Swamps, cemeteries and river access; New Haven catalogs its town-owned properties

NEW HAVEN — The New Haven Town Lands committee has submitted its first series of recommendations and is continuing its work of identifying, visiting, evaluating and making recommendations on town properties.
The committee addresses a need long identified in New Haven, said Tim Bouton, co-chair of the committee, a New Haven fence viewer and town agent and a planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
“It’s been highlighted in the last three or four town plans since 1998 that the town needs to identify its properties,” said Bouton. “The committee was put together to … basically lock down what’s what and where’s where.”
He pointed out that the population of New Haven is growing and while people can still be relatively informal about property boundaries, that will not always be the case.
“We’re in an increasingly litigious society,” Bouton said.
Bouton also noted that the upcoming merger of Beeman Elementary School into the Mount Abraham Unified School District provided another impetus to move on the project now.
In its first round of property review, the committee looked at 10 parcels, including Demers Park and Riverside Cemetery on River Road, along with two smaller River Road properties; lots at and surrounding the town garage; and lots at and surrounding the town hall and town office.
One of the committee’s most pressing recommendations, as expressed in its Aug. 29 written report to the selectboard, is that the board “undertake negotiations immediately with the New Haven school board to ensure that ownership of the land underneath the town hall is transferred to the town prior to the date when the New Haven school district passes ownership of all remaining school property to the new regional school district.”
Other recommendations include:
•  At Demers Park, clear invasive species to improve visibility from River Road, add signs about hours and usage, pressure wash the picnic tables, improve the aesthetics of the current gravel parking spaces.
•  At the O’Mara parcel on River Road, remove junk cars lining the riverbank.
•  At Riverside Cemetery, repair headstones and enlist volunteers to record inscriptions on historic headstones.
•  At the town hall and town office and at the town garage, survey lots to determine where the boundaries are.
According to Bouton, the town owns around 15 to 20 parcels. Some are as small as one-eighth of an acre; some as large as four to five acres. The town owns a range of kinds of land, Bouton said: town center, town garage, village green, various sites along the New Haven River, road pull-offs, two cemeteries and two wetlands. And there are likely lands unknown or not yet properly identified, Bouton said.
Identifying and evaluating each parcel, said Bouton, is a way for the lands to provide more value to residents. For example, town lots that provide access to the New Haven River have been underused and undervalued.
“The New Haven River is such a resource for this town, which the town has turned its back on over the years because that’s what towns do when they’re no longer manufacturing there,” Bouton said. “Then it becomes someone’s backyard. For the town to own some access to that river is incredibly awesome.”
The selectboard formed the nine-person committee last April and it began meeting in May. Membership is designed to represent a variety of New Haven interests. Co-chairs are Bouton and Selectman Taborri Bruhl. Other members are Selectman Steve Dupoise, Brad Bull, Beeman School Board member; Suzy Roorda, Park Committee; Paul Audy, fence viewer; Benjamin Palmer, planning commission; Susan Smiley, conservation commission; and Bev Landon, New Haven Historical Society.
The committee had planned to complete its work by November, in time for the town budgeting process. But Bouton said the work is likely to take longer than that. The selectboard would, however, be able to discuss allocating funds for surveying or other recommended actions based on reports in by budgeting time.
This coming Saturday, Sept. 23, the committee will conduct a site visit at 9 a.m. at the village green. The visit is open to the public.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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