Redding Open Lands, Inc.
Redding Open Lands, Inc. (ROLI) was organized in July 1969 by a group of residents determined to· assist the landsaving effort through creative development. Its basic concept: to use the credit of individual guarantors to borrow funds for the acquisition of desirable landscapes, and then to develop and sell-at cost plus expenses-one portion of the acquired property while preserving the rest as permanent open space. Nonprofit and tax-exempt, ROLI was modeled after the Rural Lands Foundation of Lincoln, Massachusetts, a pioneer in landsaving concepts.
Within a year of incorporation, ROLI was on the cutting edge of a crucial project. Photographer Edward Steichen was offering 400 acres for sale off Topstone Road in West Redding. The Town held an option. The price: more than $I million. Though voters had approved the purchase, opponents forced a second referendum and the approval was reversed. That's where ROLI came in. It negotiated a new Steichen option long enough to obtain support for a third referendum, and at the same time guaranteed loans of up to $300,000 to acquire 115 acres outright. Town acquisition of the remaining 270 acres was finally approved by the voters in 1971-the result now being known as Topstone Park.
To recover its costs while fulfilling its landsaving mission, ROLI set aside 43 acres of valuable open space (the Huckleberry Swamp, later to be donated to Connecticut Audubon Society) and proceeded to subdivide the remainder of its property into attractive homesites varying in size from three to eleven acres. Over time, the sale of these lots enabled ROLI to repay its loans and turn its attention to other potential projects. One such project was acquisition of an additional 34 acres of the Steichen estate, lest this land, located in the center of the original purchase, fall into the hands of a developer.
After 1974, however, land prices and interest rates rose dramatically, discouraging similar projects. Nonetheless ROLI has continued to investigate - and occasionally bid on-properties lending themselves to creative development. As recently as 2003, ROLI participated with the Town and The Nature Conservancy in acquiring 70 acres from James Edwards off Sunset Hill Road. Applying ROLI's formula of developing a portion of the land in order to save the majority of the acreage as open space, two five-acre plots were split off as house lots with the remaining sixty acres as open space. ROLI has also been helpful in donating funds for various projects in Town related to preserving Redding's natural environment, among them the first edition of The Book of Trails. ❧