D Harris Jr. is the personal blog of HERS rater and Berkshire Hathaway Realtor Dwight "DJ" Harris Jr.

Burlington's Proposed Purchase of Johnnycake Mountain Farm

Burlington's Proposed Purchase of Johnnycake Mountain Farm

To be purchased by the Town of Burlington pending a May 24, 2016 vote
This is a landmark purchase for the Town of Burlington.
— Ted Shafer, First Selectman

The Facts

  • Town vote to approve purchase: May 24th, 2016
  • Absentee ballots can be picked up in person from the Town Clerk beginning May 11th.
  • Funds previously approved: $2,180,000
  • Parcel Cost: $1,675,000 ($28,400/acre)
  • Estimated cost to develop: $900,000 over 5+ years
  • Parcel Size: 57.995 acres (23 building lots)
  • Tax savings to the town by purchasing this parcel: $248,216/year
  • Four full-size athletic fields for in-town resident use
  • Two-thirds open park space for passive recreation and seasonal events

See: Town of Burlington's Fact Sheet and Public Information Sessions Schedule

The preliminary design of the 58 acre parcel

What's the plan?

The Town of Burlington is in desperate need of athletic fields, and has been for more than ten years. The Johnnycake Mountain Farm parcel is not only perfect for this use, but has sufficient acreage to allow for future recreational growth of the town's needs. It also provides much needed space for passive recreation - fishing, camping, festivals, etc. Burlington residents have enjoyed the use of this parcel for fishing derbies, music festivals, fundraisers, fireworks and more for the past thirty years and to continue to have the parcel available is invaluable to both the residents of Burlington and the surrounding neighborhood.

The proposed plan was developed in coordination with Johnnycake Mountain Associates and Burlington's Parks & Recreation, town engineer, first selectman, and head of public works. It is labeled as a preliminary design because a design committee will be formed to include the consultation of a landscape architect (already involved in the preliminary design by Johnnycake Mountain Associates), town residents and the Planning and Zoning Commission. Although "preliminary" I feel that it is what is likely to be built and indicates the vision that the town holds for the parcel. I hope to join the design committee to represent Johnnycake Mountain Associates, my own personal financial interests as a resident of Mountain Top Pass, my father's interests as a resident of Charolais Way, and all the neighbors that Johnnycake has sold to over the past thirty years. 

The best part of the plan, in my opinion, is the minimal impact to the road-scape. Johnnycake Mountain Road and Mountain Top Pass remain entirely untouched. Rock Road has two fields visible from the road, but they are positioned well back from the street. When combined with future walking paths, the parcel becomes more accessible to everyone and preserves key areas (more than two thirds) as open space for passive use.

What's the cost?

The cost to purchase is $1.675 million. Although that sounds like a lot, that's only $28,400/acre for a parcel in one acre zoning that has over 3500 feet of road frontage. Adjacent parcels are selling right now for $125,000/acre. Unlike some of the alternative parcels, such as purchasing land from the state or in commercial or industrial zoned areas (e.g. the old Johnnycake Airport), purchasing land in a residential zone has the tax benefits of eliminating near-term residential development. Each child in the school system costs the town of Burlington $18,000. The state of Connecticut brings that cost down to $13,000 per child. Preventing a housing development not only reduces density, but saves money every year, forever.

For those who like math, see below:

23 homes x 1.5 kids x $13,000 = $448,500 expense savings

$400,000 home price x 0.7 x 31.1/1000 = $8708 tax revenue x 23 homes = $200,284 lost revenue

Total annual savings = $248,216

Additional development cost over the $2.18 million = $605,000 of taxes at $13.61 per 100k assessed for five years, after which the the development cost is paid off.

Additional development cost payback = $605,000 additional development cost/$248,216 annual savings of park vs housing = 2.4 years!

This will improve property values for all the residents of Burlington, but especially those on Johnnycake.
— DJ Harris, Realtor

How long will it take?

I expect it to be at least a year before anything is done to the property.  There might be one field added in the following year. In the meantime, Johnnycake has agreed to farm and maintain the property until it is fully developed by the town. The town has declared that this is a 20+ year project that will be thoughtfully designed and executed so as preserve the rural character of the town and neighborhood.

What's happening to the farm?

In the short-term, nothing: Johnnycake will continue to farm it as it has for the last 30+ years. Long term, the farm center will move across the street where Johnnycake has 75 acres of farmland. In addition, Johnnycake has preserved hundreds of acres of open space on the mountain, some of which is deed restricted for farming, and will thus continue to have cows grazing and hay cut on the mountain. The current plan leaves miscellaneous open space that the residents could decide to leave open for the grazing of animals which will continue to preserve the rural aspect of Johnnycake and Burlington.

Black fencing along Rock R

What drew us to the property was the rural character and we’d like to do everything we can to keep that for the future.
— Tricia Twomey, Director of Parks and Recreation

What about lights and fencing?

The town has indicated that they have no intention of putting lights on the parcel. Johnnycake has more than 25 building lots overlooking the parcel and Johnnycake is confident that stadium lights would not be approved through the zoning process. The town has also indicated that it would like to keep the black wood fencing, if possible, and not use perimeter chain-link fencing. The preliminary plan has the athletic fields an additional 50+ feet beyond the fencing (present housing regulations allow a house to be built 35 feet from the road).

Planning and Zoning

The town must apply for a special permit for all development plans. The language of the special permit on pp. 55-56 of Burlington's planning and zoning regulations is as follows and gives significant power to neighbors and the burden of design on the town:

Trust that I have more interest and more at stake in the thoughtful development of this parcel than anyone else in town. I will fight to ensure that it is done right. This is both my legacy and my livelihood.
— Dwight Harris Sr., Developer

Regardless of your thoughts on the purchase, please vote on May 24th. Every vote counts and this is too important for Burlington to let a small minority dictate its future.

Property Disclosures: Murders, Meth Labs, Structural Defects and Botched Renovations

Property Disclosures: Murders, Meth Labs, Structural Defects and Botched Renovations

Promotional Videos and 3-D Tours?

Promotional Videos and 3-D Tours?