Time to think creatively

Fri, 04/29/2022 - 1:00am

To the Editor:

Recently there has been much discussion about using Land Trust transfer tax funds to support affordable/attainable housing on Block Island. We would like to clarify how the Land Trust is structured and how conservation in general has helped and can continue to support affordable housing on Block Island.

The Land Trust was created by an act of the General Assembly in 1986 to: ...acquire, hold and manage real property and interests therein situated in the Town of New Shoreham consisting of open, agricultural or littoral property.... With the exception of property acquired for public recreational purposes, the trust shall hold all property solely as open space or for agricultural uses or for water purposes as the Trustees may determine.
[Emphasis added.]
The Land Trust can only use its funds for these specific purposes and has done so over the past 36 years, to the benefit of the public. Land Trust funds were used to acquire Heinz Field, Ball O’Brien Park, Mansion Beach, Mosquito Beach, the Oceanview Property, Solviken, and most recently, the Overlook property, all of which are used extensively by the public and provide access to open space for the community.
The conservation groups cannot divert their funds to other uses such as affordable housing, nor can we release lands already purchased for affordable housing. We are legally precluded from doing so.

We can, however, support the development of affordable housing by working jointly with the Housing Board or other public agencies. In the past, we have provided financial support to affordable housing projects by helping acquire the land for the Beacon Hill project, purchasing easements at the Martin House, the West Side 20, the Thomas property, and the Pilot Hill project, as well as purchasing the Faulkner
property for the town and holding it until they could arrange to take ownership.
The Block Island Housing Board was created by an act of the General Assembly in 2006 specifically to create affordable housing and a funding mechanism to do so was created by that legislation. The conservation groups are reaching out to work with the town and Housing Board to identify solutions to the housing problems on Block Island.

We will continue to participate in additional joint conservation/affordable housing projects. These would need to be new land acquisitions that are identified and purchased for the purpose of conserving a portion while developing the remainder for affordable housing. In this scenario, conservation would help purchase the land, but the housing component would need to be implemented by another entity with expertise in developing affordable housing.

The lack of affordable/attainable housing is not a problem that is unique to Block Island, nor is it caused by any one factor. Nor will there be one solution to this problem, rather we must all work together to implement solutions.

Barbara MacMullan,
Block Island Land Trust
Scott Comings,
The Nature Conservancy
Dorrie Napoleone,
Block Island Conservancy