Council Tries to Smooth Over Wilkus Farm Swap Outcry
WETHERSFIELD - At the start of Monday night’s Wethersfield Town Council meeting, councilmembers that voted in favor of a proposal that would swap a Wilkus Farm parcel for property at Goff Road two weeks ago attempted to explain their vote, with the hopes that it might take off some of the heat, from disgruntled residents looking to see the land preserved for agricultural purposes, that had resulted.
Throughout the night the Council endured an endless barrage of comments voicing support for Nowak’s proposal--an agreement that would have given him the right to farm a 10-acre portion of the land for 10 years--and condemning proponents of the approved plan for going against a 2009 open space referendum. Some have been levying charges of a conflict of interest against councilors Stathis Manousos and Jim McAlister, both members of the Wethersfield Soccer Club, which has expressed the desire to build new soccer fields at the site.
“If people come up with the same opinion after hearing the facts, I’m okay with that,” Manousos told the packed room of town residents. “But what I don’t want is misinformation.”
The facts, according to supporters of a plan that will turn a portion of Wilkus Farm that is separate from the 10-acre chunk over to Ronald Drisdelle in exchange for Goff Road, an area in which residents have voiced their own apprehensions regarding blasting and potential damage to infrastructure and wildlife, is that reserving the portion of the property for farming eliminates public access.
“To me the definition of open space is public access,” Manousos said. “The Nowak bid does not allow that. We’re supporting a bid that allows public access to those 10 acres. I just want to make sure there’s a distinction between open space and farming.”
For many of the residents that voiced their opinion Monday night, it was always about farming.
The 10-acre parcel was set aside specifically for the purpose of enticing a farmer, said Wethersfield resident Rick Gary, who served on the Wilkus Farm Advisory Council.
“We’re not naïve--we knew it was a long shot, but guess what, it happened,” Gary said. “We had a guy willing to do everything, and you didn’t take him.”
Other residents sounded less scathing, but disappointed nonetheless.
“The voters voted [for the referendum] and they decided to buy and preserve it,” said Brendan Flynn, a former Wethersfield deputy mayor. “We should honor that. I don’t believe that any of you were acting in a conflict of interest. I think you are doing what you feel is best for the town. I just disagree with the majority.”
Drisdelle is looking to construct a six-house development within the portion he traded for, which did not sit well with residents either.
“My understanding was that the driving force behind the referendum was the threat of a developer coming in and building houses,” said Wethersfield resident Beth Hassett during the public comments segment. “So it’s disappointing that the Council voted for a bid that would develop that land.”
A couple of residents requested that the Council reconsider its vote.
“Why not?” said Wethersfield resident Rita Owen. “Bring it back up tonight, and overturn your present outcome.”