NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk is considering putting a lockbox around two pieces of its land, metaphorically and legally speaking, to prevent them from being developed in the future, or at least make it very unlikely.
Common Council members on Wednesday indicated willingness to agree with the Oak Hills Park Authority Nature Advisory Committee’s first outward sign of progress on the issue – a plan to annex 17 acres of city property and make it part of the park.
Committee Chairwoman Elsa Peterson Obuchowski and OHPA member Ernie DesRochers referred to 10.74 acres as “the old leaf dump” and 6.27 acres, on the other side of the golf course, as “the Niblick property.”
“The plan is to permanently commit it to open space, just not do anything with it at all, just let it lay there,” DesRocher said. “However, it would also prevent anyone else from doing anything with it too because it is a park. That’s where the upside is for the everyone community, because you could still sell that piece of land and do something with it today if the city so chooses.”
This is in harmony with the park’s recently passed master plan, they told Land Use and Building Management Committee members. The two parcels and the wooded land behind the park’s restaurant would be deeded as conservation easements to be “protected as permanent no-build areas,” Obuchowski said in a March 16 letter to Mayor Harry Rilling.
Committee Chairman Richard Bonenfant said Council members had intended to work on securing Norwalk’s open space for the future.
“You’re doing us a favor,” he said. “These are some of the things that we have been trying to do, but we got sidetracked.”
The only concern raised was that the Niblick property at 194 Scribner Ave. is on the other side of the second green, so anyone wanting to walk through those woods would have to cross the golf course. Obuchowski said no one would be encouraged to do that.
“It’s not so much for the people that we are interested in preserving these spaces, it’s for the habitat; you know, there’s birds, there’s coyotes,” Obuchowski said.
Someone suggested a bridge over the golf course.
“It was designed by a world famous golf course architect, I don’t think there are too many people who want to see it messed with,” Obuchowski said.
Another minor issue was that there may have been something toxic discarded in the old leaf dump, on North Taylor Avenue, but if the property is only being used for passive recreation that shouldn’t be a problem, Obuchowski said.
The transfer would triple the nature area at the park, which also is city property, DesRochers said.
“We don’t have to give anything up, this is city property right now,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said. “The only difference is it does not have designation on it.”
It could be parkland or open space, he said. “When we deed as park the city cannot sell it unless we replace it in kind. So it’s not something that we can do easily.”
If it’s deeded as open space the city could, in the future, decide to sell the land and develop it. But if it’s deeded as parkland, the state is involved.
A Council member brought up a recent controversy, when Habitat for Humanity asked for city land behind Norwalk Community College to build affordable housing.
“Once it’s deeded as parkland there is no gain for somebody wanting to develop it; if the city wants it you’ve got to replace it in kind and the state is very particular,” Lo said. “If this property is flat, then even the other property has some slope on it, they won’t consider it even swapping.”
Nothing was decided. Bonenfant asked DesRochers and Obuchowski to have the entire OHPA vote on it.
The Nature Advisory Committee has eight members, with Obuchowski the only Authority member. DesRochers also attends meetings.
“Elsa and her committee have really worked hard on this to come up with something that really benefits the community as a whole,” he said.