WETHERSFIELD - Following a contentious debate that characterized the entirety of the lengthy Wilkus Farm sale decision process, the Wethersfield Town Council voted 5-4 to turn over two acres of the parcel to Ronald Drisdelle in exchange for almost five acres of his Goff Road property--much to the dissatisfaction of the audience of Wethersfield and Rocky Hill residents that attended Monday night’s meeting to hear the final verdict and plead their case one more time.
The passing of the motion defeated a proposal to sell the land to Wethersfield farmer Richard Nowak for $220,000--a prospect that has been popular with residents throughout the discussion.
“I’m speechless,” said Wethersfield resident Joel Wagner during a public comment segment after the motion passed. “I don’t understand how a vote like that can happen.”
Many residents that have attended previous Wilkus Farm discussions wanted the land to go to Nowak because he had promised to preserve the town’s agricultural heritage and reserve a 10-acre parcel for farming while keeping the house and barn at the property intact.
Newly added provisions, such as a 10-year maximum for the amount of time Nowak had rights to farm the land as well as using the $220,000 received in the sale to purchase Goff Road from Drisdelle, to the defeated proposal were met with backlash from opposing councilors, including Stathis Manousos, who said that the motion should be voted on in the form in which it was initially discussed.
The Nowak motion worked to satisfy residents in both camps--those fighting to preserve the 10-acre open space for agricultural efforts, as well as Goff Road residents concerned with the impact blasting will have on wildlife and nearby properties, Councilor Jeffrey Kotkin said. He added the 10-year clock so that the space could be used for recreation and other public purposes in the future.
“We had a good bid from a local who wanted to farm [the 10-acre space],” Kotkin said after the meeting. “And it was the way the people wanted it.”
Kotkin is citing two referendums on which Wethersfield voters opted to preserve the Wilkus Farm parcel as open space. The two-acre portion being exchanged, however, is sellable because it was not purchased through open space funds like the rest of the 80-acre land, according to Manousos.
The Drisdelle motion actually accomplishes a compromise because the town will have the opportunity to protect Gulf Road and still keep the 10 acres at Wilkus farm, since Drisdelle development will be limited to the two acres he is getting in exchange, Manousos said.
“This isn’t about taking or not taking open space,” he said. “This is about two acres of property that was never taken to be owned by the town.”
Proponents of the Drisdelle proposal want the 10-acre space preserved for other purposes, such as recreation and other public uses.
Councilors that pushed the Drisdelle motion through were peppered with angry comments following the vote. Councilor Jim McAlister drew the most fire, especially after it was discovered that he his name appeared amongst 60 signatures on a petition sent to the Council requesting that the Drisdelle proposal be approved. Some called it a conflict of interest, and accused the motion’s proponents of catering to the Wethersfield Soccer Club, which has expressed the desire to have fields built on the 10 acres. Manosous is the president of the club.
“I have said publically since day one, that I cannot support any proposal that limits public access to those 10 acres,” he said after the meeting. “But tying up the land for 10 years, that’s no different than what we’re doing now, which is haying it without a commitment.”
The problem with taking Nowak’s proposal is that there is no guarantee that Drisdelle will actually sell the Goff Road property to the town after his bid for Wilkus Farm is rejected, McAlister said. Not only that, such an acquisition would require funds in addition to what the town makes off the Wilkus farm sale.
“We don’t have funds to purchase Goff Road,” McAlister said after the meeting.
Although Goff Road was originally bought by Drisdelle for $175,000, development at the site has since added value to the property, Manousos said.