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Proposed Changes to Plan of Conservation to Clarify 'Open Space'

A draft revision of Chapter Five of the Plan of Conservation and Development clarifies the nature of properties designated "open space."

Changes proposed for the Plan of Conservation and Development seek to clarify the definition and nature of "open space" in the town. Rather than change policy or use of open space assets, the changes, which will be brought before a public hearing in February, list in greater detail the different levels of protection for the various publicly and privately held open space parcels.

The open space goal for Avon, following the state's suggestion, is to protect 20 percent of the town's land area. Parcels identified as open space include both publicly owned lands, and privately-owned lands zoned for recreation. Among the publicly owned parcels, distinctions exist for the levels of protection, depending on how the land was acquired and whether any deed restrictions exist for current and future use.

The need for clarification arose in part from the public discussion surrounding the application by Avon Golf Club for a zoning change on a portion of their property which they intended to sell to a developer. The zoning board denied the application in July, and the owners have since filed a civil suit against the town. The changes are not a response to the application, but rather seek to clarify for the public what the town means by open space.

"The comments during the public hearing were part of the discussion that raised the question, what are the various types of open space," said Town Planner Steven Kushner.

The proposed draft eliminates references to "permanent" open space, one of the main points of clarification sought by zoning officials.

"We felt clarification of the language in the plan, in hindsight was necessary especially regarding the term 'permanent,'" said Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Duane Starr.

The draft change language sites the example of Fisher Meadows as a parcel with a federal deed restriction because it was purchased with the assistance of Federal Grant funds, but notes that even such a deed restriction can be negotiated.

"In these instances, the property is deed restricted unless the Federal Agency releases the Town from this requirement. Generally, this may only occur where the Town acquires another open space asset of equal quality and size," the draft reads.

Other properties, such as the Huckleberry Hill property, were purchased exclusively with town funds, and thus are not deed restricted. Their designation as open space is a function of town policy, and can change as town officials feel is necessary. A portion of the property has been identified as a possibly suitable location for a elementary school should the need arise.

Sub-division regulations require a portion of developments to donate open space land equal to 10 percent of the project or pay a fee equal to the value of said land. The town has acquired 235 acres since 1989 under said regulations, and collected $143,000 in fees in lieu of donations.

Regarding privately held lands designated "open space" under the plan, the draft changes note the description is not intended to confer rights to the public to the land. The two properties listed, the Avon Golf Club, and Fox Run Golf Course, are listed as open space because of the ROS (Recreational Open Space) Zone under which the properties fall. The zone is a restriction on usage based on zoning regulations, but is not a promise of permanently protected open space. 

"Privately owned assets contribute to the rural character of the community," said Kushner, and so are listed in the plan under open space.

Because present and future developments are of such importance to property owners and potential property purchasers, the proposed clarifications in the Plan of Conservation and Development are designed to avoid possible future controversies.

 "It is a universal issue, in the sense that people hear the term open space and might think permanently protected, but we want people to understand what it really means, and they can weigh in their own minds how likely it is that a property currently called open space may be used in the future," said Kushner.

 

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