Town officials carefully explained the four issues to be decided at the October 10 Town Meeting. With an attendance of only twenty, including the officials, each of the four resolutions was approved with no “Nays.” Many thought the business would be concluded quickly, but with a number of audience comments on one issue, plus a problem of some sort with the Power Point show, the 7:00 p.m. meeting wasn’t adjourned until 8:10.
Two items least needing Power Point assistance were addressed first, starting with the after-the-fact transfer of $313,697 in the 2017/18 Town budget from that year’s Contingency account to the Police Payroll account. The amount, representing 2.06 percent of Suffield’s Total General Government Operating Budget, was required because of the recent settlement of the Police Union contract, with two years of retroactive adjustment. The adjustment amounted to 9.08 percent of the total Police Department expenditures.
The second vote accepted a portion of Lake Road as a Town public road. Town Engineer Gerry Turbet made the presentation, describing the portion as the first 965 feet from Copper Hill Road to just before the turn-off from Lake Road to the present BGR sand and gravel quarrying operation. Town Attorney Derek Donnelly explained that this stretch of road was left over from the residential development of the Woods Hollow Road neighborhood off Copper Hill Road and abandoned by its previous owner. Donnelly explained the complicated background of the road and the delicate issue of its legal status. He said that accepting the road as public is the best answer, and any court learning that a road has been plowed by the Town and used by school busses would declare it a public road. First Selectman Melissa Mack added that it was “the right thing to do.”
This portion of road, along with the western, longer, portion, provides the only access to many homes near South Pond. It had been reconstructed to a comfortable width and an acceptable gravel-paved surface by BGR as a condition of approving their quarrying operation. BGR will continue the road’s repair as necessary.
The status of many private roads near the Congamond Lakes was brought up in the considerable discussion that followed the presentation, with questions about the required width of such roads and other matters. Donnelly said that the Town is studying the private roads issue. Evidently, it seems inevitable that many will eventually achieve public status.
The Power Point problem was solved in time to project images for the next item to be approved. This vote renewed a five-year lease for ten acres of Town-owned land in a 14-acre parcel, mostly wetland, along the east side of North Street, south of Halladay Avenue. (If it were given a street number, it would be about 930 North Street.) The Town had acquired the land in 2004 as part of the required open space for the Farmstead Lane subdivision off Halladay Avenue East.
The lessee is Sunny Hill Farm, which grows hay there for the Sunny Hill Equestrian Center, a 33-acre facility between Fair Hill Lane and Shadow Pond Lane, with its main entrance at 1150 North Street. They will pay $200 a year for the lease.
The final item of this Town Meeting was the expenditure of $67,369 from the Town’s Open Space Fund to purchase the development rights to the Deren Farm, consisting of about 43 acres off Hill Street and Halladay Avenue, West, with almost 900 feet of frontage on Hill Street (centering at what would be about No. 1900) and a short frontage on Halladay. The land has about 15 acres of usable farmland and considerable wetland, plus a 200-foot tobacco shed. The Town’s share of the purchase is only a quarter of the full cost of the development rights, which is shared with the State.
In 2001, $1,000,000 was added to the Open Space Fund from a State grant connected with the Suffield prison, and from 1999, the Town has budgeted allocations to the Fund in most years and accepted some fee-in-lieu-of-open-space payments from developers, all totaling $4,559,207. With major participation from State and Federal sources during those years, and including the Deren property, the Town has spent or committed $3,722,856 to preserve 1,373 acres, leaving $886,351 in the Fund for future preservation. With one of the Power Point “slides,” Town Planner Bill Hawkins explained the point system used by the Suffield Open Space Subcommittee to evaluate farmland being considered for the Farmland Preservation Program.
Hawkins listed the benefits of such purchases, which promote Suffield’s agricultural and rural heritage, provide many environmental benefits, and generally enhance the town’s quality of life. Through these efforts, he said, the Town has exceeded its published goal of protecting at least 55 percent of its residentially-zoned property.