Rethink the Land Bank

50

Zealous — but clumsy and tone-deaf — at best; and narcissistic and without empathy at worst, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission (MVLBC) board and staff have imposed a polarizing change in the experience and use of the Trade Wind Fields Preserve property in Oak Bluffs. All of the preserve’s singular attributes — open meadows and fields — have now been fenced off to keep humans and dogs out, in defense of a threatened plant (purple needlegrass) and a beetle listed as a special concern.

After lengthy consideration, the Land Bank board and staff have, finally, lost patience with those of us who don’t agree with their rigid interpretation of their mission.

All but a few details remain to be disposed of. As executive director James Lengyel put it in his letter to The Times, published on June 9, the Land Bank commissioners and staff are done trying, and have washed their hands of us. Tradewinds visitors are still invited to offer advice on suitable (meaning not the shabby green plastic chairs already contributed) seating “for individuals with limited mobility,” and dog owners are advised to seek development of a dog park facility somewhere else. A bit of Marie Antoinette with your because-I-said-so, anyone?

If the Land Bank were a private conservation organization utilizing support from philanthropists and conservation-minded property sellers, it would make sense that it would set its own priorities, exercise its own judgment, and live or die on its ability to satisfy private constituents (not to mention on a modicum of public grace). At least 7,000 acres of important Island real estate is now owned by such organizations, in addition to significant properties and acreage under various conservation easements, and their collective contribution to the Island’s quality of life is extraordinary.

The immensely powerful (it can even acquire property via eminent domain, and can fall back on the bonding authority of the Island’s six towns, if needed) and well-heeled Land Bank, though, isn’t like these private organizations, in an important and dispositive way: It is funded by tax money, a transfer tax of 2 percent on real estate transactions, and it gets its considerable funding (some $40 million in the past 2½ years, equal to approximately 10 percent of the combined expense budgets of all six Island towns) in exchange for doing the public’s business. If nothing on-Island — demographics, economics, land use, Islanders’ needs — had changed in the years since the Land Bank was created, then the original thinking that informed what their mandate and constraints were might not have needed to change.

But despite our diligence and best efforts, change happens — on Martha’s Vineyard as everywhere else. Our population has increased by 70 percent since MVLBC was chartered; open land has become harder to come by, and the once- predominant, live-and-let-live attitude toward sharing available space is strained. The off-Island economy we welcomed to the Vineyard dominates our housing market, and brings costs we can’t afford. Our conservation organizations themselves take land off the market through acquisition, creating further scarcity. And as our population has grown, even in the face of relentlessly restrictive zoning, we acquired obligations for a modern infrastructure to assure clean drinking water and sewers and runoff control and modern schools.

The MVLBC legislation created much opportunity, but the Land Bank was not handed an unaccountable charter in perpetuity. The availability of the transfer tax windfall depends on conforming to and serving the ongoing planning efforts and ultimate political authority of the six Island towns. The Land Bank’s entire governing structure turns on the support of the towns — individually at the directly elected commissioner level, and collectively at the level of the essential positions of the appointed town advisory committees. The enabling legislation makes clear that each acquisition, each management plan, and each change in plan needs to be developed by the Land Bank in consultation with the plans of the affected town(s), and ultimately can be adopted only with the approval of the affected town’s advisory committee. And failing all else, each town has a clear out — the towns can withdraw if the Land Bank fails to do what the towns require.

Brian Dowd’s reporting on last week’s Oak Bluffs selectmen’s discussion of the Tradewinds debacle (June 13, 2018) makes clear the general sense of exasperation selectmen Coogan, Packish, and Santoro expressed, fueled no doubt by the unhelpful refusal of Land Bank director Lengyel to deign to appear. Packish, in particular, has it right: “I have a lot of questions around the Land Bank. Have they exceeded their mandate? Are we at a point to make a change? Is housing a bigger priority? Every taxpayer on Martha’s Vineyard subsidizes the Land Bank with their taxes, because this is untaxed land. There’s so many levels that they’ve become autonomous, operating in their own vacuum, with their own voices, patting themselves on the back, and, quite honestly, that’s not healthy. It shouldn’t happen with any organization in any community, so I’m ready to have a full conversation.”

At the least, the town should insist on effective mediation for this public relations disaster. More broadly, Oak Bluffs now — because it is the scene of this assault on equitable thinking — and all towns soon, because so much is at stake, need to step up. We need to be talking about redirecting transfer tax money, including the Land Bank’s 2 percent, and more if we need it, to help pay for the equitable and effective infrastructure all Islanders need.

