The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to approve the purchase of about 60 acres of Great Island and authorized the issuing of bonds to fund the approximately $100 million purchase. This vote was the first approval needed to finalize the purchase—the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) also have to approve the funding and the RTM also has to authorize the purchase agreement.
“Great Island is fantastically important to our community and the outreach all of us have experienced proves that,” Selectwoman Monica McNally said at the June 13 meeting.
McNally said that residents have said that it is such a unique opportunity and one that “we cannot let it slip away.”
The property, Great Island, is currently a 60-acre private island with a few buildings on it, such as an estate house and equestrian facility, and features 1.5 miles of shoreline along the Long Island Sound.
Proponents of the purchase cite numerous reasons for the town to own the property including:
- “A unique opportunity” to own pristine lands along the coast
- A chance to preserve open space in town
- A way to provide residents with more access to the shoreline
- A chance to teach both younger and older residents about the coastal ecosystem
- A place to provide environmental resources for the community, including pollinator pathways and coastal restoration
- A way to provide more recreational, outdoors, community space to the town
Many who have spoken in favor have asked the board to think about the cost of not purchasing the property and leaving it open to potential development. At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, June 13, which followed a public information session on June 9, resident Frank Kemp voiced his support for the purchase and noted that other towns, including Westport and Greenwich made similar purchases years ago and those sites are now beloved by the community.
Those opposed to the purchase, including Sarah Neumann, the only member of the Board of Selectmen to vote against it, have cited its cost and potential impact on the town’s financial future as reasons to not move forward.
“It is indisputable that this property is an incredible opportunity, one that fits our town’s master plans,” she said. “I’m extremely concerned about the financial ramifications.”
Neumann noted that she was also concerned about how the town planned to manage the property and what other potential costs could be incurred to operate it.
Others have said their concerns or questions about the purchase included:
- How the larger $100 million purchase could affect other areas of the town’s budget, particularly the schools
- The long-term financial ramifications of taking on this much debt, which could threaten the city’s bond rating
- The necessity of the purchase, which some members of the public have said is just “adding another park.”
This week, multiple RTM districts are hosting information sessions where residents from their districts can come and get more information, ask questions, and hear from officials about the plans for Great Island. On Thursday, June 23, RTM District II and District IV are hosting a joint meeting at 7 p.m. Great Island is located within District II and borders District IV. On Monday, June 20, RTM District VI is hosting an information session at 8 p.m. related to the purchase.
The RTM will meet as a full body on Monday, June 27 to vote on the purchase.