Two Oak Bluffs residents are vying for a spot as the town’s representative on the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission.
Incumbent Priscilla Sylvia, who has been the Oak Bluffs representative since 1986, is running against Kristen Reimann.
Sylvia has a long history with the Island. In 1965, she got a job as a teacher at the Oak Bluffs School before retiring after 35 years. Since retiring, Sylvia has held positions with the School Committee, Historical Commission, the Community Development Council, the Planning Board. She has also been involved with the Friends of Oak Bluffs since 1980 and serves as treasurer. The greenhouse at the Oak Bluffs School was named after Sylvia once she retired because of her love of gardening. This will be her last time running for the commission.
Reimann first moved to the Island in 1991 after finishing college. After earning her master’s degree, Reimann married and eventually bought land and built a house off Double Ox Road.
Sylvia’s drive to run for the Land Bank commission comes from her teaching days.
“As a teacher I developed a habitat study program for my fifth graders, working with Luanne Johnson. With her I became much more aware of just how unique the Vineyard was. At that time and as a planning board member, I felt how much pressure the Island was under from large-scale developers,” Sylvia said.
Reimann’s drive to run for the position comes from her attendance at Land Bank meetings.
“I attended several of the Land Bank meetings last year after the installation of the fence at Tradewinds,” Reimann said. “My observation was that the communication between the Oak Bluffs Commissioner and the Land Bank Advisory Board as well as the elected town officials, such as the planning board and the selectmen, needed to be reinvigorated. I also monitored conversations in social media forums and was concerned by some very loud voices that called for the elimination of the Land Bank.”
The Land Bank has received a lot of criticism over the past year with issues like the fence at Trade Wind Fields Preserve. Members of the public have repeatedly called for more transparency from the Land Bank.
Sylvia said it was important to remember the history behind the preserve. Oak Bluffs voted to acquire the property by eminent domain while the Land Bank agreed to pay for it. After repeated misuse of the property, the Land Bank put up the fence to protect the land.
“The Oak Bluffs taxpayers were spared the entire expense and approximately 70 acres, which had been scheduled for intense development, were preserved for public enjoyment,” Sylvia said. “Looking back, the Land Bank could have done a better job in publicizing its decision-making process. It was a learning opportunity for all of us. I am going to recommend, going forward, that the Land Bank hold several widely-advertised public forums throughout the year to discuss any and all issues which are on people’s minds, and to get more input and feedback.”
For Reimann, it’s all about keeping the lines of communication open.
“I would never turn away a free and open dialogue between the Land Bank and the town’s elected officials as well as the residents of Oak Bluffs. Decisions that affect our community cannot always be made behind closed doors or without the input of elected officials and residents,” Reimann said.
The Land Bank has conserved more than 3100 acres of land on the Island in it’s more than 30 years of existence. For Sylvia and Reimann there is plenty to like, but some things worth changing within the Island’s land agency.
Reimann think’s there is room for the Land Bank to evolve.
“The landscape of Martha’s Vineyard would look very different if not for the efforts of the Land Bank for the past 30 plus years. For that work we, as a community, should value those efforts and be very grateful. But I do think that the mission of the Land Bank needs to evolve from that of just strict conservation efforts and include more affordable housing partnerships such as those at Morgan Woods, Sepiessa and Eliakim’s Way. I would also invite discussion about more active recreation policies such as is the model of the Nantucket Land Bank,” Reimann said.
Sylvia expressed similar gratitude, but desire for change.
“The public response to the Land Bank’s acquisitions, especially its beaches and its expanding island-wide trail network, is so positive. The Land Bank now has several completed cross-Town trails and owns 9 ocean/sound beaches, plus many pond beaches — all of which are fully accessible to the public. Before the Land Bank existed, voters were seeing their island being taken away from them, little by little, and now they see those losses being reversed. The actual acreage isn’t what counts; it’s the quality of the land and the experiences that people have on it,” Sylvia said. “With 3453 acres now conserved, I would like to see the Land Bank put an even greater emphasis on universal access, which is access for people with disabilities. The Land Bank already does a good job making its lands accessible to a wide variety of users but I would like to see it do even more. I am also proud of how the Land Bank has coordinated its trail system with other public and private entities that also have trails and I would like to see that coordinated effort continue and improve into the future.”
While the Land Bank continues to purchase land for conservation, some in the public have asked whether there is a plateau the agency should hit.
“I do not think there is a plateau the Land Bank should hit,” Sylvia said. “The Land Bank should continue in its efforts to make more of our beautiful Island accessible to the public, through the acquisition of more beaches, trail links and the preservation of environmentally sensitive properties. The Land Bank properties are open to everyone, regardless of what Town they come from. It is hard for me now to envision a time when that purpose would ever be fully be met — especially as the Island population continues to expand.
Reimann sees an opportunity for the Land Bank to be involved with affordable housing when it doesn’t want to purchase a piece of land.
“Large acquisitions such as the Southern Woodlands are going to be increasingly rare around the island. However, the Land Bank has turned down several properties it has considered as ‘infill development’ and I think that properties such as those are worthy of a partnership with affordable housing entities.”