West Tisbury sets price on Field Gallery purchase

West Tisbury selectmen reached a tentative agreement Monday with representatives of the Maley Family Trust on the outlines of a deal to buy a 1.4-acre parcel where the Field Gallery and Sculpture Garden is located, across from the Congregational Church, for a price not to exceed $685,000.

Selectmen will ask voters at the annual town meeting to authorize a total $685,000 to buy the land. Selectmen will ask voters to finance the purchase with a total of $510,000 in community preservation act (CPA) funds and borrow the remaining balance of $175,000.

On Tuesday selectmen met jointly with the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). The CPA held a special meeting and voted to confirm the Maley proposal was eligible to receive CPA funding, and voted to authorize the selectmen’s application for a total of $510,000 for the purchase of the land.

The article voters would be asked to approve takes $275,000 in CPA funds currently set aside for open space, and another $35,000 in undesignated CPA funds this year. The article also asks for $40,000 in CPA funds to be set aside in fiscal year 2012, and another $40,000 each year for fiscal years 2013-2016 from open space.

There is no written agreement. The deal as discussed would also ask the Maleys to pay any borrowing costs so that the town does not exceed the $685,000 the selectmen are willing to pay for the property.

Town administrator Jen Rand said the details of the purchase have yet to be finalized, and any agreement is expected to be completed in time for the town meeting on April 12. If the deal falls through, a motion will be made on the floor of town meeting to withdraw the article, Ms. Rand said.

The plan is for the town to purchase the land and keep it as open space, and continue to lease the land to the Field Gallery. The Maley property in total is just under 10-acres, with three buildings, and is valued at $1,447,400, according to the town assessors’ office.

Timothy and Eileen Maley are trustees, according to town records.

The Maley family and town would agree to a lot line change, allowing the family to sell off the 1.4-acre parcel on which the Field Gallery is located. The proprietors of another gallery in town, the Granary Gallery, lease the Field Gallery from the Maleys.

The Field Gallery currently leases the land for around $35,000, according to town officials.

The plan began to take shape last week. Selectmen met jointly with the CPC after their regular meeting on Wednesday, March 9, to see if the committee would support an application to partially fund the purchase of the property.

Selectmen are now negotiating with the Maley family to buy the property. They hope to make a deal before the town meeting in April. But they will have to act quickly, and they need the CPA committee to sign off an application before the town meeting warrant officially closes on Wednesday.

There is already a placeholder article on the town meeting warrant regarding the Maley property, but it does not have details about the purchase price or funding sources.

Members of the CPC last Wednesday said they supported buying the Maley property but wanted more time to consider the plan. In order to meet the deadline, the CPC scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday at 10:30 am, at town hall, to discuss the matter further and possibly vote on an application.

Selectmen have hired an outside firm to appraise the property, although the appraisal report has not been made public.

Ms. Rand said the tentative plan would be to keep the property as open space and continue to lease land to the Field Gallery.

CPA is available

The CPA program was designed to help towns address three needs: affordable housing, open space acquisition, and historic preservation. As part of the CPA-enabling legislation, the state matches a percentage of funds generated locally through a surcharge on property tax bills.

The town currently charges a three percent surcharge on all tax bills. When town voters first agreed to enroll in the program five years ago, the state match was 100 percent; that figure has since dropped, and last year the rate for West Tisbury was 43.6 percent.

As has been the case in other towns on the Vineyard, most CPA funds collected over the past five years have been used for affordable housing.

From 2007-2011, the town spent just over $1.5 million for affordable housing, helping to fund initiatives such as the rental subsidy program for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the Bailey Park Affordable Housing project and the Eliakims Way project at 250 State Road.

The town has spent $734,850 in CPA funds over that period for historic preservation, funding programs such as the town hall renovation, engineering studies for the First Congregational Church, and the organization of town cemetery records, among others.

Conversely, the town has spent only $22,156 for open space over that same period. And because the CPA legislation requires that at least 10 percent of the funds collected each year go toward each of the three categories, there is a large surplus in the open space account for fiscal year 2011.

The open space reserve account contains $275,109, the historic reserve contains $459, the undesignated account contains $8,962 and the undesignated fund balance stands at $368,490, for a total of $653,020 in available CPA funds.

At the March 16 joint meeting selectman Cynthia Mitchell said selectmen have already checked with town attorney Ron Rappaport about using CPA funds for both open space and historic preservation for the purchase of the Maley property. The longtime town counsel said that was possible, she said.

She urged the CPA committee to allocate the maximum amount for the Maley proposal.

“We had an appraisal done on the property, but were not at liberty to release what the appraisal was, because we’re in negotiations, but I can tell you it’s more than the $653,000 figure [available in the CPA account],” she said.

“We just want to put a package together that is reasonable and has the least impact on the tax rate, and just makes sense,” she added.

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said purchasing the property would help ensure that the Field Gallery stays in town. “It’s very unique and special to the town, and the townspeople should have the opportunity to say whether they want to keep it,” he said.

Committee chairman Glenn Hearn said he supported using CPA funds to purchase the property, but not all the funds. He suggested the town use the entire open space fund balance, as well as the 10 percent contribution toward open space next year, estimated to be $40,000.

The committee agreed not to take a vote until they received a formal application from selectmen which occurred on Tuesday. They also urged selectmen to explore all funding sources before returning for more CPA money.

“To take all of this money and put it into one project; personally I have a problem with that. And part of that problem is that I want to see the town committed in other ways . . . and I would like to see some fundraising being done,” committee member Dale Julier said.