After postponing action several times, the Board of Selectmen has finally approved a conservation easement for the state of Connecticut on former Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport property the town had acquired in the Southport area.

"The bottom line is, based on what I have determined, is that 10 years ago the town bought the property for $4.4 million, using $400,000 of state grant money," Town Attorney Stanton Lesser told the selectmen last Wednesday. Under state statutes, the use of the grant money required that the town give the state a permanent conservation easement to ensure the property is maintained as passive recreation open space.

Lesser said prior to the town's purchase of the former St. John Vianney property off Barberry Road, some abutting neighbors had encroached on the property with septic systems, utility lines and possibly a driveway.

Conservation Director Tom Steinke "worked on that a long time," Lesser said, "and subsequently resolved those issues and the encroachments were carved out of this easement."

Mill Hill Road resident David Sturges told the selectmen that the town was fortunate to be able to acquire the property when it did. "It's a very strategic piece," he said. "It is really Southport's first, true, good-sized public park."

He said the neighbors "look forward to this business finally being finished."

Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said questions had been raised in previous discussions about the Representative Town Meeting's support of the purchase more than a decade. She said that, according to the minutes from the RTM session when the purchase was approved, the vote was 37 in favor, with two opposed and three abstentions.

"So it was overwhelmingly supported," Vahey said. "It's a gem for our town."

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