History of Open Space in Old Lyme

The notion of preserving or protecting open space in Old Lyme goes back to its founding.  In 1722, Old Lyme residents said that a large parcel of land “shall lye for a sheep commons for ever and here by is sequester for that use.” [sic] (Reference from The Old Lyme Conservation Trust)

Roughly 50 years ago, the 1965 Old Lyme Town Plan of Development made a renewed commitment to open space:

“The general intent of this Plan is to retain the rural character of the town. The Plan proposes that considerable areas of land should become public open space, including all the wetland, salt marshes, and swamps, as well as extensive areas of rugged land in the interior. In addition, the future development of houses should be of the cluster type, so that each group or small colony can have some open space.”

The plan further recommended the establishment of a land acquisition fund, a goal that would be pursued for a number of years before being instituted.

The 1972 Old Lyme Plan of Development promoted twin goals of protecting the town’s natural resources and preserving the remaining countryside. Noting that the town “owns virtually no ‘passive open space,’” it recommended that Old Lyme make plans to acquire open space via a 5 year plan as part of its capital improvement program.

In 1994, the town Planning Commission formed an open space task force, charged with establishing town goals for open space and developing an action plan to achieve those goals.

It later became clear that the Planning Commission could not participate in the active purchase of open space for the town because of potential conflicts of interest. Consequently, the town Conservation Commission was given responsibility for open space, and the task force established by the Planning Commission was dissolved.

The Conservation Commission established an Open Space Committee tasked with writing an Action Plan.  An initial, comprehensive Open Space Plan was published in 1997 that formed the basis for the future acquisitions, preservation and management of town-owned open space.

In January 1998, a town ordinance (Chapter 52, Article I, § 52-1 to § 52-4) was enacted creating a land acquisition fund.  $75,000 was deposited into the account, and the town has contributed to that fund annually.

The relatively new Open Space Committee in 1998 received its first outright gift - 107 acres of land on Buttonball Road from the Bartholomew family, property that today constitutes the “Bartholomew Open Space.”

An update to the first Old Lyme Open Space Plan was published in 2004.  A defining line in the plan declared:

“We live in one of the ‘Last Great Places on Earth,’ a very special place, which requires special efforts on our part to preserve it while we still can.”

In 2009, Open Space Committee Chair Diana Atwood Johnson approached the Board of Selectmen to request that the Open Space Committee be formally made an independent town government commission.

At a town meeting in December, 2010, an ordinance establishing an Open Space Commission was approved, pursuant to the provisions of § C.G.S. § 7-131p.  State law, paraphrased, states:

“Any municipality may establish a land acquisition authority to acquire open space land or to assist the municipality to acquire any easements, interest or rights therein and to enter into agreements with owners of such land to acquire, maintain, improve, protect, limit the future use of or otherwise conserve such land.”

Today, Open Space Commission members and alternates are appointed by the Board of Selectmen.  A new Open Space Plan was published in 2020 outlining the Town’s goals for the ensuing decade.