On February 23, 2016, Newtown’s First Selectman Pat Llodra signed a restrictive covenant protecting the High Meadow Open Space. This document, filed on the town land records, was part of what the Town Attorney reported was necessary to protect the 65-acre parcel.
The 2-23-16 Restrictive Convenant
Compared to a previous draft Declaration dated 1/28/16, the 2/23/16 Restriction was encouraging because of language to “perpetually preserve, protect, limit, conserve, and maintain the land in its natural condition”.
However, since the open space declaration can be changed by a vote of the Board of Selectmen (this without conditions), there was reason to be concerned and to remain cautious about potential changes of use in the High Meadow Open Space.
The 3-9-16 Memorandum
This concern became real in a 3/9/16 Memorandum written by the Town Land Use Agency Director of Planning George Benson. Addressed to the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC), the memo concerned their ongoing plan to build a memorial in the center of the open space property.
The Memorandum refers to the Conservation Commission’s (CC) support. Although “acting as stewards of open space resources”, the CC “supported in principle” the use of this High Meadow grassland habitat for a memorial (thus far including driveway, parking area, yet-to-be-released memorial design) despite the appeals of former Conservation Commissioners and the public. The current CC added the caveat to their support: “providing appropriate sensitivity to the important ecological value of this area be taken into consideration during design and development of the permanent memorial” (emphasis added).
Second in the Memo is a mandate that no buildings are allowed. While this seemed positive, the third stipulation that “If proposed, structures would be limited, for example 4 foot walls” seemed controversial. Four foot walls are not conducive to the free passage of wildlife, seed dispersal and human passage. The memo went on to state that driveways were allowed as were 4-car parking areas.
A possible help to those objecting to the use of grassland habitats preserved as open space was that “[n]o lighting would be allowed”. Commissioners at the 3/10/16 SHPMC meeting mentioned use of an “eternal flame”. Based on the Town’s changing definition of “passive recreation”: from biking, hiking, walking, cross-country skiing, etc. to the construction of parking lots and driveways, would “No lighting” include the construction of an “eternal flame”?
The now-superseded 1/28/16 Declaration written by Land Use Director of Planning George Benson added “active recreation” to a previously Town-approved Declaration which limited recreation at the High Meadow only to passive use. In addition, the 1/28/16 Declaration referenced an approval process for proposed structures in the High Meadow: Specifically those structures under 1500 feet could be approved in-house by the Land Use Agency and those over 1500 feet would be approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission. Previously, no reference to structures was found in protective documents. This change caused much concern among town residents favoring protective open space covenants and wishing to avoid adverse precedents concerning open space uses.
A perfect solution
According to a Newtown Bee article, First Selectman Llodra stated, “Nobody should think that there is a preconception that this [a permanent memorial] is a done deal and there is a public process that I demand be followed.” The Bee article added that Ms. Llodra said: “A perfect world would have a perfect solution; I am always hopeful there will be a perfect solution.”
For the full article, see: http://newtownbee.com/conservation-restriction-sets-open-space-status-of-high-meadow/