The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank wants your ideas on how to spend some $10 million of accumulated revenue. Plus, commissioners at the land bank are game for fielding questions on policies that govern the almost 2,000 acres of public lands it owns.
Beginning yesterday and continuing for the next several weeks, the land bank is kicking off its annual round of public hearings, aimed at giving townspeople a turn at the wheel that steers this land conservation agency.
"This is where the land bank meets with its constituents across the Island and takes the temperature," said executive director James Lengyel yesterday. "We want to know what people have liked and disliked and their recommendations for the future."
One of the top orders of business for the land bank is setting priorities for real estate acquisitions. While commissioners are open to hearing new ideas identifying choice pieces of the Vineyard to conserve, they've already got their own wish list of properties they'd like to buy.
And like any such list, the total cost is bigger than what's currently in the wallet. All told, the land bank has its eyes on $65 million worth of land, according to Mr. Lengyel, who made it clear that he cannot reveal which properties are being considered.
Clearly, with only $10 million on hand, the next step is paring down the list. One reason for the annual hearings, Mr. Lengyel said, is that land bank leaders need to know what people want - more beach frontage or more hiking trails? People will be asked to name specific properties they want preserved, said Mr. Lengyel. If suggested lands are already on the list, that will help the land bank prioritize.
Most of the money at the land bank is coming from revenue generated this year, about $7.8 million, a figure just about even with last year's record take. The revenue, while variable, is also guaranteed never to dry up since it comes from a fee of two per cent levied on almost all real estate transactions on the Vineyard.
Mr. Lengyel said there are no new trends in the business of buying land for conservation. While property is more expensive that it was several years ago, that same fact means that revenues are also up.
And striking an upbeat tone, he said he can still find "very willing sellers with reasonable expectations as to the value of their land." The land bank typically looks for large tracts in the range of 50 acres and more, but will consider smaller parcels that abut other conservation lands.
As for people who view conservation efforts running counter to affordable housing initiatives, Mr. Lengyel said that wherever possible, acquisitions can also pave the way for affordable housing developments. He pointed to Sepiessa, Pennywise Path and Peaked Hill as three examples. However, the land bank is more often buying properties that are not suitable for housing, he said.
Besides issues around acquiring land, the hearings are meant to give people a chance to weigh in on rules and regulations at the land bank properties open to public use. The question of dogs on land bank property could be a hot-button topic. Already, members of the land bank commission and advisory boards have devoted time to the canine dilemma.
The key, said Mr. Lengyel, is striking a balance between dog owners, wildlife and visitors who don't own dogs. Currently, rules about dogs vary depending on the property or the town in which the preserve lies.
The other challenge is making sure that all kinds of uses can co-exist on land bank property. Along with the dogs, there are hikers, hunters, horseback riders and mountain bikers. "We want to reach the broadest number of conservation goals," said Mr. Lengyel. "But if we find certain uses are not compatible, we have to limit them."
Meetings will be held in each of the six towns. They all happen on Mondays beginning at 5 p.m. With the Chilmark hearing already done, the next session is Sept. 17 at the Oak Bluffs School. The following week is Edgartown at the town hall, then West Tisbury on Oct. 1 at the Howes House. Aquinnah will meet Oct. 5 at town hall, and the hearings will wrap up at the Tisbury Senior Center on Oct. 22.