Land Trust conserves another parcel

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 6:00pm

There was no big announcement, just the statement at the monthly meeting of the Block Island Land Trust by Treasurer Wendy Crawford, that among the expenses for the month of August was $820,000 for the acquisition of Plat 16, Lot 61 from Joseph Sprague.

The purchase took place on August 28, and as do other purchasers of real estate on Block Island, the Land Trust paid a transfer fee — to itself — of $24,600. The Land Trust was the sole purchaser of the 1.84- acre vacant lot, which is located just above the decommissioned sand pit on West Side Road, also owned by Sprague.

Vision Appraisal, which performs tax valuation services for the Town of New Shoreham lists the property at an assessed value of $421,000. When The Block Island Times asked Chair Barbara MacMullan about the discrepancy between assessed value and the purchase price, she responded that last year Sprague had listed the property for sale at a cost of $1.2 million. She added that the Land Trust has their own independent appraisals performed on any purchases they make, and they did not feel their purchase price was inflated based upon their appraisal.

The property has “spectacular views,” said MacMullan, but the main interest in conserving the property was for habitat protection, particularly for the endangered American burying beetle and northern blazing star, a member of the aster family.

As the percentage of conserved land on Block Island approaches 47 percent, will attitudes towards future conservation change? That will, among other things be gauged by an upcoming public priorities poll to be conducted over the course of four to five days around Columbus Day weekend.

The poll will be conducted by the Kitchens Group and will take about 20 minutes to complete. Respondents will be contacted by landline, cell phone, and/or e-mail. The goal is to obtain responses across a broad set of demographics, and questions will not be limited to conservation.

The last survey was conducted in 2011, although the goal is to perform a survey every five years. The results of that survey are posted on the Land Trust’s page of the town’s website. Some of the questions will remain the same, and some will be different. Gone will be questions regarding the then to-be-built Block Island Wind Farm. New questions will involve whether or not mopeds should be banned on the island and whether taxpayers would be willing to commit funds towards that effort.

As far as people not wanting to participate, Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy thought that would not be a problem as “people generally care about Block Island.”

The Land Trust itself, along with other conservation groups may be rethinking just how they conserve properties. One traditional way has been through easements, but the Planning Board is considering changing the language of how conservation easements are used in calculating developable land. Currently, the area under a conservation easement is excluded in the calculation and the Planning Board will be holding a public hearing on October 15 to get input on the proposed changes.

As the matter was not on the Land Trust’s agenda for their Sept. 12 meeting, MacMullan called for a special meeting to discuss the matter, which will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. at Town Hall. “It’s very concerning,” said MacMullan. “It’s counter to what we see as the meaning of a conservation easement.”

The Land Trust had a visit from Cathy Joyce, secretary of the Block Island Gardeners, who had a proposal for the Solviken Nature Preserve on Corn Neck Road. Joyce told the Land Trust that it was an “illustrative plan” drawn up by Gardeners President Maude Chasse, but was not yet approved by the board. The proposal was for a garden area approximately 80 by 20 feet along the stone wall on the northern side of the property.

“Spring bulbs would be wonderful,” said Joyce, adding that other plantings would be “native.” Although the plans are preliminary, she wanted input on the idea from the Land Trust, and input she got.

MacMullan thought the area at the crest of the hill should be avoided. “We always talked about a platform there for viewing.” She didn’t want plantings to interfere with other plans for the property.

Littlefield said he thought the platform was in another area, looking over the Great Salt Pond.

MacMullan said that there had originally been a plan for two viewing platforms. “We got bogged down by the cost,” she said.

Harold “Turtle” Hatfield, stewardship coordinator for the Land Trust, said that the crest of the hill, the proposed area for the garden, was the driest area of the property and that watering the plantings would be a problem. While a hose could be connected to the water-bottle filling station on the property for watering, Hatfield said that for now the water is free from the town “until we attach something to the spigot.”

The trustees didn’t reject the idea outright, agreeing to future discussions. “To be continued,” said MacMullan.