Book Review

Property Power

James Root

property power.jpg

In Property Power, the late Redding resident, Mary Ann Guitar, elucidates the critical principles of locally based land conservation and, in the process, explains the origins of some of the major environmental groups in the state.

Using the backdrop of Redding’s landmark battle against the widening of Route 7 and the construction of a major east/west thoroughfare through still bucolic Redding in the early seventies, Guitar describes what it takes and who it is necessary to fight in order to stop, or at least modify, development harmful to the majority of residents in an area. Refreshingly, she starts with a non-ideological, pragmatic basis of land and property value. As explained, homeowners, for instance, are going to take a hit in their property investment from a highway widening - unlike the often shadowy commercial property stakeholders near the road. Since homeowners outnumber commercial property owners usually, there is a readymade support base for resisting a lot of bad development.

Photo: Redding, CT

Photo credit: Allie AV

The Route 7 anecdote is augmented by a helpful history of land trusts - ending with the creation of the Redding Land Trust. The ins and outs of such organizations, including indispensable cooperation with the relevant municipal entities (e.g. conservation and wetland commissions), and legal creations such as ‘positive easements’ are explored. Even in those heady days of new found environmentalism, there was, as the book describes, an awareness of the challenges - including semi-structural ones such as ineluctable property tax increases that make it hard for the public to retain control of the land over the long haul.

In a bonus, the book illuminates the inceptions, and resultant M.O., of many conservation and environmental organizations that came to prominence around this time. The list includes the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the National Resource Defense Council. The founding philosophies of each differed. For example the Nature Conservancy was focused on fund raising and legal expertise in acquiring land, as opposed to more ideological based, grass roots activism as evinced by Earth First, which is actually a splinter group from the then ‘middle of the road’ Sierra Club. In Property Power, these movements are clearly related to events on the ground in Connecticut.

So, even if you are located away from Redding in central Fairfield County, Guitar’s book is a great primer for nuts and bolts land preservation, which underpins almost all our other efforts, including water standards. The information is couched in a more than readable story by the pioneering and very accomplished activist, Mary Ann Guitar.

James Root is a member and volunteer leader of Sierra Club Connecticut.