I am troubled by recent letters and comments in both newspapers which claim that enough open space has been preserved on the Island, and that remaining or existing open space should be used for affordable housing. Some commentators have gone a step further and urged that money generated by Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank fees should now go toward affordable housing.

Prior to its inception in 1986, land protection advocates worked extremely hard to get our state legislature and all six island towns to approve the land bank legislation, no small feat. Since then, the land bank has continued the hard work, walking a fine line among preserving open space, providing public access, and even helping to set aside land for affordable housing. In fact, there are nearly a dozen affordable housing projects listed on their website which would not have happened without resources brought to bear by the land bank. Among these are Sepiessa Point and Eliakim’s Way in West Tisbury, Middle Line Road in Chilmark and now Kuehn’s Way in Vineyard Haven. I suspect many people might not be aware of just how much the land bank has already done for affordable housing.

Also unknown to many is the fact that land bank passed policies in 1989 and 2009 to participate in cooperative purchases with housing agencies, to avoid purchases in towns, to make surplus buildings and materials available to housing agencies at no cost, and to offer to collect and manage additional transfer conveyance fees if housing advocates passed such a bill.

With approximately 15,000 acres of land potentially available for development here on the Island, the work of the land bank and of all the other conservation groups is not nearly done. To suggest otherwise is shortsighted. Just because we drive along our roads and still enjoy seeing acres of trees and fields does not mean that all that land is in conservation, it just means that it hasn’t been built on yet. There is no doubt that affordable housing here is a pressing need, I know this personally. I urge our housing advocates to do the work of establishing an Islandwide housing bank, based on a formula similar to the land bank. I would support this wholeheartedly. What I cannot support is taking any more resources away from the land bank or any of the other Island conservation organizations whose work here is so important and far from finished.

Land preservation and affordable housing are two sides of the same coin — we live here because this place offers what others don’t — a livelihood, recreation/open space, fishing, farming . . . nature. The balance and quality of our lives here will likely change radically, depending on what happens to the land which could yet be developed. Let’s be smart and very careful about how that change occurs.

Prudy Burt
West Tisbury