the uses of the property would be. He said, “We have to lock it up and protect it for the Franc family and for the people who came out here tonight.”

 Jacob Franc, who said he had hayed the property for 40 years, and his sister Anna Franc, were in attendence and were overjoyed at the outcome of the meeting. With all of the older members of the family reaching close to 80 years old, Jacob was asked how he stayed so youthful. He responded, “To see things done right, you have to take care of yourself.”




Don Goodrich January 19, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Mr.Hillman doyou ever agree with anything or do you live to e negative and complain?
Kindra King January 19, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Amen Don!
Bill Hillman January 19, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Really, Mr. Goodrich. I think about the issues and sometimes support, sometimes I don't support. This purchase is a lot of money, and while the land may be a bargain, the true cost is enough that I had supported it going to a machine vote. I support the Town having a long-term Capital plan that it presently does not have. I support balancing the 170k or so this will cost the town with reductions in other areas to reduce increases in the mill rate so seniors and others can still afford to live here. I have supported increases in the education budget after my kid left for college, and sometimes I've supported smaller increases or even reductions in certain areas. These are not complaints, they are opinions and points of views that differ from yours. I respect your right to have yours. Respect my right to hold and express views you don't agree with. I'm quite positive on this, you and I are likely to continue to disagree about various spending issues. You are on the DTC, I'm on the RTC. Expect disagreements. At least we both like good coffee.
Matthew Knickerbocker January 19, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Dear Bill: Please allow me to correct an error you've made, several times now: The town DOES have a long term capital plan. This is a process I put back in place immediately upon taking office 2 years ago. It also has a long term plan of conservation and development that specifically encourages consideration of aquisions of open space land as opportunities become available from time to time.
Bill Hillman January 19, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Matt, If the Town does have a long term capital plan, that's great, and I stand corrected. I was given an impression talking to folks I thought would know that we did not, and I'm very interested in what that might be along with how the 72 acre purchase fits in... there ought to be some interlock or expectation in the main plan what might come up from the C&D plan. I'll contact you separately from this blog to learn more. Thank you for your response.


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