 

50 COMMENTS

  1. It would seem the frogs in the pond are unhappy with the monster they created – oh well, unintended consequences.

  2. Agree it’s a self-created monster, as in, “be careful what you wish for”.Towns can vote out this arrogant organization that has overstayed its welcome. Getting rid of the arrogant LB director should be the first order of business.

  3. Readers wishing to learn the land bank’s history on this matter are encouraged to go to the land bank website and read, under the heading IN THE NEWS, the minutes of the land bank’s discussions on this subject.

    • A “canned” post over three separate threads – a sure sign of bureaucratic perfection.

  4. James Lengyel I have learned much from reading your minutes but it’s obvious you, and the Land Bank, have not learned the main point. Your actions are hurting good people. When Island residents see that useless, horrible fence, it breaks their hearts. My mother, if she were alive, would be saying, “It’s a sin.”

    • But it isn’t a “sin,” it’s a fence. If you put half as much energy into developing an actual dog park as you put into fighting the Land Bank on something so trivial, your problem would be solved by now. If it’s not a dog park you’re after, then walk one of the MANY other beautiful Land Bank trails. The Land Bank is doing its job whether you like it or not.
      As an island resident, born and raised across the street from Tradewinds (I literally grew up there), it doesn’t break my heart to see a fence, it makes me grateful that we have organizations such as the Land Bank to preserve the island that I love so dearly.
      The Land Bank is by no means perfect and there is always room for improvement, but think about what’s making you so upset. Really think about it. I know you aren’t alone in your sentiment, but I just have the hardest time understanding where you’re coming from. IT’S A FENCE.

  5. conservation (noun) ~ the action of conserving something, in particular preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife; synonyms: preservation, protection, safeguarding, safekeeping

  6. What would all of you do if the Land Bank preserves did not exist? Let’s say each preserve (and the State Forest) had been snapped up by the wealthy and they all built private campgrounds? No trespassing on the Vineyard from corner to corner. Then what, Ocean Park? The school athletic fields? The cemeteries?

    • Answer to first question – pay less taxes. Private property pays taxes when “snapped up” by the wealthy. But in practice the wealthy don’t “snap up” land – they find ways to prevent immigration near them using the government or private foundations.

      • The wealthy bought land and built expensive homes by preventing immigration on the Vineyard. You want a do-over?

        • You’ve got cause and effect confused. The wealthy buy land, build expensive homes, and then find ways to prevent further building near them, using the tools available – private foundations and government entities, as in LB. The effect is two fold – property goes off the tax rolls and immigration is halted.

          • For the laughs, why did you choose to live on the Vineyard? I’m guessing it was the opposite of how you planned to treat the Island.

          • Take out a map of Marths’s Vineyard, overlay the land in conservation with properties with high assessed value (start at 2 million) the result would look very much like Hanleycliffords description. Cross reference the conservation foundations with the owners of the property that abuts this conservation property, not just presently but in the past this may prove there is a connection as Hanleyclifford says. To drive deeper cross reference conservation purchases with conservation donations with owners names abutting conservation property and you may find a history of wealthy property owners not only using these conservation foundations to create maintained buffer areas at no future cost to them, increased property value and they get a tax deduction for the donation. Hey, its legal. If ever there was an example of what Bernie said was a “rigged system” it is alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard. Regardless of how you feel about this or why you moved here this is a reality.

    • New Englander, the LB is not the only game in town that is about conservation, walking, and public enjoyment.It is the most arrogant, though.

      • An organized act of conservation means public enjoyment isn’t always compatible with conservation. Because of this, there must be rules to ensure conservation because American history shows us without rules, the public will trash nature. That there must be rules preventing “public enjoyment” by some means the Land Bank is arrogant … not their fault, it’s yours.

        • “not their fault, it’s yours”. Does anyone wonder why the LB has the reputation it deserves? Who do you think you are, New Englander?

  7. No organization is perfect but I suggest the naysayers of Land Bank take a trip to the Hamptons. Other than some of the beaches there is no public space! It is just McMansion sitting on top of a bigger mansion. One might as well reside in a rich suburb. What we have is so special and like most things can only be appreciated if you can see what life is like without it.

    • The Hamptons are in fact a suburb of NYC complete with rail service all the way out. It is a place where rich folks buy if they can pay the freight. They make no pretense about being “special” – “exclusive” is their line. The snowflakes here want a nature paradise at someone else’s expense, while simultaneously bemoaning the lack of housing for working people. Deceived and befuddled they continue to trust the bureaucrats who are systematically shutting down this island, while the wealthy beneficiaries keep their piece while clamoring for more “immigration” over the border, so long as it doesn’t set up camp near them. Wake up, islanders.

