RIDGEFIELD - The long battle over the Bennett's Pond property is nearing

an end with a proposed agreement that would lead to tax-generating development. First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the agreement would end a four-year legal battle with Eureka V, the owner of the 154-acre southern parcel of the Bennett's Pond land. Instead of Ridgefield taking the property by eminent domain, which had long been the plan, Marconi said the agreement would let Eureka build 100,000 square feet of corporate office space and 345 age-restricted housing units on the land. Eighty acres would be set aside as open space. Eureka V would drop its plans to build affordable housing there. "Although the development would not be 100 percent corporate as the town had planned for the parcel with the age-restricted component, at full build-out, the town would receive $4.1 million in tax revenues at today's mill rate," Marconi said. "The end result is that it will generate more in revenue than full corporate development would generate there." Marconi said he expects a final agreement to be reached within days. The
Board of Selectmen will meet Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. to vote on the settlement. The property is the last of two Bennett's Pond parcels that the town and Eureka V have wrestled over - with Ridgefield's legal fees exceeding $1 million. Originally, residents voted to take the northern and southern parcels of the Bennett's Pond property by eminent domain. The vote called for payment of $8.5 million for the northern parcel and $2.75 million for the southern piece. The town did take the northern 458 acres by eminent domain and paid Eureka $12.2 million. The property was then sold to the state Department of Environmental Protection for $4 million. The DEP preserved the land as open space. In April 2004, Ridgefield voters rejected a settlement with Eureka V that would have allowed the developer to build 160,000 square feet of corporate offices and 225 townhouses on the southern parcel. It would have maintained 92 acres as open space. The development could have generated an estimated $2.5 to $3 million in tax revenues. Both sides then agreed to suspend court action until the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on eminent domain. In June, the high court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the city of New London can take homes for a riverfront economic development project to increase its tax base. That ruling apparently prompted Ridgefield and Eureka V to work toward an agreement. "I think this is a very good decision for the town," Marconi said. "Balance has to take place in our town. The northern parcel has been acquired for open space and the goal for the south side is to generate corporate revenues. While this is not 100 percent corporate, the development proposed would generate more revenue for the town and at no burden to the school system." Republican candidate for first selectman AJ
Di Mattia
said Thursday that "this deal is worse than the previous deal that was rejected" by the voters. He said he was responding to press reports on the deal and had not seen the agreement. "This so-called settlement agreement serves as concrete proof that the incumbent first selectman was, and continues to be, in over his head," Di Mattia said. "He caused Ridgefield to get embroiled in an unnecessary and risky lawsuit in which the town finds itself in worse shape now than when it started." "(Marconi) has brought the town to a place where it must settle," Di Mattia said Thursday. "He spent all of the money which was authorized by the people and would have to go back to the townspeople and ask for even more money to finance the eminent domain case on the southern tract."

Contact Susan Tuz

at stuz@newstimes.com or at (203) 731-3352.