The Bethel Franc Property: Paradise or Politics?

Report by Paula Antolini, September 12, 2013, 2:55AM EDT


There was much controversy about whether to purchase the Franc property, but that is a foregone conclusion.  Bethel taxpayers have purchased it, meaning YOU, and are now charged with what we will do with this acquisition.

Many wonderful passive recreational activity ideas have been suggested by residents but they have only been proposed by a few who attended the public meetings.  The last Franc Commission public meeting had about 15 people present in attendance. That is unacceptable!  Now, I know there are many ideas about what should be done with this property, but the wrong things will be done if your voices are not heard.  In fact, the apathy displayed by the majority of the 18,000-plus residents of Bethel has only made matters worse. 

Bethel needs a wake-up call. 

Where are all the leaders of all the different groups in Bethel?  They each represent a significant portion of our population and yet they are silent.  You can make a difference!

Where are all the business owners when it comes to participation in community matters?  What will be decided about the use of this land acquisition is significant in how Bethel is perceived.  Take ownership. I’m sure there are some of you who keep in touch with the Bethel Chamber of Commerce etc. and perhaps go to some meetings, but that is not enough.  Ask yourselves, “Why are there more and more “For Rent” signs in downtown Bethel?”

We have to think of ways to make our town more appealing to residents and businesses alike. The Franc Property is a chance to begin this turning point. The possibilities are endless. 

Let’s create a master plan for success and we cannot lose. 

We really do have the possibility to be an example of the best of CT and turn our little town around to be the best it can be, in spite of the economic downturn we are experiencing. We have many great minds here, let’s use them to our advantage.  

Paul Improta, a commission member, recently wrote in a Patch post, “We have no lake, we have no river, we have no golf course, we have no beach, we have no pool” in reference to Bethel’s assets.  See Paul’s comments under “Bethel Land Trust” article here:

True, we are not blessed with these resources or particular activities like a golf course, nor are we blessed with financial resources that other towns may have, but I still believe Bethel has a lot to offer. Who can argue that? 

We do have a community spirit with a lot of friendly and great people  Each time anyone ventures into our little town they realize it’s a place like no other. It’s why people stay here and come back to visit.

The biggest problem Bethel faces is apathy, pure and simple. The Franc property is a case In point. 

However, all is not what it seems these days, and what started out to be a “paradise” has now turned into a political nightmare. Articles concerning this acquisition (yes, you taxpayers have purchased it!) that have been published in Patch and elsewhere have given a spin on its proposed use that has been mostly inaccurate.  I know what has been voted for or against in the commission appointed by First Selectman Knickerbocker.  I am a member of the commission.  

For instance, many of the same individuals who are letting residents think ALL activities are still a possibility for the Franc Property have voted against everything but hunting, disc golf and hiking. Safety issues concerning hunting, as well as the effect on the habitat, are being ignored.  What portion of the park has to be sectioned off for hunting?  It is safe to have hunters and hikers and families enjoy the park at the same time?  According to my fellow commission members, the answer is a resounding, “YES”.  Any discussion of a compromise was not even considered,

Disc golf is being heavily promoted without any real discussion about the effect on habitat or safety concerns.  I must admit, I was new to this activity and I suspect most Bethel residents are, but the more I learned, the more I had concerns.  (See links at end of article.)   A private company quoted a $15,000 fee.  By the way, this did not include labor.  Where are these funds coming from for an activity I’m sure only a few citizens of Bethel even know about?

Bow hunting has recently been announced as being approved for the Franc Property by the Board of Selectmen.  Did you know that? I guess the residents of Bethel have no say in this matter.  This was announced in an online notice buried in the Danbury News Times pages.  Hikers and families beware.

Presently emergency vehicles cannot reach into the park.  How long would it take to get help and how would people be able to tell emergency workers their location in the park if it is open to hunters and hiking residents before any signage is placed?  If ONE person is put at risk, it is one too many. 

This property is connected to the Brunot Preserve in Newtown. I’ve spoken at length to Bob Eckenrode, the President of the Newtown Forest Association who handles the Brunot Preserve, and he told me he believes hunting should not be allowed at the same time as hikers are on the property for safety reasons.  (They presently do not allow hunting on the 76 acre Brunot Preserve.)  This same solution has been implemented in neighboring towns like Westport CT.  When I proposed a compromise for alternate days for hunting and hiking (or other recreational activities) it was summarily dismissed.

Rob Sibley, the Newtown CT Director of Planning and Land Use and Head of the Conservation Commission, said the present policy in Newtown CT is “no hunting at this time.” He also stated Newtown never had hunting on any [public town-owned] property.”  Newtown also has special committee set up to study tick-borne diseases, with a health focus, Sibley said, “They did 2 1/2 years of research.”

This is not about hunting vs. no hunting, it is about a logical approach to important issues regarding health and safety of residents, effect on habitat, financial concerns, and the effect certain issues have on other activities or residents enjoyment of the park.  Also, this pertains to how to logically approach determining if there is an animal or health problem in THIS particular 72 acres, and how to deal with it considering the opinion of all residents, results of intensive study, a consideration of alternative methods of addressing these issues, and also look at other nearby CT towns who have successfully used alternative methods to address similar problems, using specified days for hunting or who have banned hunting entirely.  Aren’t we interested in those processes or results?  Before bow hunting was approved in the Franc Property, all the above issues should have been addressed and handled properly.  

Residents of Bethel, it’s really up to you.  Don’t be a victim of apathy!

I urge you to get involved and let your voice be heard on these issues so we can move forward with the “Bethel Paradise” we all desire. Keep the Dream Alive.  We Can Accomplish Much Together.

Please consider attending the meeting tomorrow:
Sept. 12, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. in Room D of the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center on 1 School Street in Bethel CT.

This is your last chance to give your input before the Franc Commission recommendations go to the Board of Selectman. This is your chance to speak up and say what kind of Bethel you want. This is your chance to play a part in the positive future of Bethel.  We need full participation in order for things change in a positive direction.


Disc Golf Injuries:

Players comparing injuries in chat room:
Photos of injuries:
Face injury photo:
Woman suffers serious injuries after being hit by golf disc:
Woman hit in head with Frisbee wants city to pay:
Complaint: 6-year-old hit in head with golf disc:
Injuries to animals:

NOTE: The original members of this Franc Commission are (as listed in Knickerbocker’s Penneysaver column, dated April 2013): Robert Legnard, Paul Improta, Susan Dolan, Ronald Maxwell, Donald Goodrich, Rob Wallace, Diana Carlino, Paula Antolini, Keith Watson, John O’Neill, Michelle Siciliano, and Robyn Hoffman. FYI presently only approximately 6 members have attended the last few meetings (of 6 meetings since May 2013) out of the twelve original members.