The Rocky Hill Town Council agreed its meeting Monday to place a question on the November ballot asking residents if they would allow the town to appropriate $10 million for acquisition of land or to purchase development rights for farmland preservation and open space.
If the question was approved by voters, the town would be able buy land outright for the purpose of leaving it as open space. The town could also purchase the developmental rights to a farm, which would allow the farmer to continue owning and farming the land. However, it would prevent the land from ever being developed into homes.
"I am not interested in purchasing land," said Councilor Frank Szeps, who did not support the motion during the most recent . "I want development rights."
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Szeps said he is worried about over development after the Planning and Zoning Commission with the developer of a proposed project on Brook Street, which included 144 housing units and 5,750 square feet of office space on a 9.8-acre parcel of land. The commission , saying the housing component was a bad fit for the neighborhood.
"The existing farmland becomes a target because we do not restrict any multi-housing in this town," he said. Szeps said Rocky Hill is an "ideal location for this type of development."
"That is the reason we are bringing it forward," he said. "It is a critical time. It is a turning point in our history."
Szeps said if the farms in Rocky Hill are developed into homes, "the population will skyrocket," which will lead to an increased demand on town services, higher property taxes and more traffic on the roads.
" shows that we are going to be able to do little to improve traffic flow or reduce the amount of traffic," he said. "It is critical that we take action and do it soon."
Councilor Joe Kochanek said for every dollar the town receives in taxes, it costs Rocky Hill between $1.14 to $1.40 to support that person.
"Eventually development does not stop. It ruins the character of town," he said. "We are trying to make this town one that we want to live in."
Councilors made it clear that if the question is approved the money will be set aside and each time that the town would enter into negotiations with a farmer about acquiring their land or developmental rights, there would be a series of public hearing and go in front of Planning and Zoning Commision before any money would be spent. The council would then decide if the town purchases the property or developmental rights.
"This program costs nothing until we do something," Kochanek said.
However, council members have varying opinions on how much the town should budget for acquisition of land or to purchase development rights for farmland preservation and open space. Szeps said he wanted the town to budget for $20 million to prevent the council from coming back to the voters for more money. However, following a , Deputy Mayor Timothy Moriarty suggested a friendly amendment of $5 million, which was the amount originally proposed by Barbara Surwilo at the Land Acquisition and Farmland Preservation meeting.
Some council members discussed the possibly of changing the amount after hearing from the public. Town Manager Barbara Gilbert is looking to see if that is possible.
An attorney for the town is writing of the questions that will be placed on the ballot, which will be reviewed by the council sometime in the near future. A public hearing, possibly in August, will be held on the topic and the councilors will be able to decide if they want to adopt the question for the November ballot.
According to the 2001 Rocky Hill Plan of Conservation and Development, residents surveyed either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the town doing more to preserve open space. The survey also stated that people would be willing to pay higher taxes to preserve that open space.
Minority Leader Nadine Bell was the only councilor who voted against the motion. She said Monday's meeting was the first time that the "full council" had heard the motion and wanted more discussions on the topic before voting in favor it.
"I would like to hear input from the public before I decide to go to referendum," Bell said.
Bell said the town has "a lot of needs" including the schools, infrastructure and roads and she wants to prioritize what needs get done first.
"I think we need to take a step back and evaluate what the overall needs for the town are," Bell said.