The Board of Finance unanimously approved Jan. 22 an “additional appropriation of $2.1 million funded by bonding and appropriation” to acquire two parcels of open space land on Shrub Road.
During the board’s regular meeting Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu explained the city, working with the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut, is in the process of applying for a Connecticut Open Space Grant, in order to purchase two parcels one that is entirely in Bristol, and a parcel in Burlington, that the Barnes Nature Center is pursuing the funding and purchasing of that parcel independently and privately.
Ray Rogozinski, city engineer, said Bristol’s portion is approximately 35.6 acres, the rest is in Burlington. Since the acquisition would affect two communities, the plan is “really consistent” with the city’s plan of conservation and development, making it a “strong application.”
“From a land use perspective, it’s not just looking at the acquisition of the existing parcels, it’s also what potentially would have occurred there, which is really residential development and the demands that those put on the community,” said Rogozinski.
“The parcels that we are attempting to purchase will be under control of the city,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “We are hoping and think that it would be best if we enter into a management agreement with the Barnes Nature Center under the auspices of the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut to manage that open space on our behalf because it’s contiguous to their property.”
Executive director of the ELCCT, Scott Heth, explained his organization had been looking into the parcel adjacent to Barnes Nature Center in the hopes of protecting it when ELCCT learned that the landowner intended to excavate gravel and develop the property.
The combined parcels are approximately 63 acres and would be intended for “passive recreation,” said Heth. He explained that would include “hiking, cross country skiing, nature studies and nature walks, and things like that.” There would also be opportunities for habitat management, he said.
“We want to try to support, particularly, species that are declining through managing of this varied habitat,” said Heth. “The habitats include fields and forest, a small pond and wetlands. We have ideas to support grassland birds, to create a pollinator field that will help pollinator insects – which are declining, and various other species.”
Since the city is classified as a distressed community, Bristol is eligible for a reimbursement rate of up to 75 percent of the purchase price from the state. Zoppo-Sassu said Bristol should have a decision from the state by April, to decide whether or not to go forward with the acquisition.
Zoppo-Sassu explained some of the requirements of the grant funding, includes access to the public, no disturbance of the “ecological features, and there has to be complete acquisition with a management plan.”
Bristol’s current open space portfolio includes Nelson’s Field, a state parcel at the corner of Maple Avenue and Burlington Avenue, a parcel on Chippens Hill that is managed privately by the Roberts Foundation, a property referred to as the Chizinski Property which Zoppo-Sassu explained was “acquired near some of our reservoirs on Marsh Road,” as well as “a vast number of acres” that are managed by ELCCT.
Mary Rydingsward, president of the Pequabuck River Watershed Association, said she thinks “it’s a great idea” that the city wants to purchase the parcels because “nature is interrelated and humans are a part of nature.”
“Open space helps humans to have clean water and clean air. So, there needs to be a certain amount of open space within the areas where we live,” said Rydingsward.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.