Grant to help pay for open space purchase

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NAUGATUCK — The grant of about $315,000 that the state approved last month will pay about 61 percent of the borough’s acquisition costs for more than 100 acres of open space off Andrew Mountain Road.

“I thought it was great,” Town Planner Keith Rosenfeld said. “It’s going to alleviate a lot of the burden that might have been caused by such an expense, and it’s a great piece of land.”

The land is part of a larger swath of 146 acres that the borough closed on in July for $750,000. Two-thirds of the land, or 100.3 acres, will be preserved as passive open space with walking trails. The remaining third, closest to Andrew Mountain Road, will contain multi-use sports fields, parking lots and a picnic area.

Rosenfeld said he listed the full cost of the purchase on the grant application, but the maximum amount the state would have given is 75 percent of fair market value of the open space to be preserved. The state decides how much to reimburse based on the economic status of the community and what the land will be used for.

In May, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved the purchase, which was to be paid from the borough’s reserve fund. The first $150,000 payment was made at closing, and four more payments were to be made annually with no interest.

The impact the state grant will have on the payments has not yet been decided with the borough’s finance department, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

“We’re very pleased with the amount that was funded,” Mezzo said. “This could accelerate the time for those payments, but we haven’t firmly committed to that decision.”

The land abuts the Naugatuck State Forest, so borough and state land will be connected to form a larger stretch of preserved open space, Rosenfeld said.

The portion that will contain fields is flatter, while the open space will remain as rolling forested hills, some open farm fields and wetlands, including a depression that floods seasonally. Spruce Brook, a Naugatuck River tributary, and a path that was once the Old Derby Turnpike run through the property.

Borough officials were awaiting word on the grant before moving forward with plans to build the fields and develop the walking trails envisioned for the property, Mezzo said. The fields alone could cost upward of $1 million.

“We have not established the funding plan and obviously resources are scarce at this time,” Mezzo said.

The walking trails will mostly consist of paths already in place that have been used for years, Rosenfeld said. They will be topped with stone dust and maybe some gravel, Rosenfeld said.

The grant comes from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, according to a news release issued by state Sen. Joe Crisco (D-17).

Crisco said this latest funding is provided through the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, one goal of which is to secure 673,210 acres in the state by 2023. Connecticut already has some 496,000 acres designated toward that goal.

“Connecticut’s rural heritage is at stake unless we continue to acquire these meaningful parcels — this one is particularly significant because it abuts the existing Naugatuck State Forest,” Crisco said in the release. “With this state grant in hand, borough officials can now go ahead with their plans to provide access for passive outdoor recreation on the property.”