We are happy to see the continuing conversation about open space purchases. Since entering the discussion with an early March editorial (below), we have been deluged with opinions on so many different sides of this issue that it’s dizzying.
We are not surprised. Southington has been a state leader in open space purchases, and we expect that to continue. It seems that Southington residents are passionate about the town’s open space, and it’s a source of pride among locals. Take a walk on the rail-trail on a sunny day, and you’ll see a great cross-section of the population taking advantage of one of the town’s most-used open spaces. On a summer Saturday, Crescent Lake has more hikers, boaters, and fishermen dotting its shores than most city parks. The list goes on and on…
We are also not surprised that there are so many different opinions about open space purchases. That was our point. It’s not that the purchase of development rights was underhanded, wrong, or ill-advised. Our opinion is that residents, town officials, and businesses all seem to have different priorities when it comes to the purchase of open space parcels.
We were relieved to hear town officials concede that some residents felt “hoodwinked” by the purchase of development rights. It was a good place to start the discussion which will take us to a November referendum. Keep going.
We maintain our position that neither the Plan of Conservation and Development or the town’s Open Space Plan is as clearly written as some officials believe, but the POCD does sort of define open space when it groups open space land into four different categories:
- “Protected Open Space Land” is protected in perpetuity as open space and allows for public access.
- “Dedicated Open Space Land” is owned by a public or non-profit entity but is expected to remain as open space in perpetuity. It typically allows for public access.
- “Managed Open Space Land” is owned or used for another purpose (such as water company land, golf courses, cemeteries, private schools) but which provides some open space benefits. Such land may or may not allow public access.
- “Perceived Open Space Private Land” is presently vacant or partially developed. Nothing prevents this land from being sold or developed at some time in the future.
Both the POCD and the OSP talk about creating an open space system to increase accessibility, enhance qualify of life, improve wildlife corridors, and create more opportunities for use, but neither document offers an actual plan or outline to create the system. That’s the root of the problem.
Based on the feedback we’ve received, some residents approved the $2 million expecting the town to focus on building its ledger of “protected” parcels by purchasing “perceived” open space. Town officials were obviously looking to protect “managed” open space land as their top priority. That’s the disconnect that we will continue to point out.
We were very happy to see this week’s response from the Open Space Committee vice chair (see below), including a proposal to be more transparent about priorities when asking for money from residents. It’s a good continuation of the discussion. Who knows what the final proposal will look like in November, but we think that all sides should continue to voice their opinions about where the next $2 million will go, so voters will know exactly what they are deciding.
We don’t think that any referendum that gives town officials a “blank check” is in anybody’s best interest after the last controversy. That’s why we applaud officials for discussing it before taxpayers give them money. Keep talking…
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.