Town seeks 34-acre easement purchase

The Wilton Board of Selectmen will vote to authorize the first selectman to approve the purchase of a 39-plus acre easement from the Keiser family at its next meeting on Monday, Sept. 16. The easement would be purchased for conservation purposes.

A Town Meeting will follow on Nov. 19 to decide on the plan, two weeks after the town’s municipal election. This meeting represents a legal voting process.

Wilton has sought to purchase as easement for 39 acres of land near the intersection of Cannon and Seeley roads for approximately 10 years, but has been stalled by a lengthy grant application process and the 2008 economic recession, First Selectman Bill Brennan said at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

Patricia Sesto, director of Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Department and the lead advocate for this project, said the town will bring the purchase to a Town Meeting even though there will be no state funding provided.

“We’ve had a possible grant, and have kept it alive since 2008. However, it does not appear that we will get that assistance,” she said. “We received conditional approval, but found out this week that we would have to reapply for the grant next year.”

However, she said the price is right, and all players in the process are “ready,” regardless of state funding.

“The town is ready, the Keiser family is ready, and the Wilton Land Conservation Trust is ready... when we first looked at this 10 years ago, the value of the easement was $4.5 million. The value is now $2.5 million.”

To cover the cost of purchasing the easement, both the town, and the land trust would contribute funds. The town would pay $2.2 million, and the land trust is slated to contribute $300,000 to the plan, up from the $200,000 that was expected.

Selectman Hal Clark welcomed this increase gratefully, saying it was excellent to hear the land trust had additional funds to contribute.

Ms. Sesto said this piece of land was very important to conservation efforts in Wilton. Over the past few years, the hedgerows have been overgrown, blocking what was once an astounding view. However, this summer the Keiser family worked hard to get the land back to its previous condition.

“The Keiser family undertook an initiative to trim the hedgerows,” she said. The area again looks like an excellent area for a conservation easement.

Purchasing a conservation easement is a tool used “repeatedly by the town in partnership with the land trust,” Mr. Brennan said.

Ms. Sesto went on to explain exactly what a conservation easement entailed.

“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 paths through the land, and the easement would also help with the preservation of the Norwalk River, which runs through it, and provide access to it.

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.

During the next selectmen’s meeting, a contract for purchase of the easement will be presented to the board for approval.

Mr. Brennan said he had hoped this plan would be ready for approval for this meeting, but “legal agreements are still being prepared.”