Glastonbury council wants Rose's to remain a farm; the issue is how

Jan. 25—GLASTONBURY — Members of the Town Council want Rose's Berry Farm to stay a farm.

That much was clear at Tuesday's council meeting.


ACTION: Glastonbury Town Council approves purchase of 23.18 acres of Rose's Berry Farm for $1.09 million but also votes to ask for an extension of the closing date so it can conduct a competitive process to select a farmer to take over the operation.

ISSUES: Avoiding lawsuits, back-room deals, and plants going to seed, while the wheels of government turn slowly.

But exactly how they will go about accomplishing that remained up in the air.

The council unanimously approved the purchase of 23.18 acres of the Matson Hill Road farm for $1.09 million. It also voted to explore whether the current owner, Sandra J. Rose, would be willing to extend the March 7 deadline for closing the sale.

The purpose of the extension would be to give the town time for a competitive process known as a request for proposals to select a farmer to run the operation.

The farmer could then buy the main, or "fee," interest in the land, while the town would buy development rights to prevent the land from ever being developed.

If Rose won't extend the closing deadline, the town could go forward with buying the fee interest in the property as has been contemplated to date.

The council could then select a farmer to take it over and ask voters at a November referendum for authorization to sell the land to the farmer, with the town keeping the development rights.

Retired builder Paul Gondek Jr. and his family want to buy the 23-acre parcel and farm the land along with two parcels totaling 21.5 acres that they have already bought on the other side of Matson Hill Road.

They have ruffled some feathers on the council by appealing to the public for support in what had been confidential negotiations.

Some of the Gondeks' supporters suggested, during a November council meeting, that town purchase of the land could lead to its development, which Kurt P. Cavanaugh, the council's Republican minority leader, vigorously disputed.

On Tuesday, council Chairman Thomas P. Gullotta, a Democrat, said another person is interested in the property and has made clear that, if the council acts "unilaterally," the person "would see us in court."

Democratic Councilman Jacob McChesney, a lawyer, said he didn't find the threat of a lawsuit persuasive.

But Democratic Majority Leader Deborah A. Carroll said, "We don't do back-room deals."

A point that loomed large in the council's discussion was that living things don't wait for governmental processes.

Republican Councilman John Cavanna, a farmer, said before the vote that, if the council decides to go ahead with the purchase, it would need to quickly hold a strategy session about what to do with "whatever is living up there."

Town Manager Richard J. Johnson said structures on the property need to be preserved and plants would "start to go to seed if left for a long period of time."

Stewart "Chip" Beckett, a former council chairman and minority leader, argued during the council's public hearing Tuesday that private ownership of the land — with the town buying development rights — would be the best approach.

He said people may feel free to "take whatever's there," such as produce, from a town-owned property, believing it is theirs.

He also said a private farmer would be well suited to managing roads, drainage, perennial crops, and other things necessary to keep a farm running.

Moreover, Beckett said, a farm needs "succession plans," which he argued a private farmer would be better able to create than the Town Council.

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