Mystic - The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has begun discussions with Stonington officials about having the town borrow $1.5 million to help the center purchase and preserve 34 acres of the Coogan Farm.
The $1.5 million in bonding could be combined with a plan to borrow $2 million to upgrade the high school athletic fields as well as another several million dollars to repair roads in town. That bonding package is slated go to voters later this year.
Supporters of the project recently met with First Selectman Ed Haberek to discuss the bonding.
"I understand the value and need for preserving property, but my recommendation to them was that they meet with the Board of Finance," Haberek said Monday.
That meeting could happen as early as May 9, when the finance board holds its next meeting. The finance board has to approve any bonding before it can go to a referendum vote.
"While it benefits the nature center, there's an overriding benefit for the community," said nature center Executive Director Maggie Jones during a tour of the property Monday afternoon. "That's why we feel it deserves the bonding support."
She said preserving the land would further strengthen the character of the area, which is what attracts both residents and visitors and helps increase the value of properties.
The town's Conservation Commission has raised concerns about the price of the land, saying the money could be used to purchase other land in town.
Combining bonding from the Coogan Farm with funding for the athletic fields and roads, though, means that voters opposed to one of the projects could derail plans for the other two.
The nature center, with help from The Trust for Public Land, has agreed to buy the land from the Clara Morgan Coogan Trust for $2.8 million.
The Campaign to Save the Coogan Farm has so far raised $320,000 and is seeking a $500,000 state grant as well as donations from individuals and organizations. In all, it hopes to raise $3.5 million to cover the purchase and other costs associated with preserving the land and allowing passive recreational use.
Another 18 acres of the farm is being developed into the 245-unit Mystic Senior Living Project, which will generate more than $400,000 a year in tax revenue for the town. Another 11-acre parcel will be kept as open space and given to the nature center. That will create a connection between the Coogan Farm and large tracts of open space owned or managed by the Denison Homestead and the nature center.
Jones said she anticipates that supporters will give tours of the property to residents to help build support for the bonding as well as raise additional donations.
On Monday, Jones pointed out the trail system that is in place through much of the property. Additional trails could be built to connect not only with nature center land but also with land behind the Holiday Inn Express, Hyatt hotel, McQuade's Marketplace and the adjacent Seaport Heights neighborhood.
The farm property features stone walls as tall as 7 feet; apple, pear and cherry trees; meadows; wildlife habitats that are disappearing in other areas; an early 19th-century house and barn that could be used as offices, storage and a visitor center; access off Route 27 and room for ample parking. The entrance is just south of Precious Memories Place.
Views from atop the ridge that runs through the property stretch across the Mystic River to the Peace Sanctuary and other open space along River Road. In the winter, there are views of Fishers Island Sound. The property also contains a 120-foot-long foundation that was built for a home likely designed by the same architect who designed the mansion at Harkness State Park in Waterford and Harkness Chapel at Connecticut College.
There are also open meadow areas enclosed by stone walls that could be used as an outdoors amphitheater for programs and picnics.