Keiser property update: residents to vote on Tuesday, Saturday
Photos by Daryl Hawk
A piece of Wilton’s agrarian past will be forever preserved if citizens approve the purchase of a conservation easement on land known as the Keiser property.
Citizens will have their first chance to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 19, with a second chance on Saturday, Nov. 23.
The first vote will follow that night’s Special Town Meeting on the property, which will take place at the Clune Center for the Performing Arts on Danbury Road, at 7:30 p.m.
At the end of the meeting, there will be a machine vote. Residents unable to attend the Tuesday meeting may place their votes on Saturday, Nov. 23, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Clune Center. Tuesday night’s proceedings will also be recorded and aired on Channel 79. They may also be viewed on the town website, wiltonct.org.
The vote will either grant or deny the town permission to make a $2.2-million bonded purchase of a land conservation easement that encompasses 39.5 acres of land at the intersection of Cannon and Seeley roads. The Wilton Conservation Land Trust will contribute $300,000 to the purchase of the easement for a total of $2.5 million.
The land, owned by the Keiser family, has been on the town’s radar for more than a decade, when the family first considered listing it for sale.
Bob Russell, former first selectman, said on Monday that the land has been owned by the Keiser family since the 1930s.
“As long as the Keisers have owned it, it has been mainly just for agricultural use — just some horses, some gardens, but not real industrial crops. The family weren’t farmers, they were businesspeople,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Russell recalled that the Keiser family was involved in the sugar trade with Cuba while the country was still “friendly” to the United States.
David Keiser, who died in the 1970s, and his wife, Sylvia, were the main owners of the property until her death about a decade ago. Since that time, the land trust has tried to find agreeable terms for the purchase of easement rights.
“The Keisers — namely Sylvia — have been very generous with the donation of land to the Wilton land trust previously,” Mr. Russell said. “Her financial advisers said it would be disadvantageous to her estate” to sell it before she died, he said. “It was better to sell it when she was gone.”
The first efforts by the land trust began “in 2004 to get the conservation easement. That way the town prevents it from ever being subdivided and developed,” he said.
This would be the town’s first open space acquisition since 2007, when it secured Ossinger Farm as open space.
According to Patricia Sesto, Wilton’s director of environmental affairs, the town has 1,657 protected acres overall, not including sports fields or cemeteries. The town owns the land or easement on 909 acres. The remainder is under control of the Wilton Conservation Land Trust, the state (Quarry Head), the federal government (Weir Farm) or other land protection groups. The land trust is, by far, the largest grantee of this group, she said.
As compared to surrounding communities, Ms. Sesto described this number as normal.
“We’re probably average,” she said. “The difficulty is not all towns qualify open space in the same way. Some towns will include ball fields and things like that, but we do not. We also have the Super 7 corridor, but that’s not permanently protected, so we don’t count it. But other communities might.”
Letters sent to The Bulletin regarding the purchase have been both for and against it.
Rebecka Tucker of Coley Road wrote, “In this economy it is our opinion that Wilton cannot afford to bond another project.”
A letter written by Mr. Russell, who is also the vice president of the Wilton Conservation Land Trust, put forth the opposite opinion. He said the price at which the Keiser family is offering the property is a “gift.”
Wilton photographer Daryl Hawk, who took the photos shown here, said, “I urge everyone to vote on Nov. 19 to save this remarkable piece of land. The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.”
“The Keisers are sacrificing potential profits by this offer, and we should all be very grateful for their generosity,” Mr. Russell said.
He believes the Keiser family is selling the conservation easement to the town at approximately 40%-50% of its true value.
What is an easement?
Ms. Sesto explained the concept of an easement purchase at a September Board of Selectmen meeting.
“The easement strips the property rights down to almost nothing, excepting those things which aid the conservation of the land,” she said. “We then go back and add restrictive rights to the easement to allow for agriculture and public access.”
Public access would include footpaths through the land, and the easement would also help with the preservation of the Norwalk River, which runs through it.
The general conservation outlook for the open space, Ms. Sesto said, is to maintain its historic “Colonial” character.
“Field habitats are not naturally sustained in Wilton if you don’t mow the grass,” she said. “Open fields in town come from our agricultural, Colonial past. Some ecologists might say that we are holding on to something that doesn’t occur naturally, but we are going to do it anyway.”
Thirty-five of the 39.5 total acres would be covered by the easement’s greatest restrictions. The Keiser family chose to hold on to less restrictive rights over two two-acre lots. One is behind the Keiser family barn, and another is an overgrown tennis court. These four acres may be treated like any other lot in Wilton, but nothing may be done to this land that would block the easement view, nor may the lot be subdivided.