SOUTHINGTON — The finance board agreed with other town leaders that voters should decide on a plan to buy development rights for Southington Country Club.
The Board of Finance voted unanimously Wednesday night to send the $4.5 million contract with golf course owners to a referendum that could take place this spring. The Town Council is the final step before a referendum date is set and council leaders have said they support the plan.
Town leaders proposed a contract with Southington Country Club, a Savage Street golf course whose owners include Raymond Kastner, Joseph Calvanese Jr. and Christopher Calvanese. If the sale is approved, the Kastner and Calvanese families would remain owners of the golf course but would lose the ability to build houses on the nearly 100-acre property. Owners have approval to build more than 100 homes on the golf course.
Any future owners of the property would also be prevented from using the land for anything other than recreational purposes such as golf, according to the contract. Owners would also be prevented from subdividing the land. The contract allows the property owners to make improvements to the golf course, if they wish.
There's no requirement to keep the golf course in operation.
On Wednesday night, town officials made their case for the buying development rights. In addition to preventing housing development and the accompanying town and school costs, preserving open land helps maintain the quality of life for town residents, they said.
Tony Morrison, a finance board member, asked whether town leaders had considered buying development rights with cash from the town’s reserves.
Town Manager Mark Sciota said he’d discussed the possibility with finance director Emilia Portelinha and determined that bonding the money was the best option based on the current interest rates.
“This was the smartest move,” Sciota said.
Using borrowed money also would keep the town’s reserves healthy in case of unexpected expenses, said Town Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano.
“We are trying to focus in on the long term goals,” she said.
Morrison suggested town leaders include the funding rationale in presentations they’re making to local groups on the development rights purchase.
After Wednesday’s vote, the decision whether or not to send the contract to referendum heads to the Town Council. By town charter, any projects costing more than $1 million must be approved by local voters.
Golf course owners have until this fall to develop their land, after which town approval for the subdivision lapses. Town officials said they wanted to hold the referendum before that happens and not wait until November’s election.