On Friday, July 8, 2011, Governor Malloy signed the bill approving the Haddam Land Swap. This kind of rush-job overreach is becoming a Malloy trademark after only 6 months in office. The simple explanation of swapping 17 acres for 87 acres seems harmless enough. But the Legislature nullified the existing deed for the 17 acre parcel to get the deal done. Ouch… The deal itself may not be all that bad. But two things really stand out as black-eyes for the process:
- The Environment Committee toured the 17 acre parcel and they all commented about how it was poorly maintained, and had debris and discarded furniture on it… well? Pass a bill to clean up the damn neglected property. Done. No more eyesore. That is not, however, grounds for revoking a legal deed to get around the use restrictions therein. The fact that the EC didn’t have the nerve to just call it Eminent Domain is a tip to how shaky the legal grounds for this deal are.
- While the deal itself may not be the worst thing ever in terms of shaping the portfolio of Connecticut’s public land holdings, the real danger is that the Legislature may have opened a “back door” whereby developers who have been hungrily eying land that has been put into protected status via a trust or deed restriction will now offer parcels of land in exchange, citing this deal as precedent, and use the considerable and seemingly unchecked power of the legislature to make a land grab. The development potential of the 87 acre parcel was simply much harder to extract than that of the 17 acre parcel. THAT is what drove this deal. Every developer in the State is licking their chops now that it has been signed, sealed, and delivered.
Along those lines, I once asked Southngton Town Attorney Mark Scotia about the specific mechanism by which the Southington Land Trust had conserved their holdings, and got the mother of all non-answers for my trouble. Trust But Verify only works if there is verification, and he continually comes up short in that department. The deal there is that once upon a time Southington had a “protected” piece of land called Panthorn Park, that while once a piece of truly diverse habitat, is now shaved bald and sports an array of sports fields, parking, and paved driveways. If I hadn’t been along on the walk-throughs and seen the original conservation plan then maybe I wouldn’t care. But the good ideals of conservation are often run under the plow of the mighty dollar. These public “land trusts” may be no more than publicly financed real estate holding companies if there is not sufficient legal rigor applied to their conservation deeds and easements.
The opponents of this Haddam deal, indeed all proponents of land conservation, need clear answers about why this was allowed to happen, under what authority, and what other protected parcels the same process might apply to.