St. Agnes Land Offered for $15M

By Neil Vigdor
Greenwich Times [Connecticut]
August 4, 2004

The Diocese of Bridgeport is offering to sell 25 acres of surplus property surrounding St. Agnes Church to a group of neighbors or a land trust organization for $15 million.

Open space advocates and neighbors were presented with the option during an informational meeting Monday night at the Greenwich parish. The diocese said it would not sign a sales contract for 30 days to allow neighbors time to explore a purchase.

"Ideally, if the neighbors themselves could buy the property themselves and keep it as open space, that would be a win-win situation," diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said.

St. Agnes Church would retain 7.5 acres of the 32-plus-acre property at 247 Stanwich Road for itself. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, McAleer said the diocese could sell the surplus land to developers, who could then build up to 10 homes.

The property has been listed for sale with a $15 million asking price. McAleer confirmed the sale would help cover a $21 million settlement reached last year with sexual abuse victims.

Residents, many of whom fear the development of the woodland property would adversely impact their wells, yesterday described the diocese's offer as unreasonable and prohibitive.

"We didn't think that was a fair offer," said Mary Lou Lange, a next-door neighbor who is the granddaughter of the church property's prior owners.

Peter Berg, the executive director of the Greenwich Land Trust, said his organization was not in a position to help the neighbors raise the money, which he characterized as a formidable task given the deadline and amount.

He cited the public acquisition of the 110-acre Treetops property from International Paper in 2001 as example of the time and effort required to raise money for open space.

Open space advocates took about 100 days to raise $5.5 million to buy the 110-acre property straddling the Stamford border, with money coming from both communities, as well as the state.

"We're not going to be able to come up with big bucks," Berg said, adding that the property surrounding the parish would probably not qualify for public funding because it is not in a watershed area or adjacent to a park like Treetops.

First Selectman Jim Lash also gave the prospect long odds.

"This is not the kind of property generally that we look to acquire," Lash said. "There are properties that are on the town's Plan of Conservation and Development that we would look to acquire if they became available, but this is probably not one of those."

While opponents of development mull their options, the diocese has commissioned a hydrologist to study water tables near the church. The diocese hopes to present the survey's findings to neighbors by the end of the month.

McAleer reiterated that the diocese was trying to be sensitive to neighbors of the parish.

"The calling for this survey by the diocese really is a tremendous show of good faith by the diocese," McAleer said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.