Land Bank considers regional spending policy

A new website is under development; a $325,000 donation from MV Community Foundation. 

MV Land Bank executive director James Lengyel explaining the regional spending draft policy during Monday's Zoom meeting.

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank commission unanimously voted to accept a regional spending draft policy during a Monday afternoon meeting. Commission chair Pamela Goff said the draft policy will not go into effect until at least a second reading of the draft policy has been done. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said the second reading will happen after the down-Island towns’ advisory boards have had a chance to review the draft policy and offer their thoughts. 

The draft policy is a way to make a more structured allocation of funds for regional land acquisition efforts rather than having an “episodic” process of gathering money. 

Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said the draft policy reflects the “reality” of the Island. The “lagoon towns,” which are Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, do not have opportunities to make “sufficient revenue to meet that demand.” This lack of opportunity is not present in the “south beach towns,” which are primarily the up-Island towns and Edgartown, which straddles somewhat between the two categories. 

According to the Land Bank’s transfer fee regulations, the organization raises money primarily through a 2 percent transfer fee on real estate transactions on Martha’s Vineyard. This revenue is then split in half and allocated to the Land Bank’s central fund and into the town fund where the transaction occurred, according to the draft policy. This also means each town has different levels of spending power. 

“[Seeing] this disparity between the places where the revenue is received and places where revenue can very much be needed, maybe it is time to ask the town advisory boards to look at a policy wherein two things will happen,” Lengyel told the commission. 

The first is that the down-Island towns will “routinely pay for 100% of land acquisitions” from out of their own town funds. The current land acquisition model has payments be split from the towns’ funds and the Land Bank’s central fund. The second is that when the commission is looking at properties in south-beach towns, it can approach the lagoon towns “if they would like to participate in the rounds of regionalism.”

Lengyel suggested sending the draft policy to Oak Bluffs and Tisbury to get their opinions on the proposal. 

The commissioners discussed the draft policy among themselves.

“Our history is that Edgartown has supported regional projects very generously,” Goff said. 

Edgartown commissioner Steven Ewing asked whether any properties have not been purchased because of policy. Lengyel said no, and Oak Bluffs and Tisbury may be the ones the commission approaches since they do not have many land properties to purchase compared to the amount of money they have. 

“When the Land Bank needs to buy a property because it fits and it’s right, never once has the Land Bank in the past, and I believe never in the past, would forgo it because there’s a town fund issue. We would just find a way to finance it using all the various town funds,” Lengyel said. “This is not going to squeeze any towns in the future, it’s just going to talk about how to allocate expenses.” 

Lengyel added that since Oak Bluffs and Tisbury will be routinely approached for funds, the commission should be open about what is being planned. 

“I think it should be a public statement. I think voters need to know it, they need to comment on it, they need to acknowledge that’s where the Land Bank is, they need to acknowledge that there’s been so much accomplished in Oak Bluffs and TIsbury that we’re at a point where we can contemplate shifting some of the money elsewhere,” Lengyel said. “It’s a declaration that citizens of the Island would want to know about.”

“Who would object to this?” Ewing asked. 

“If someone were to misconstrue it and say that this means from now on, in the lagoon towns, they’re going to be forced or coerced into sending their money into other towns and therefore limit what they can do in their own towns, then someone might say that’s unfair,” Lengyel replied “But, that would be a total mischaracterization of what this is because all this is saying is that if you commissioners find a property in a south beach town that could benefit from lagoon funding, you would ask the Oak Bluffs and or the Tisbury board, and the Oak Bluffs and or the Tisbury board could say ‘no.’ So, it does nothing more than make a public statement that this is something you would contemplate doing. It obliges nobody to do anything.” 

West Tisbury commissioner Peter Wells said during the vote that the Land Bank would have “stopped buying land years ago” if not for regionalization. 

During the public comment period, Oak Bluffs Land Bank advisory board member Phil Cordella requested more information when the draft policy was sent to the towns, such as the amount of acquirable land in Oak Bluffs. Cordella also advocated for a more proactive public notification system, such as sending out emails. 

The Times received a copy of the draft policy, which can be viewed on the MV Times website at  

In other business, the Land Bank is working on making an updated version of its website with web developer Ecopixel. 

The commission unanimously voted to accept a $325,000 donation from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation’s Land Protection Fund.

For the fiscal year 2022 budget, there were some overages that add up to $21,379.93. These were from administrative and employee benefits ($3,225.15), administration utilities ($232.74), and land management insurance ($17,922.04). According to Lengyel, the significant overage from the land management insurance was because “the Land Bank bought many, many properties in the last fiscal year.” This reflects the higher number of properties that need to be insured. The Land Bank has a $50,000 reserve to cover overages. The commission unanimously approved the transfer of $21,379.93 to balance the budget.