  8. If the fence is so “trivial”, then why was it needed. Your words, not mine. I wish the Times insisted on real names.

  9. WTF – Why the Fence? Not necessary. Everyone reading this please go and walk the whole property. It has never looked better. When one is wrong don’t just bull ahead. Adjust your position. Something the LB is not doing on this issue. It is not too late. Many, many people want to work this out.

  10. Apartheid is alive and well on MV. These same people crow about separated families but the cronyism on MV puts most people in the most crowded places to satisfy the oligarchs in Chilmark. Let us all have access to all beaches before you lecture us on immigration and separation.

    • Apartheid in South Africa was an openly segregated system assigning “homelands” to various tribal groups, objectionable to many but honest and visible. What we see here is more akin to “enclosure” or “feudal”, cloaked in conservation and preservation.

    • Andrew– You seem to want to punish all immigrants for the actions of a few, and want to build an environmentally disastrous and seriously expensive wall (which Mexico will not pay for ) , but don’t seem to be bothered that a few irresponsible dog owners leave the land bank with no other option than to put up a fence.

      • I want to punish ILLEGAL immigrants. Your lot likes to conflate all immigrants. Dondondon you may not like a wall but to call it environmentally disastrous is hysteria manifest

        • ok — so under both United States, and international agreements :
          “Political asylum in USA. Asylum may be granted to people who are already in the United States and are unable or unwilling to return their home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
          Who gave trump the power to declare “zero tolerance” and take children away from people who are seeking legitimate asylum?
          Trump ios punishing

          • sorry andrew– hit send accidentally– can’t edit–
            trump is prosecuting everyone as criminals– your comment about punishing illegals is bogus.

          • I am suffering persecution from you looney liberals and need to seek asylum. Where can I go. Not to MV apparently. May I seek asylum to Lambert’s Cove beach during the summer. How about if I bring my kids—- will you drag them out of my arms. As for a wall causing environmental damage that is a novel argument. Let’s tear down the Great Wall of China.

        • andrew– a wall on the north side of the rio grande will cut water off for any animal larger than a cat, just as a start. nothing can migrate either direction from the river– it will result in the deaths of millions of gods creatures, and the possible extinction of dozens of species of animals. I know, an environmental disaster to you is when your toilet clogs up, and you can’t get a plumber there in 2 hours.

          • Dondondon. One would get killed at 5 corners if one proclaimed MAGA. Hence anonymity. Why does one need to know the identity except to vilify.

        • The wall/fence, whether planned or already built, goes across private property. Google and find what those citizens think about a wall and why.

  11. The Land Bank Charter has a process for termination. It requires 2 towns to pass a referendum at town meeting to open the process of terminating the charter. Read the charter, get the signatures required or inspire the selectmen in your town to put it on town meeting. Start the process I’ll sign the referendum petition, it could start with a nonbinding public opinion advisory question in each island town meeting. At the very least it will get an accurate polling on island residents who feel the land bank has served its purpose and should be dissolved. A sample warrant article could be: “Do the residents of Island Town approve the formation of a town committee to investigate whether the Land Bank Charter needs to be changed or dissolved.” The committee would be tasked with public education on the history, and functioning of the Land Bank compiling a public survey to determine how many residents would like a change, such a committee should also have a budget to do this. This committee would then bring the results to the town selectmen and initiate a warrant article for town meeting.

    • Do the residents understand it must become part of each Town budget to maintain the properties as desired by a few residents? Rich towns won’t do it. Here?

      Trade Winds was expected to become expensive homes or a golf course; I’ve a friend who was interested in Peaked Hill before Land Bank got it, I’ll let him know it may be going on the market in the near future.

      • Not relevant to the topic. Simply put, I don’t trust either of you not to harass. Offended by this? Complain to the police.

    • rosiegirl– my name is don keller. it seems most people here who seem to be on the conservative side won’t ever mention their name.. good for you for standing proud and identifying yourself.

        • I’ve been in information technology enough years to understand the need to respect the privacy of others, at the same time to learn too many others do not.

      • Don why always the American apologist routine, looked up your bio you’re too smart and have an imagination. Watch some youtubes with George Carlin and produce some educated (not liberal or conservative or any organized social group) comedy, your missing your calling.

  12. Can we now see how Vineyard style “conservation and preservation” are related to the immigration issue?

  13. These are elected positions.

    If you think the Land Bank did a bad job, RUN FOR LAND BANK COMMISSIONER.

  14. It takes a big person, and even a bigger organization to resolve an issue where they may have been a bit heavy handed. Time will tell.

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