Council agrees to buy Overlook property for public access

$4.5 million of $10.5 million price added to FTM warrant
Fri, 04/23/2021 - 9:45am

The Town Council voted on April 21 to join three other groups in purchasing the Overlook property on the shore of the Great Salt Pond next to Champlin’s Marina and Resort. The vote was taken in a closed session with the Block Island Land Trust and announced in open session during the regular Council meeting.
The vote was 3-1 in favor, with Councilor Martha Ball recused.
The agreement is contingent on approval of a subdivision for the 6.27 acre parcel (Plat 19 Lot 3) that would create a 4.5 acre lot for open space. The lot is now owned by Overlook Realty, LLC, which in turn is owned by Steven Filippi. The existing Overlook building is not included in the purchase.
According to the terms of the agreement as announced, the purchase price for the 4.5 acre parcel will be $10.5 million, $4 million of which would be paid by the Block Island Land Trust from their cash account. The Block Island Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy have committed to contribute $2 million from fundraising.
The remaining $4.5 million would be paid by the Town of New Shoreham, subject to voter approval of a bond issueat the Financial Town Meeting on May 3.
The stated goal of the purchase is to secure additional public access to the Great Salt Pond. It would not be all conserved land, however. Town Manager Maryanne Crawford stated in the open session that the plan is to include a harbormaster office, housing for town employees and storage, boat ramps and restrooms on the parcel. (The pond frontage includes a buffer zone.)
First Warden Andre Boudreau said he had hoped for the possibility of housing being erected on the lot, but said that with the easements demanded by the Land Trust, that would be impossible. Boudreau stated he does not agree with spending Block Island residents’ money in this way at this time.
Councilor Keith Stover disagreed, saying the deal was actually spending resident money on resident access, and that the town would pay less than half the total amount. Boudreau countered that the $10.5 million total cost is only for the land and does not cover the cost of building any public facilities, which he said are being put on the budget for two years from now at a cost of $2.5 million.
Stover later acknowledged the  additional cost of the facilities.
Second Warden Sven Risom said that the deal ensures that everyone will be able to use the pond forever, providing access for those who currently have none. (There
are other access points.)
Councilor Martha Ball said she opposed the deal, describing the purchase as a huge long-term price for the town. She added that with new ownership on the Pond it is
an opportune time for public and private partnerships, rather than large town purchases.
Sean McGarry called in to say that the Land Trust money comes from island residents purchasing property, so that money is kind of ours too.
In a separate 3-2 vote, the Council added the land purchase to the warrant for the Financial Town Meeting, with Ball and Boudreau opposed. The full warrant was adopted later in the meeting.
The final decision on the purchase will be made by the voters at the Financial Town Meeting on May 3, 2021. The finalized Warrant, complete with newly added “plain English” descriptions of each item, should be publicly available soon, along with the purchase and sales agreement.