NEW CANAAN — Neighbors and conservationists took to the podium recently to blast a proposal by the Aquarion Water Co. to sell an 18.74-acre parcel near Indian Water Drive.

The complaints were levied June 1 at a public hearing conducted by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to address a proposal submitted in March by Aquarion.

Local speakers were upset about the proposed sale of the property for commercial or residential development.

The land had previously been valued at just under $240,000. According to the company’s application, the company said the property is now worth about $4.2 million.

Many questioned the wisdom of making the land vulnerable on the grounds that New Canaan is below the state-recommended amount of protected land.

“Viewed in total, New Canaan has less than 12 percent of dedicated open space. And, in fact, as this Aquarion sale highlights, that number 12 is not correct because it includes almost four percent of water company lands,” said Chris Shipper of Sleepy Hollow Road.

“So if you exclude preservation of open space with water company lands, then the town has only eight percent preserved open space. And that compares to a guideline of 21 percent that Gov. (John) Rowland set back in the year 2000.”

Other speakers, such as Susan Bergen of Indian Waters Drive, said the fragile ecosystem supported by the existing protected land would be damaged if the land is developed.

David Hunt of Butler Lane contested the application on financial grounds, noting that he is a customer of Aquarion and has long been happy with their service.

“I totally empathize with the sentiments of the previous speakers as to the value of open space, the difficulty of obtaining open space, the gross inequity that would be perpetrated on us if these people are allowed to sell this land for several million dollars,” Hunt said.

Susan Stone, also of Indian Waters Drive, alleged that the docket submitted by Aquarion assumed access that could not be granted.

“We understand that one of the criteria for PURA’s approval of the sale of the land has to do with appraised fair-market value,” Stone said. “We’d like to point out the docket for the land being discussed today contains information that is erroneous on this subject.

“The fair-market value that’s part of this submission is mistakenly based on access off Indian Waters Drive,” Stone said. “It’s not located on, nor is it accessible from, Indian Waters Drive. The property is listed in the New Canaan Tax Assessor’s Office with the address of Frogtown Road.”

According to Peter Fazekas, director of public relations at Aquarion, the land in question is considered “Class Three” by Aquarion, meaning it is not protecting any of the company’s water sources.

PURA must reach a final decision by June 29. If the state approves of the sale, Aquarion would still have to file an application to sell with the town.

justin.papp@scni.com; newcanaannewsonline.com