For nearly two decades, the Town of Southington has actively pursued land preservation through its Open Space Program. To date, we’ve preserved more than 550 acres of land.
A recent editorial in this publication questioned what the definition of open space is in light of recent discussions to add an open space funding referendum to the November ballot.
Open space comes in many forms and is characterized by a number of factors and features. Open space can also be defined in terms of its intended use and overall value to the community. (For more details, see the Open Space Plan in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development at www.southington.org.)
The mission statement of the Southington Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee best defines the objective of land purchases, and thus helps outline the overall open space program: The Southington Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee fosters the balance of natural resources, wildlife, and development through the active preservation of open space lands to protect and maintain the scenic, recreational and cultural landscape for the overall enrichment of the community.
As such, we purchase and protect certain parcels for a variety of reasons—including, of course, preservation of the overall aesthetic of our community and to maintain a viable balance between development and our community’s character.
Our open space inventory includes everything from pristine, undeveloped acreage prime for hiking and bird watching to the culturally significant Goat Island, which once housed communal ovens for the families who lived nearby.
Voters over the course of two decades have overwhelmingly approved three referendum questions dealing with open space funding. The last one, in 2015, included verbiage stating that development rights could also be funded with the monies generated by the referendum.
Development rights are in fact a tool to be applied to land preservation goals and objectives. Basically, land owners who agree to selling the development rights of their property are financially compensated to forever maintain their land in its current state – in other words, they can’t sell the property to a developer who in turn would build homes on it. In the case of Hawk’s Landing, a commercial entity that the town purchased the development rights to in 2016, the property must remain a golf course and banquet facility.
To date, the Open Space Committee has delineated several properties that have the potential for development rights purchases. These are large tracts of land that would require significant exchanges of money. It should further be noted that in the case of any that support farming activities, there are federal and state programs that fund agricultural safeguarding.
As such the question becomes, should voters have a voice in such large-scale purchases by having a separate referendum specific to each of these parcels?
According to the financial provisions spelled out in our Town Charter, appropriations in excess of $1 million must be “approved by a majority of those qualified to vote, voting thereon at a referendum called by the Council for the purpose.”
It is the position of the Democratic majority on the Town Council that voters do indeed deserve the right to approve development rights purchases in separate, transparent referendums should any or all of those properties become available.
Purchasing development rights is certainly a conservation tool, but it is a special tool and thus requires special consideration by the voters.
Dawn A. Miceli, vice chair, Southington Town Council Chair, Southington Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee