SOUTHINGTON — Town planners recommended buying development rights for a Savage Street golf course, the first hurdle for a $4.5 million land preservation plan that could be up for referendum in the spring.
Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission said that buying development rights and preventing residential construction was important to preserving the character of Southington.
“I think this is a great idea,” said PZC Chairman Bob Hammersley during a Tuesday night commission meeting. “It is about the character of our community. This sits in the heart of part of our community.”
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. 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 wished. There’s no requirement to keep the golf course in operation.
Concerns about misunderstanding
Peter Santago, a commission member, said he’s talked to many residents who misunderstand what development rights are and believe the town will own the golf course if the purchase is approved. That’s not the case, Santago said, and residents who will vote on the plan need to understand it.
“We may think we are educating people. We’re not, or at least not doing as good a job of it,” he said. “It goes to referendum, you want people to be educated on what they’re spending their $4.5 million on, and it’s not to buy the golf course. People may vote one way or the other based on that misunderstanding.”
Town officials have planned a campaign to inform the public on development rights.
“I think there’s definitely an educational piece that we’ll be ramping up,” Hammersley said.
Christina Volpe, a commission member, said the golf course land was farmland going back to the 1800s. Keeping that land from becoming a housing subdivision was a way to preserve the town’s character.
“Our job is to preserve quality of life for our residents and promote that and this project absolutely does that,” Volpe said.
Volpe said she remembers as a child collecting lost golf balls around the course. Other commissioners said they did the same and that they enjoyed having the open space rather than housing.
“Those are things worth preserving,” Volpe said. “That’s the character of our community.”
Golf course owners have town approval for 114 houses on the property. Town Planner Rob Philips estimated that would result in $1.3 million in education costs each year, based on the average number of children per home.
An appraiser hired by the town estimated development rights on the property to be worth $4.7 million. Property owners agreed to a price of $4.5 million. Hammersley said they helped to make the price more affordable for the town and thanked them for their efforts.
“They took a slight haircut on the appraised value,” he said.
The plan next goes to the Board of Finance for a recommendation. The Town Council will vote whether or not to send the issue to referendum in the spring.
Projects costing more than $1 million must be approved by voters at referendum, according to the town charter.