SOS-Coventry

open space conservation

Getting to know about Coventry?s 2014 open space bonding proposal, it?s important to keep a few key milestones in mind.


The Proposal

The idea of having a public referendum in Coventry on the question of selling bonds to raise open space funds began with a proposal. That proposal was put forth in a meeting of the Town Council?s Finance Committee July 14th. The thinking was, the Town?s present debt load is low at this time, as are bonding interest rates. What?s more, to date several property-owners in Coventry have already approached the Town about committing their land to open space, some through easements on their development rights and the town will buy other properties outright. The Town hopes other landowners will be motivated to talk with the town about protecting their own properties. The Committee adopted the proposal by a three to one vote.


Becoming a Live Issue

Next the proposal headed to the full Council, where a vote of support at their next meeting August 4th would move it forward significantly as a viable idea. Word spread. Interested townspeople debated terms and provisions, costs and timeframes, as well as possible properties that might be selected for open space.


Come that meeting August 4th, with much anticipation and an engaged public, the Council voted five to one to approve the proposal. In that moment, bonding for open space became a live issue in Coventry as well as an official measure before the Council: Whether to hold a referendum for voters to decide on saving properties as open space by selling general obligation bonds for $1 million.

 

Committing to the Recommendation

Another Council vote in favor at their next meeting on August 18th committed the Town to recommending this approach, subject to public approval.


The Public Gets Briefed

The public got their chance to comment at a town meeting August 28th at 7 pm in the High School Lecture Hall.  Special meetings of this type are well-known here in Coventry. Citizens rise to speak in favor of the measure or against it; in this case, whether they like the idea of adding a ballot measure on open space to the other voter choices on Election Day November 4th. 


Election Day

Election Day results will officially decide the matter. If the bonding measure passes, the Town will then fine-tune the bond provisions and implement its sale to the public. As for the properties to be chosen, those would likely be decided by a new advisory committee formed from several Town land use boards, working in conjunction with Town staff.


Like many stories, open space bonding in Coventry is a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end and it?s already taken quite a few turns just getting to where it is. We are encouraged by the Town's and the Council?s work to date, and we are urging broad public support for this measure. We believe the time is right. We hope the people of Coventry will respond by standing up for open space.




From the Bond Resolution

RESOLUTION APPROPRIATING $1,000,000 FOR THE
PURCHASE OR ACQUISITION OF LAND FOR OPEN
SPACE PRESERVATION, RECREATION OR
CONSERVATION AND AUTHORIZING THE
ISSUANCE OF $1,000,000 BONDS OF THE TOWN TO
MEET SAID APPROPRIATION AND PENDING THE
ISSUANCE THEREOF THE MAKING OF
TEMPORARY BORROWINGS FOR SUCH PURPOSE
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More Basic Points of the Bond

What Kinds of Property Can be Purchased?

The proposed bonding would be used to preserve open space, including farms and forests, as well as some properties that may be used for athletics or recreation.  Members of the Town Council have declared that protecting farms is the top priority of this proposal.  The town is inviting landowners to express any interest they may have in protecting their property, and these properties will be duly considered.  Since several properties along the Willimantic River are now being evaluated, Coventry is considering the creation of a boat launch. 

How Will the Properties be Selected for Protection?

Landowners MUST contact the town and ask for their land to be considered for outright purchase or purchase of their development rights before the town will consider their properties.  A committee made up of Land Use Commission members will prioritize properties of interest to the town. The town will research the value of the properties they wish to protect, and then negotiate price and conditions of the purchase with the landowners.  Possible conditions might include whether to allow public access, whether the property should be used for farming, hiking, recreation or many other possible uses.  The landownder(s) can forbid or allow specific activities such as allowing hunting if only the development rights are sold, or allowing horses on the trails. Once the town and landowner(s) agree on a price and conditions, they sign a binding contract.  Either party may withdraw from the process until the contract is signed.  


Who Will Own the Land that is Protected by this Money?

The Town is considering two types of ownership, easement and fee simple.  If the legal agreement is well written, the terms of protection will be eternally binding.  If there are ambiguities in the agreement, the terms may be re-interpreted in the future and some of the details of the agreement may be lost.  For this reason, it is vital that the landowner hire an attorney who highly skilled and experienced in writing good land preservation documents.

Purchase of Development Rights, also Called Purchasing an Easement  The price of an easement is calculated by taking the full value of the property and subtracting from it the value of land that cannot be developed under terms of the easement.   The Town acquires the development rights, which include the binding agreement that the property will never be developed.  Landowners do have the right to specify what can be done with the land.  The landowner may specify, for example, that part of the parcel remain a working farm and another portion be preserved as forest.  All kinds of properties are eligible to be preserved through easement.  Farms are almost always preserved by easement.  The landowner retains ownership of the property and is responsible for maintaining it and paying property taxes on it.  The Town is responsible for regularly monitoring the property to make sure terms of the easement are not being violated. 

The bonding proposal specifies that easements will not require public access.  This is very important for farmers.  As one farmer put it, people and animals do not mix. 

Fee Simple: The Town of Coventry will own the property and be responsible for maintaining it.  The agreement between the seller and the town specifies what can be done with the property.  For instance, the document may require that part of the parcel remain forest permanently and be used for hiking trails and wildlife habitat, while another part of the parcel may be made into a soccer field.  The town usually pays close-to-full value for the land, and the landowner will often get a tax deduction.  (This also requires an experienced attorney, in this case one who knows how to write language for the IRS.) 

Will the Town pay the Entire Purchase Price or Can They Get Outside Money?

The Town of Coventry may very well be able to get matching grants for some of these properties, especially working farms.  The agreement for the Reynolds Farm on Flanders Road is an especially good example of the grant process.  The full amount of money the owners will receive there is not public information.  However, we do know that 90-plus acres of riverfront farm and forest will be protected at a cost to the town of $30,000, which was made available through the Coventry Open Space Fund.  The grant came from the State of Connecticut Department of Agriculture; other contributors were the Connecticut Farmland Trust and Joshua?s Trust.  This property will remain in easement and the farm, forest and scenic view will be permanently protected. 




History of the Bonding Proposal in Town


 

 

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