Keiser property would cost taxpayers $20 per year

On Nov. 19, Wilton residents will have the chance to approve or reject the Board of Selectmen’s decision to purchase a 39-acre easement near the intersection of Cannon and Seeley roads from the Keiser family. If the majority of those present at the Town Meeting agree with the plan, the $2.2-million price tag would be bonded by the town.

This purchase would cost the average Wilton taxpayer approximately $20 per year, according to the Environmental Affairs office. $300,000 of the total $2.5 million price tag will be provided by the Wilton Land Trust.

The Town Meeting will take place on Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Clune Center at Wilton High School. The vote will be decided that night. There will be no adjourned vote, according to the registrars of voters.

The Conservation Commission and the Wilton Land Conservation Trust will hold two open houses at the Keiser property this Saturday, Oct. 19, and on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to noon. Residents can park on Seeley Road and look for guides by the barn.

The purpose of the open house tours is to allow town residents to see the property in advance of the Special Town Meeting.

The Keiser property has been at the top of the town’s list of conservation areas for “decades” said Patricia Sesto, who is the director of Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Department and the lead advocate for the project.

“Conservation Commis-sion members used to hold teas to talk about how to preserve their properties in the 1980s,” she said. When the conservation effort of the town went through a significant redesign in 1996, Ms. Sesto said, the Keiser property was listed as a “priority piece.”

“The easement strips the property rights down to almost nothing, excepting those things which aid the conservation of the land,” Ms. Sesto said at a September Board of Selectmen meeting. “We then go back and add restrictive rights to the easement to allow for agriculture and public access,” she said.

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 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 can be treated like any other lot in Wilton, but nothing can be done to this land that would block the easement view, nor can the lot be subdivided.

Ms. Sesto believes the property’s value passes a basic cost-benefit analysis.

Preserving land like that offered for sale by the Keiser family, she said, helps provide a “balance of land use and habitat preservation. Open space is a driving component of what gives the town its character, both ecologically and culturally.”

The space will also provide town residents and visitors a place to enjoy passive recreation activities like hiking, Ms. Sesto said. Though 36 acres of hiking area is not “terribly large” for that kind of activity, that the easement will be physically connected to more than 100 additional acres of town-owned open space is a large benefit of its purchase.

One could even start at the Keiser property and make a trek to Easton without extensively leaving preserved lands, she said.

“You could start a hike on Wampum Hill Road,” Ms. Sesto said, “and make it to Aspetuck Open Space’s Honey Hill preserve, and eventually make it all the way to Devil’s Den in Easton,” she said.

With open space in Wilton at a premium, Ms. Sesto said, the cost of the purchase to each individual taxpayer is reasonable, considering the benefits it will provide.

For a taxpayer with a home assessed at “$500,000, the added tax cost would be about $20 per year,” she said. “That’s two deli sandwiches, or a large pizza. You have to ask yourself, What do you want your town to look like?”

“There is a limited amount of open land in Wilton. If you don’t work to actively protect it,” it quickly disappears, she added. “Preserving the Keiser property is more valuable to the town than 13 more houses.”