Land trust aims to buy 183 Ridgefield Road property

The Wilton Land Conservation Trust announced May 17 an agreement with developer Jim Fieber to purchase the 13-acre meadow at 183 Ridgefield Road.

“Special thanks go to Jim Fieber and his family for agreeing to sell the land trust this prime piece of property and holding it off the market for a year while we raise the funds,” said Peter Gaboriault, the land trust president.

The transaction was spurred by a generous lead donation of $750,000 from the Bauer Family Foundation and Fieber’s willingness to sell the property at well below his cost basis, a press release from the land trust said.

“When the Bauers committed their funds, I agreed to accept a price from the land trust at $750,000 below my cost basis to help make this happen and preserve this beautiful open space,” Fieber said in the press release. “The land trust will take title to the property in the spring of 2019, once it raises the $2.3 million needed to buy the site and make it accessible.

Fieber purchased the property Aug. 21, 2015, for $2,320,000.

“This is an ambitious challenge in a very tight timeframe,” Gaboriault said, “but we’ve already raised $1 million. We think it’s possible and that we have to try.”

The land trust will launch a town wide fund-raising campaign in the coming months. Funds raised to date include $250,000 from the members of the land trust’s board as well as the foundation’s $750,000. The board believes $500,000 can be raised in its campaign and hopes the balance will come from a grant under the state’s Open Space grant program.

To secure the property for a year and comply with state rules, the land will be held by an intermediary aligned with the land trust. The property at 183 Ridgefield Road, also known as the Schlichting property, is next to Hillside Cemetery on scenic and historic Ridgefield Road. Recently, it was the subject of several development proposals to build as many as 35 houses on the property and was the impetus for the age-restricted overlay district (AROD) application for Ridgefield Road.

“This is wonderful,” Vicki Mavis of Ridgefield Road commented to The Bulletin. Mavis founded the organization Preserve Wilton and spearheaded a campaign, ultimately unsuccessful, to impose a moratorium on age-restricted housing applications. “Without a doubt, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust's announcement about the property at 183 is good news for the town, Preserve Wilton, and everyone who hoped to see a positive resolution to this issue. I appreciate the efforts of the land trust, the Fieber family, the Bauer Family Foundation and all who helped make this possible, and hope the fund-raising effort is successful so that all Wiltonians can benefit from this important property.”

Donna Merrill, executive director of the land trust, said, “This site has it all! It’s an outstanding example of a rare meadow habitat that has been undisturbed for decades. I am also excited that we will partner with the Wilton Historical Society, the Woodcock Nature Center, and the American Chestnut Foundation to establish wonderful educational programs at the site.”

Formed in 1964, Wilton Land Conservation Trust seeks to protect the character of Wilton’s green spaces. The private, nonprofit organization protects 110 properties in excess of 830 acres through ownership or conservation easement.