The City Council last week signed resolutions approving the borrowing by the City and the Block Island Land Trust to partially fund the acquisition of a portion of Plat 19, Lot 3 from Overlook Realty, LLC. This federation resolution is used to raise the money to purchase the land on the Great Salt Pond between the Overlook building and Ball O’Brien Park. In between lies the salt pond settlement, which, however, does not extend to the water. The settlement has access to water through what would become city property.
The city will borrow $3.6 million and the Land Trust $1.5 million. The Land Trust will also contribute $3.645 million in cash towards the purchase. Barbara MacMullan, Chairwoman of the Land Trust, made a statement to the City Council explaining the Land Trust’s position. According to the statement, the Land Trust has $7.175 million in cash and $3.686 million in available bonds.
The Land Trust received approval in May 2001 to borrow up to $6 million and in May 2005 received approval to pledge an additional $4 million. Following this new bond issue, the Land Trust will still have $2.186 million in approved borrowings.
MacMullan detailed the rationale for borrowing $1.5 million versus paying in cash, including major projects along the way that require future bond issuance and the current favorable interest rates. MacMullan also wrote that combining the Land Trust’s bonds with the city’s bonds would reduce closure costs and make for an “overall cheaper rate.” The Land Trust bond is paid for with the Land Trust’s proceeds.
Second Warden Sven Risom pointed out that this appeared to be a good financial move as taxpayers did not incur any costs for the Land Trust’s share.
Councilor Martha Ball said initially part of the total cost was funded by two other conservation groups on the island, The Nature Conservancy and Block Island Conservancy. MacMullan agreed that initially there was talk of this partnership, but since the time for these conservation groups’ main fundraising (which takes place in the summer) was over, the country
Trust would pay their shares. Ball said it had been “misrepresented all along” and pointed out that the conservation groups that had “lobbied” and “placed ads” in support of the project had “no skin in it”.
It is estimated that the city’s connection will cost each property owner approximately $100 annually for every $1 million in property value.
On January 10, the City Council discussed the management plan for the property with the Land Trust, with City Manager Maryanne Crawford raising an important issue. The problem is that the proposed management plan only allows for 76,000 square feet of buildable area, but zoning regulations require 80,000 square feet for a marina. The city hopes to build a public dock, port facility with storage and housing on the property.
City land-use attorney Bill Landry confirmed that under regulations, a marina is a dock, pier, wharf, or float that serves five or more boats. “It’s considered a marina,” he said, referring to the city’s planned development.
In addition, Crawford stated that the management plan would need to be amended several times once the city began developing the property. The Land Trust Conservation Easement does not permit development except as permitted in the Management Plan between the City and the Land Trust. According to Crawford, if something isn’t mentioned in the management plan, you have to amend the plan to put it “even in the buildable area.”
MacMullan agreed that it was, saying the Land Trust has to change its management plans for its properties every time it makes a change. She said the Land Trust structures the easements and management plans in this way to avoid having to make changes to the
Attorney Joe Priestley, representing the Land Trust, told the council that the adjacent property, Ball O’Brien Park, underwent several changes to its management plan when the Land Trust made changes to the property. Priestley said the property was originally intended to be a dock facility, then the plan was changed to build the playground, then the plan was changed again to build the bathrooms. “Each was a change in the management plan,” he said.
Ball said she recalls that all of the changes were “a little more difficult than they make it out to be”.
Attorneys Priestley and Landry both agreed that it made sense to change the buildable lot area allocation to “80,000 square feet plus the eased access area,” bringing the total area to 92,000 square feet. The access easement is the street that
leads across the property to the Overlook building. This area can be added to the total square count for zoning calculations, although it is not actually a buildable area.
Priestley suggested that City Manager Risom’s attorneys and a negotiation team, MacMullan and Wendy Crawford (Treasurer of the Land Trust) work out the language and bring the revised easement and management plan back to the council. The council voted to continue the item until its Jan. 19 meeting.