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02/28/2022 11:00 PM

Deer Lake to be Sold for Private Development

In a surprise move that shocked many town and state officials, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America announced last week that it had accepted an undisclosed offer for its Deer Lake property, effectively paving the way for development of the entire 250-plus acre parcel. Though the council did issue a statement that would leave open a window until March 31 for consideration of a “superior offer”, most town and state officials have said that the selling price, which is speculated to be twice the appraised value of the property, is unlikely to matched by an offer.

Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski said she and her office were shocked and confused about the announcement as local efforts to purchase and preserve the property were well underway.

“Unfortunately, we are still trying to figure out the next step. I spoke to the Trust for Public Land and Pathfinders [the organizations that have been involved with negotiations] and to try and request a second appraisal to see whether or not they can come any closer to the number that the Boy Scouts are looking for,” Gorski said. “The challenge we have is that the Boy Scouts have not come out on record, at least in writing, as to what the other offer actually was.”

State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) said the announcement was disappointing to her and she has heard from numerous constituents about their concerns and frustration with the sale.

“Incredibly, incredibly sad and also worried. What does the future look like here? What are the developer’s intentions?” Cohen asked.

Just last month, state and town officials including Gorski, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Cohen all spoke passionately about the need to protect and preserve the parcel, but this apparently did not sway the council in its decision to sell the property for private development.

Cohen said she was deeply saddened by the news. She also said that barring a last-minute match of the offer by a private donor, it is unlikely the sale can be stopped.

“We are in a situation where it becomes very difficult in the absence of some private investor who come along and say, ‘This property is worth saving and I want to make up the difference.’ It becomes very difficult to force an ending to this story that includes conservation and preservation of the land,” Cohen said. “Absent some private investor stepping in for the love of the land…we just don’t know.”

According to Gorski, the Connecticut Yankee Council has been reticent in providing details to the town, but Cohen said that the amount of money being offered by the developer is so far above the appraised value that it is also unlikely a savior will be able to step in and reach a deal with the Yankee Council. According to town records, a Hamden-based nonprofit, Trust for Public Land, entered an undisclosed competing bid, based “on fair market value” of the property, an offer that the Connecticut Yankee Council rejected.

“We don’t have confirmation of the amount but the amount, but it is my understanding that the sale was in excess of $4 million,” said Cohen. “The concern I think, and really the problem I think, was that the difference in the offers is a couple of million dollars…It will very difficult if not impossible to see a way where we could make up that differential.”

Gorski said that the lack of information coming from the Connecticut Yankee Council is making discussions on possible counter offers difficult. Gorksi added that the process for allocating funds from the state, the town, or a non-profit are time consuming and with such a short window there is little possibility of coordinating a deal.

“I don’t know how this is going to go down…because this is a situation we have never been in before,” Gorski said. “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place in some respects. We can’t even say how much Killingworth can contribute, or even if they want to contribute because this requires town meetings, and then moving to a referendum. It’s not an overnight process.”

As part of the sale announcement also comes news that the long-cherished summer camp program at the site will have its lease honored for the next three years, but it is unknown if that means two summers or three, and due to the lack of information from the Connecticut Yankee Council, no official could answer whether the lease might be extended.

So, it may just be for the next two summers “There really is a big question mark as to what the future holds for that property. Are we talking about development on the lake, a land bank for this developer?,” Cohen said. “There is no clear direction because we are not privy to that information.”

Cohen and other officials are upset that the sale seems to contradict the mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America as protectors of the environment, and other officials also expressed frustration that the organization will in essence be selling out to the highest bidder and seemingly running out of town.

“There is a tremendous public outcry on this as you can imagine…This obviously is incredibly disappointing, and not, in my view, not in keeping with the Boy Scouts’ outdoor code of conservation…To seek development of this beautiful forest and this lake area and this beloved camp is disheartening, but this is where we are at, at this point,” Cohen said.

Gorski also said she felt that the Connecticut Yankee Council has not been negotiating with the town in good faith.

“No, I don’t think they have been playing fair at all. I do not think they have been honest and forthright in their communications,” said Gorski. “It just feels wrong on a number of levels. I just don’t know where we can turn next. As far as I’m concerned this is not over. We need to find out more information.”

The Connecticut Yankee Council said it negotiated a window “in which it can consider superior offers to the one currently being pursued, and any such offers would need to be received by March 31.”

According to published reports, the Trust for Public Land is attempting o submit another offer, but it is bound by its non-profit status and cannot submit offers above fair market value, making it unlikely an offer will be able to complete with the initial bid by the developer.

Trust for Public Land made a bid in mid-February for $2.4 million, which was rejected by the Connecticut Yankee Council, and, according to statements from the council, it has conditionally accepted a bid from Fortitude Capital, LLC for $4.6 million. According to a spokesperson for the council, the CEO of Fortitude capital is Margaret Streicker, who is also a member of the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Board of Directors, further muddying the issue of whether the council was and is negotiating with the town with full transparency.

The Connecticut Yankee Council’s full statement on its decision to sell the land for development and reject the offer for preservation is reprinted in full below:

“While we’ve changed greatly in the last 18 months, more change is necessary to succeed. This can be painful but is necessary, especially when looking at the situation we are in. Our council is not exempt from the nationwide declines in membership organizations like the BSA have experienced. This, coupled with challenges over the past several years, means our council needs to make major changes to survive.

“To make those changes, the council needs to secure funding and right-size our portfolio of properties to a level we can maintain. Simply put, we own too many properties for the membership we have today. While the outdoors are critical to delivering scouting’s mission of preparing youth for life, owning property is not. This has been studied by the Council Executive Board for the past year as well as the board’s Properties Committee.

“On Feb. 17, the Council Executive Board made the difficult decision to sell Deer Lake Scout Reservation. This decision wasn’t taken lightly and was done with the scouts of today and tomorrow in mind. While we are divesting from Deer Lake Scout Reservation, the buyer is allowing the council to lease the property for at least the next three years to operate it as a camp.

“We recognize the passion behind preserving the outdoors and have had discussions with organizations committed to such while encouraging them to submit a competitive bid that can be accepted by the board. To that end, the board has negotiated for a specified window in which it can consider superior offers to the one currently being pursued, and any such offers would need to be received by March 31.

“The proceeds from the sale of Deer Lake Scout Reservation will be reinvested into Camp Sequassen and Hoyt Scout Camp to both improve and expand the facilities, programs and infrastructure.

“As a council, we’re continuing to evaluate how to best serve the youth of today and prepare us to serve the youth of tomorrow and appreciate the work our volunteers, families, and supporters do daily.”

This statement was posted on the CT Yankee Council’s website and attributed to Council President Rudy Escalante and Scout Executive/CEO Mark Kraus.