The Stonington Conservation Commission is hoping the town will not seek to redefine the meaning of forever. Members of the conservation panel have indicated they are “adamantly opposed” to a plan that would undo a deed restriction intended to keep a parcel of land in Pawcatuck as open space and instead use it as a site for senior citizen housing.
Not that anyone is opposed to housing for seniors. Not us, and not the commission, as members made clear. But they are standing on principle as they should in this case.
The land in question is a 14-acre parcel referred to as Moss Park and donated to the town in the 1970s. The land is between Route 1 and Lathrop Avenue near Pawcatuck Middle School. Much of that land and the neighborhood that runs from Lathrop east to Mechanic Street was part of the Moss farm more than a century ago. The parcel in question isn’t readily evident to passersby. It is obscured by homes on Route 1 and Lathrop Avenue. But aerial maps show that the parcel abuts more vacant land to the west that borders the high school property and therefore forms a large contiguous run of open space between the school and a densely populated neighborhood.
At various times over the years parts of those parcels have been considered for use as hiking and biking trails, and to provide additional passive public recreation opportunities.
If the site includes access to Route 1, it would make sense for a senior housing complex there since the Pawcatuck Shopping Center is essentially just across the street — although Stop & Shop has a hold on its former facility to thwart competition.
But none of that really matters.
The land was offered to the town as long as it would be kept as open space and it would take a Superior Court judge to overturn that decree.
Perhaps the town should point the developer in the direction of some of the abandoned mills in Pawcatuck. The price has to be right for these properties in this economy and they’ve all sat for decades. With incentives from the federal or state government to clean up these sites, it just might make sense.
Conservation Commission Chairman Stanton Simm Jr. and Vice Chairman Stuart Cole noted that they support the goal of First Selectman Ed Haberek Jr. to add more senior housing in town, just not at this site. Cole pointed out that setting this kind of precedent — undoing an open space deed restriction — could lead to problems down the road, and we agree. Their suggestion to turn the land over from town jurisdiction to a local land trust makes sense. A land trust most likely would not even entertain the idea of taking such a step with land designated for open space.
There are a number of sites in Pawcatuck that previously housed businesses large and small that are now vacant, and there’s little that looks worse than a property that has been abandoned. These sites lower property values of their neighbors and give the town a negative curb appeal.