The Board of Selectmen (BOS) moved Monday night to meet in executive session to discuss the possible purchase of 21 acres on Obtuse Road South owned by the Ferry family. While all three members of the board said they were in favor of conservation, there were questions about whether this is the right time to make preservation purchases and what price would make the deal too good to pass up.
Under the terms of the current proposal, the town would be purchasing full rights to over 21 acres of the Ferry Farm, while 5.5 acres of the property — two homes, a barn and some farmland — would remain in the Ferry family.
The town had entered into discussions to purchase the development rights for the property in 2003, according to Conservation Commission Chairman Alice Dew, which would have maintained ownership of the deed with the Ferry’s but restricted the use of the property to agriculture.
The current plan would be to purchase the property in full and use it for “passive recreation,” Dew said, which she described as “walking, biking, picnicking, anything that doesn’t involve motorized vehicles.” However, “If the town purchases this, depending on how it’s worded in the deed, it can be used by the town for whatever they choose.”
Two members of the public attended Monday’s BOS meeting to speak against the proposal.
Heather Creagh () said she was concerned about conserving more acreage in Brookfield and saw little value in this particular property.
Purchasing property for conservation as a town “tramples on everyone’s right to pursue the ownership of property,” she said, as once a municipality has bought a property it rarely ever returns to private ownership.
“Nor is it valuable for the town’s open space,” she added, as the terrain is “extremely rocky and walking is difficult” and ”the whole property can be walked in 15 minutes — it’s not good for hiking.”
Adjoining property owner Bob Zinser agreed with Creagh, stating that “normally I would be in favor of open space, but I have to oppose this. Why this piece of property and why now?”
“We have two pieces of open space land at that end of town,” he said, referring to Burr Farm and Happy Landings. “It’s not available to everyone in town, it’s essentially on the Newtown line… I want to go on record, even though I live in that area, as opposing this purchase.”
“I, for one, would wonder what the community of Brookfield would look like if we erased those 1,000 open acres and allowed them to be developed,” First Selectman Bill Davidson said, referring to the 1,320 acres preserved in Brookfield through the town, private land trusts, developers and homeowners associations, “It wouldn’t be the Brookfield we know today.”
Davidson did admit, however, “There is an argument of semantics about how much open space is too much open space,” and asked his fellow selectmen if they thought it was “the highest priority for spending taxpayer’s money today?”
“We should take advantage of any opportunity we can to expand — to a point and we’re not at that point — to expand our open space,” Selectman Howard Lasser said. “But I’m not sure about the timing and I’m not sure about the price,” he added, suggesting that the BOS meet in executive session to talk about price.
The newest BOS member, Selectman George Walker, said he is a “firm believer in open space and this community needs open space,” however he walked the property last week and said it “really didn’t jump out at me as some extraordinary piece of property.”
“I’m not sure this is the right piece to be spending money on at this particular time,” Walker said. “I’m not sure there’s a compelling reason — other than just because it’s there — that we jump out and grab it.”
“To me it’s about pricing,” Lasser said, since for the right price it may be worth considering.
“To take the extremes,” Davidson offered, “We wouldn’t pay $2.5 million for this property, but we might be real eager at $10,000.”
If the BOS decides to move forward at a later date, the purchase would also have to be approved by the Board of Finance (BOF) and a town vote, either at a town meeting or referendum, depending on the final price.
Public Hearing on Gurski Homestead Commission
In the wake of , the BOS voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on January 3 at 7 p.m. (before their January board meeting) to consider dissolving the Gurski Homestead Commission and reorganizing it under the oversight of the Conservation Commission.
“It’s had an interesting history and it’s certainly over the last several years had some difficulties,” Davidson said of the property Monday, however due to matching grants through the state Commission on Culture and Tourism (CCT), if the required maintenance is not done the state will perform the work and bill the town.
“Brookfield is full of pretty independent people,” he said, “We like doing our own thing, so we thought, ‘let’s buy ourselves out of it,’ but the state’s not interested in getting their money back.”
Under the first selectman’s proposal, the Gurski Commission would be disbanded as a formal town commission and placed under the Conservation Commission. One member of Conservation would be appointed to oversee operations at the property and would conscript some of the more experienced Gurski Commission members to help with management.
Davidson said that the Gurski Commission members have been made aware of this potential change and Chairman Judy Heise is “in concert and supports this approach.”
“We’re not doing well with the Gurski Homestead right now,” he said. “It’s wanting for resources and I do believe it’s wanting for stronger management and I do believe the Conservation Commission can do that.”