2007-09-13 / Front Page

Terms have changed going into town meeting

By Donna K. Drago

A chance to save the farms This Holstein cow on the Neale farm is like countless others before her who have grazed on island grasses for centuries. On Sept. 18, voters will get a chance to approve a bond to purchase development rights to two island farms, thereby preserving the open spaces for future generations. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten A chance to save the farms This Holstein cow on the Neale farm is like countless others before her who have grazed on island grasses for centuries. On Sept. 18, voters will get a chance to approve a bond to purchase development rights to two island farms, thereby preserving the open spaces for future generations. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten A Special Financial Town Meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18, will ask voters to support a bond issue to purchase the development rights to island farmland and preserve the open space permanently.

Just yesterday, it was learned that negotiations with one of the three farms that had been part of the original deal was terminated because an agreement with the owners could not be reached prior to a federal funding deadline.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that negotiations between the town, state and the Conanicut Island Land Trust broke down when they could not come to terms with Peter and Jean Ceppi, who own the 14-acre property at the corner of East Shore Road and Eldred Avenue, over the number of lots that the Ceppi's wanted to carve out of the property for their own personal use.

"We could not resolve our disagreements," Keiser said.

In order to put together the plan to purchase the development rights to the farms, local, state and federal agencies have been working for months on a deal that will provide the farmers, now the Dutras and Neales, with a payment based on an appraisal of the development rights. The appraisals were conducted by First Pioneer of Connecticut, who valued the properties at approximately $80,000 per acre, Keiser said.

Keiser noted that the development rights are typically 70 to 80 percent lower than the market value of the property, so the farmers are giving up a significant amount of money by selling the rights to the town rather than to a private developer.

Under the terms of the agreement, the owners of the 100-acre Dutra Farm will receive $6.54 mil- lion, and the owners of the 44-acre Neale Farm will receive $3.18 million, Keiser said.

In all, the total deal for the two parcels of farmland is worth $9.72 million, Keiser said.

To pay for the more than $9 million, federal and state grants in the amount of $5.47 million have been pledged, leaving a balance of $4.25 million. That balance will be shared between the town bond issue and the amount pledged by private donors to the Conanicut Island Land Trust.

Quentin Anthony, president of the land trust, said the land trust has been vigorously pursuing contributions throughout the summer and that they have raised "a tremendous amount of money." Unfortunately, now that the terms of the deal have changed, Anthony said that members of the land trust are having to call every single private donor to tell them of the change in plans and ask if they would still like to donate under the new set of terms.

Asked if he had run into anyone who asked for their money back, Anthony said "no one yet." He noted that there are "well into the hundreds," of donors and it may take awhile before all of them are contacted.

If no one asks to have their funds returned, Anthony said that the land trust has approximately $2.4 million in private funds to contribute to the land deal.

Bruce Keiser said that in order to complete the deal, the town needs a minimum of $500,000 from the land trust. He said that the final figure for the bond will continue to evolve until the last minute, and voters will likely not know the amount they will be asked to bond until they walk into the Lawn Avenue gymnasium on Tuesday night.

Updates will be posted on the town Website at www.jamestownri. net, Keiser said.

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