Trinity Center plans gel

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 9:35am
Karen Bartomioli

CORNWALL — Plans for the future of the former Trinity Conference Center property are coming together; there are now options on the table.

Presented at the Feb. 18 Board of Selectmen’s meeting were two that would utilize nearly all of the 463 acre property in distinct ways.

The center has been closed since November 2012, after 20 years as a retreat and meeting center. Officials of Trinity Wall Street Church, which owns the property, said it never made a profit, but was subsidized as a mission of the church. About a year of consideration went into new plans for the property before it was listed for sale. It includes numerous buildings and amenities along the Housatonic River at the end of Lower River Road. It is listed for $4.6 million.

Previously marked hunting and logging trails
The Cornwall Conservation Trust (CCT) is a private, non-profit deep into negotiations and preparing now to launch fundraising efforts to buy and preserve about 317 acres.

Silver Lake Conference Center (SLCC), a summer camp and weekend retreat facility in Sharon that is owned by the United Church of Christ, has a plan to buy the former conference center and develop it into a Live Well, Age Better community with housing for seniors with varying needs, mixed-age housing and some opportunities for Silver Lake campers.

The property’s history with the church goes back to 1915, when the Rev. Edward Schlueter purchased a farm on the river for a summer camp for boys. He turned the chicken pen into a dormitory.

The farm was purchased by Trinity Wall Street in New York City in 1945, when Schlueter retired, and was operated as a camp until the retreat center (with 41 hotel-style rooms) was built.

CCT specifics

CCT President Barton Jones said his group appears to be close to a deal to buy about 317 acres to be called Trinity Camp Forest. It would be essentially all of the non-buildable land there: the steep slopes and wetlands that adjoin the Housatonic State Forest to the south and the land donated by newscaster Tom Brokaw to the north (the Brokaw Preserve).

The Brokaw Preserve has frontage on Dibble Hill Road, but CCT needs direct access to comply with the terms of grants it hopes to receive.

The agreement would include a corridor of land about 30 feet wide along the property’s border with the state forest. At the corridor’s intersection with Dibble Hill Road, it could double as a parking area for hikers.

Trinity Wall Street intends to keep 35 acres of prime real estate on Dibble Hill Road to offer for sale as homesites. Jones said it is very valuable property. There has never been a subdivision of the land.

Serving old and young

Silver Lake Conference Center Co-director Anne Hughes described how quickly the senior population is rising, with about 10,000 people turning 65 every day and the number of seniors in the U.S. doubling over the next 40 years.

The Silver Lake plan includes partnering with CCT on conservation efforts, and a hope that Trinity will be enticed by a package deal of sorts, that will speak to the church’s core mission of stewardship.

Winter sports enthusiasts in Trinity Camp Forest

And there is another party interested in that portion of the property for a camp, First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said.

Funding seems solid

Jones said the two proposals presented that night represent separate purchase agreements.

“We have a draft contract now, and hope to have a contract by the next Board of Selectman’s meeting. Trinity will retain the option to sell if someone comes along and wants to buy the whole property,” Jones said. “We’re hoping to have at least a year to raise funding.”

Both sides have agreed that CCT can pay the appraised value. The problem is, they have yet to come to terms on appraisals that range from about $500,000 to $900,000.

CCT will apply for $100,000 from the federal Highlands Fund grant program, and for up to $350,000 they believe they could get in a state grant. Using the average $600,000 appraisal as a target price, they would need to raise $150,000 through donations and fundraisers.

“We’ve done it before,” Jones said. “We’re pretty confident we can do it again.”

SLCC is proposing to pay $2 million for 160 acres of riverfront property and all of the buildings and campsites. Hughes presented a plan for renovations and expansion.

River views from nearby Housatonic State Forest

Living arrangements

The first three years would bring up to $3 million in planned improvements to create private suites and assisted living apartments, and to do code updates, such as adding an elevator.

An initial 16 to 30 residents of “mixed income, culture and ages” could grow to 30 to 45 people or more in five years. There is room for 28 assisted living apartments and for six or seven families in stand-alone houses.

Living arrangements would include community activities that extend beyond socializing, such as growing food and organizing communal meals.

Rent is expected to range from $1,000 to $3,000 per month.

A second phase would include developing a skilled nursing Greenhouse Model facility, and expanding the number of apartments and support resources.

The goal is to be environmentally conscious and sustainable, and promote the latest in technology for health care and community engagement while preserving and embracing the wealth of natural resources there.