Mayor Robert Mezzo said buying the land for $750,000 is a “long-term, forward-thinking plan to provide for future need that we were able to achieve at a relatively low point in the market.”
The Board of Mayor and Burgesses in May gave Mezzo authorization to apply for a state grant that, if approved, could cover much of the land acquisition costs. Under the plan approved by the borough board, three multi-use sports fields, parking lots and a picnic area could be developed on the parcel closest to Andrew Mountain Road, encompassing about one-third of the land purchased. The remaining two-thirds would be placed under a perpetual conservation easement to be used as passive open space, with walking trails.
Only the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which runs the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, could overturn the conservation easement. The grant could reimburse the borough for up to 75 percent of fair market value of the land to be conserved.
Mezzo said he expected to find out in the fall whether the borough’s application has been approved.
Burgesses hailed the plan as a “win-win” for sports enthusiasts pushing for more fields and preservationists pushing for more open space. The two groups fought for years over 39 acres off Gunntown Road that two years ago became a nature preserve.
The Naugatuck River Revival Group took the stance months ago that the Andrew Mountain land should become open space. Kevin Zak, the group’s president, said he had not seen the borough’s specific plans for the land but is not opposed to fields on a portion of it.
Zak, who plays baseball on Breen Field with a recreation league, said he knows the borough needs more fields.
“They can’t have enough open space, they really can’t,” Zak said. “Two-thirds of a loaf is much better than no loaf.”
No specific plans exist yet to develop fields on the land that will not be set aside under the conservation easement, Mezzo said. That kind of project could cost at least $1 million, Mezzo said.
The borough is financing the land purchase out of its reserve fund over five years with no interest. The first payment of $150,000 was made July 2 at the closing.
The land is a combination of four parcels with 19 total owners, all represented by Kevin Condon, an Ansonia-based attorney. The parcels include an area known as the “pig farm,” which gained fame decades ago as a partying spot for borough teens.