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Potential Deer Lake Developer Met Yesterday with First Selectman Gorski

By Clark Judge. 

The prospective buyer of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation on Tuesday ended weeks of speculation and indicated what she may do with the 255-acre property.

Only one problem: Nobody will say what those plans are.

Margaret Streicker, founder and CEO of Fortitude Capital LLC, drove to Killingworth late Tuesday morning and sat down with First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski at her Killingworth Town Hall office. It was the first conversation between the two since Fortitude Capital’s offer of $4.625 million for Deer Lake was accepted last month by its owner, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Streicker had asked to meet with Gorski two days before the Council acts on a March 31 deadline to accept Fortitude’s offer.  According to Gorski, the two discussed Streicker’s “intentions” for the property, but neither she nor Streicker would disclose them.

“I can tell the people of Killingworth,” Streicker said afterward, speaking to a reporter in the Town Hall parking lot, “that the First Selectwoman and I just had a very wholesome, good conversation about the various aspects and constituents and outcomes that might be an opportunity for all.”

Gorski did not elaborate. Nor did she reveal what was discussed at Tuesday’s executive session of the Board of Selectmen, held an hour-and-a-half after Streicker departed.

“I will say we had a discussion about her intentions for Deer Lake,” she said of her meeting with Streicker, “but there are more discussions to follow. I did say, ‘We’ll meet again,’ and the concept was that every time we meet we will bring more and more people to the table.”

A broad group of politicians, conservationists, preservationists and advocacy groups fear that Streicker and Fortitude Capital plan to develop the property and raised those concerns at a Jan. 27 news conference attended by Gorski, who spoke in favor of protecting the property.

Nevertheless, three weeks later, the Connecticut Yankee Council announced that it decided to sell the property to Fortitude Capital. However, it also said that it would include a six-week window “to consider superior offers” by March 31.

That is Thursday, and, to date, there have been none.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit with a mission “to create parks and protect land for people,” had been involved, but its offer of $2.4 million is considerably short of Fortitude Capital’s proposal. Though the Killingworth Board of Selectmen “strongly supported” TPL in a public proclamation earlier this month, its offer almost certainly won’t be accepted.

“I told the Trust for Public Land on numerous occasions that if you’re close we’d accept it,” Rudy Escalante, head of the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Board of Directors, said in February. “But if it’s not close, it’s an easy decision. And they’re not close.”

There’s a ready explanation: Appraisals. TPL is bound by fair-market value, and its assessment came in at $2-2.4 million. The Council’s appraisal – done as part of a national inventory of Scout properties related to bankruptcy proceedings — was considerably higher, in the $3.7-4.2- million range. With TPL handcuffed by fair-market value, it has been unable to budge.

Gorski’s comments that she and Streicker will meet “more and more” in the future would seem to signal that somebody – Streicker, Gorski, the Scouts, somebody – believes Fortitude Capital’s offer will not be exceeded. However, an aggressive grassroots fundraising campaign — headed by Pathfinders, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and protection of Deer Lake as green space — produced significant results the past month. In fact, Pathfinders reported such encouraging progress toward reaching a deal acceptable to the Connecticut Yankee Council that its president, Ted Langevin, is expected to reach out to Escalante Wednesday.

It is uncertain what that conversation will entail, but Pathfinders is no stranger to the Deer Lake story or the Connecticut Yankee Council. Earlier this year it negotiated a one-year lease with the Council to run the Deer Lake summer youth camp from June through August, with Mark and Patty Clifton in charge for the 36th consecutive year.

Photos by Clark Judge. 

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