The thrill that I felt reading the headline about the land bank’s purchase of 32 acres at Red Gate Farm in Aquinnah was instantly followed by a deep sense of dismay when I learned the details of the purchase. I have driven, biked and walked by the property many times, and appreciate its unspoiled beauty. All of the Vineyard will benefit from this acquisition.

But I find it deeply troubling that the Kennedy-Schlossberg family will be pocketing $37 million to keep most, but not all, of Red Gate Farm undeveloped. This land sale sets a dangerous precedent that could have the unintended consequence of making it harder to protect other areas of the Vineyard that are threatened by development.

A highly desirable and ecologically significant piece of land owned by one of the commonwealth’s most famous families, sold for a breathtaking price, is sure to inspire other landowners to seek similar deals. “If the Kennedys can do it, why can’t we?” will be the rationale motivating other would-be conservationists. This race to the top, or more accurately, to the bottom, will further inflate the price of conservation land, and put more and more threatened acres out of reach of the land bank, the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, and other preservation groups. Private land owners who want to put their land into conservation should not have to compete for the crumbs leftover after this high priced and high profile sale.

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario. The Kennedy-Schlossberg family sells the land to the land bank for what Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis originally paid for the entire tract, $1.1 million according to the Gazette. That leaves more than $35 million to purchase other valuable pieces of property across the Island, and it sends a message that there is value in not charging market price for land whose natural beauty and ecological importance can never be adequately reflected in dollars and cents.

The Gazette reported that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis “fiercely protected the land over the decades.” My hope is that the family will use that same ferocity to protect all threatened lands across the Island. A renegotiation of the sale of Red Gate Farm at a significantly lower price would be a good place to start.

John Rudolph

South Berwick, Me.