BREAKING NEWS–Thursday, May 17, 2018, 11:45 a.m.–Efforts to permanently preserve open space in Wilton has had a longstanding champion in the form of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust. Now comes news that once again the Land Trust has arranged to purchase a significant–and very visible–piece of Wilton property, by putting together a deal to purchase the embattled 13.5-acre property at 183 Ridgefield Rd. from the Fieber Group developer Jim Fieber.

Fieber purchased the property in August 2015 and soon after many town residents objected loudly to any development plans proposed by Fieber’s 183 Ridgefield Rd. LLC. Fieber applied several times to change the zoning regulations in order to allow age-restricted regulations to be considered for any development on the site. There were several possible developments that Fieber considered, from five 2-acre lots to 35 units, to 16 units. Multiple public hearings on the issue were held with overflow crowds giving testimony and opinion to the Planning & Zoning Commission over the course of many months. Patti Frisch, a neighboring Ridgefield Rd. resident, filed suit against the town over technicalities, resulting in overturned P&Z commission decisions and eventually leading to a pause for several months of no news–until now.

According to Peter Gaboriault, president of the Land Trust, the organization has signed contracts to purchase the property for a $2.3 million price tag. A press release sent out by the organization says it’s an “effort to save 183 Ridgefield Rd..”

The Land Trust will take title to the property in the spring of 2019, once it raises the $2.3 million needed to buy the site and make it accessible.

“This is an ambitious challenge in a very tight timeframe,” acknowledges Gaboriault. “But we’ve already raised $1 million. We think it’s possible and that we have to try.” The Land Trust will launch its town-wide fundraising campaign in the coming months.

Funds raised to date include $250,000 from the members of the Land Trust’s board and $750,000 from the Bauer Family Foundation. According to the press release, the board believes that $500,000 can be raised in a town-wide campaign and hopes the balance will come from a grant under the State’s Open Space grant program. To secure the property for a year and comply with State rules, the land will be held by an intermediary aligned with the Land Trust.

“Special thanks go to Jim Fieber and his family for agreeing to sell the Land Trust this prime piece of property and holding it off the market for a year while we raise the funds,” Gaboriault said.

The press release also credits “…Jim Fieber’s willingness to sell the property at well below his cost basis,” and quotes Fieber as saying, “When the Bauers committed their funds, I agreed to accept a price from the Land Trust at $750,000 below my cost basis to help make this happen and preserve this beautiful open space.”

The property at 183 Ridgefield Rd., also known as the Schlichting property, is next to the Hillside Cemetery on scenic and historic Ridgefield Rd..

“This site has it all! It’s an outstanding example of a rare meadow habitat that has been undisturbed for decades,” says Donna Merrill, executive director of the Land Trust. “I am also excited that we will partner with the Wilton Historical Society, the Woodcock Nature Center, and the American Chestnut Foundation to establish wonderful educational programs at the site.”

One year ago, Gaboriault told GOOD Morning Wilton that he wanted to get the Land Trust involved to save the parcel from development.

“One of the stated purposes of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust is to engage in and otherwise promote the benefit to the general public of the preservation and conservation of natural resources of the town of Wilton. In years gone by, in Wilton there would have been town resources potentially extended to save something like that. I get the fact that financially that’s not going to happen now, but it has happened in the past. We feel like we have to take the role in the conservation end of things to protect what the character of Wilton and its natural resources,” Gaboriault said at the time.

The town will not have any involvement–financially or otherwise–in purchasing or managing the property.

Reaction

Ridgefield Rd. neighbor Patti Frisch, told GOOD Morning Wilton that she is “thrilled” to hear the news.

“I am very grateful to everyone who was instrumental in making this happen, including the Land Trust Board members and staff, the Fieber family, the Bauer Family Foundation and others. This property will be a tremendous addition to Wilton’s community assets. I could not have imagined anything better,” Frisch said.

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