Board approves open space grant agreement

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted unanimously Dec. 3 to allow Mayor Robert Mezzo to execute a grant agreement for the borough to convey an easement of 100 acres of property on Andrew Mountain Road to the state to be used for passive recreation.

In July 2012 the borough purchased approximately 146 acres on Andrew Mountain Road for $750,000.

“Now approximately 45 percent of that is being reimbursed by the state. In return for that we grant the state a permanent conservation easement,” borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick told the board.

Last December the borough was informed that it would receive a $315,000 grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for conserving the land as open space.

Fitzpatrick said the property on Andrew Mountain Road connects with Naugatuck State Forest.

“I think that’s the reason we were able to get on the A-list for a grant because of the accessibility to other state-owned properties,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said the front part of the property, which is directly off the road, is very level and is planned to be used for active recreation. There will also be trails on the front part of the property that will connect to the 100 acres set aside for passive recreation.

Burgess Michael Bronko expressed concerns with some stipulations in the agreement.

“Reading through this agreement the state requires maintenance, requires access, requires a whole bunch of different things. Was this all considered when we first applied for this grant? I mean, did we know all these requirements were part of this agreement? Because I don’t remember hearing any of that,” Bronko said.

Fitzpatrick said the property is already accessible through Old Derby Turnpike, a dirt road that runs through the property, which satisfies the requirement for accessibility to the park. Since it is one borough property the road would be maintained by the borough, he added.

Fitzpatrick said the borough put a chain across the road when it purchased the property because people would ride dirt bikes up and down that road.

Bronko also questioned the part of the agreement that discussed the use of the park by borough residents and non-residents.

According to the agreement, if the borough decides to charge for parking or using the area, the agreement stipulates Naugatuck can’t charge a fee to non-residents that exceeds twice that charged to residents. If Naugatuck decides to charge only non-residents, the fee cannot exceed those charged at comparable state or local facilities, according to the agreement.

Fitzpatrick said some municipalities used to charge non-residents significantly more money than residents, sometimes more than five times what they would charge residents. He said tat the state allows a municipality receiving state funds to charge residents less since the park is maintained by that municipality, but has limited the amount that can be charged to non-residents.

Fitzpatrick said that the borough has not yet decided whether it would charge a fee for the park, and the final decision would be left up to the board.

Bronko also asked how much the borough was responsible for the creation of trails, upkeep and maintenance at the park.

Fitzpatrick said the borough has discretion with how much money it wants to spend on the passive recreation part of the property.

“I’m not sure what the borough’s plans are. We saw what a terrific job has been done out at Gunntown. There may be some projects in mind for the Boy Scouts and others that may want to start doing some trails up there. There is a lot of land there and we have a proposed site layout where they could start very shortly if they wanted,” Fitzpatrick said. “We just have to make sure we guarantee the state has access to these open spaces, it’s their easement.”

Mayor Robert Mezzo pointed out that granting the state a conservation easement does not mean the borough can’t enforce the rules and regulations in that part of the park.

“It doesn’t waive our right to regulate it. It doesn’t mean that people can go up there and set up camp sites,” Mezzo said.

Burgess Rocky Vitale voiced concern about the stipulation the borough has to monitor rare and endangered species on the property.

Fitzpatrick said there haven’t been any sightings of rare or endangered species on the property. The state has not issued any regulation saying how often a check has to be done for such species, he added.