WETHERSFIELD - A five-house development project has been proposed, and Wethersfield residents--those working to protect a 4.3-acre area of open space behind Goff Road and those intent on preserving a Wilkus Farm parcel that was the target of open space referendum years ago--are tossing it back and forth like a hot potato that nobody wants to be stuck holding.
The dispute is over whether or not developer Ronald Drisdelle should be allowed to exchange his Goff Road property, which he purchased this past spring, for the segment of Wilkus Farm that is now up for bid.
Wethersfield residents took the floor for over an hour at the start of Thursday night’s Town Council meeting, urging councilors to either reject Drisdelle’s offer, a six lot cul-de-sac that will level the barns that occupy the land, and leave Wilkus Farm unscathed or protect Goff Road by approving his trade proposal and everything in between.
“If you take positive action in this matter to preserve Goff Road, you will benefit the town’s surrounding property owners by preserving its open space and preventing its total destruction,” said Round Hill Road resident Marino Salvatore in a letter read by his cousin, Anthony Battaglio.
Battaglio and other Goff Road residents cited concerns regarding the protection of trees, other wildlife, and perceived potential damage that can be caused by blasting, a rock removal technique that will likely be used to make way for the development project.
“When [Drisdelle] gets through it’s going to look like he bombed the place,” resident Joan Biagioni told the Council.
The ridge behind Gulf Road--the highest point in Wethersfield--has been subject to heated dispute since Drisdelle bought the property for $170,000. He wanted to build seven new homes, but pressure from Goff Road residents, coupled with planning and zoning restrictions, forced him to lower it to five--a little better, but still not good for those who would see the project and its environmental consequences occur right in their backyards.
Over on Willow Street there’s a section of the Wethersfield-owned Wilkus Farm, known as “The Farm,” for which Wethersfield residents passed two open space referendums in an effort to preserve exclusively for agricultural purposes.
“The Farm”, unbeknownst to the voters who approved the referendums, was actually classified as fair game for purchase.
“It’s ridiculous for the town to consider using that property for anything other than the way it was meant to be,” resident Gastone Colantonio said. “With all due respect to the people living at Goff Road, the only reason they want to exchange, [is] they don’t want houses to be built up there. If they don’t want them to build on Goff Road, they should not build and the two parties should be completely separate.”
The town put the Wilkus Farm land up for bid two years ago, hoping to sell it to someone who would use it for farming. This time, the Council has found that local farmer Richard Nowak has put in a $220,000 bid that promises to not use the land for development.
“He’s a local farmer, and we don’t have many of those left in town,” said Board of Education member Tracy McDougall. “We had loads of support from voters when we passed the referendum, and I think voters would like us to maintain the spirit of that referendum.”
McDougall, who works for the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, an organization of the state’s professional farmers, noted that part-time farmers who work additional jobs in order to supplement a lower, hard fought income from farming now outnumber those in the state who do the trade full-time.
“I think that speaks to how difficult it is to make a living farming full-time,” she said. “So the fact that we have a farmer that would like to put his hard-earned cash down and continue farming...it’s a wonderful proposal [and] we’re very lucky.”
Resident Ryan Jordan, a UCONN student, said he does not want to see any of the two locations developed.
“We are overdeveloped,” Jordan said. “We shouldn’t be cutting into a hill to build more houses. Land defines a town. It’s not about having buildings everywhere.”
Biagioni urged the Council to come up with a solution that will allow the town to keep both pieces of land.
“I’m not against [Nowak] buying the farm,” she said. “Use the money to buy Goff Road.”