2009-06-18 / Front Page

Town Council considers sale of public land in Shores area

Debate over benefits to town
By Tyler Will

During a discussion about the Jamestown Shores tax lots and the difficulty of monitoring land-use covenants, the Jamestown Town Council, at its meeting Monday night, shared opinions on the benefi ts of public land sale, with many saying land sales should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“I do not want to turn it into the Oklahoma land rush,” said Councilor Bill Kelly. The limited amount of potential funds that Jamestown would see from the tax sales is one reason councilors opposed the land sale.

Though Council President Julio DiGiando said little during the discussion, after the meeting, he said a land sale was “useless,” because such a sale would offer little benefi t to the town.

“We should not do it,” he said. But proponents said the land sale could bring in revenue, which the town could use to buy more land. But all councilors showed concern with potential use violations after the sale, particularly with wetlands.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski said the council should approach discussions with a better attitude, and expressed frustration with land use violations in the past.

“It is a real slap in the face to a town that has done so much to preserve land,” Szepatowksi said of covenant violations. She urged the use of more restrictive covenants with property sales and more specifi c language in the agreements. When DiGiando asked the councilors to summarize their opinion, she said she would favor selling non-wetlands, and evaluate the sales on a case-by-case basis.

She said the town is in good financial standing considering the economic climate, and could sell some plots to get money to buy more land. She also suggested a public workshop and hearing to be held.

Councilor Robert Sutton said he was “generally opposed” to land sale, because restrictions result in a crash of value in the property, and then the town would not get a lot of money from the sale. But later in the meeting, he said he would be open to examining town land plot by plot on an individual, micro-basis, and evaluating land sales on a case-by-case basis.

He said protecting the Shores was “critical,” and liked the idea of the land trust approach the town has used in the past, in which acquired land has a specific use, often preservation, which protects the land from development. “I like the fact that the town is very proactive in getting the title to those lots,” he said, adding later that any formal discussion of land sale should include the Conanicut Island Land Trust.

He also said land in the Shores area should be held because of population density, and the town’s limited ability to provide water and sewer utilities in the area. The town does not need to sell land because it is in good financial standing, he said.

“We are not somebody without two nickels to rub together that needs to buy groceries next week,” Sutton said.

Kelly said it should be done “parcel by parcel,” and evaluate the land lot-by-lot.

“I’m not opposed to any individual buying any particular piece of property, again not the Oklahoma land rush, but the argument of step-by-step…I would be in favor of that,” he said.

He told the council they should inventory the land, find out as much information about the land as they can, and then decide whether or not to sell. Some land should be handed to the land trust or kept in the town’s inventory.

Councilor Michael White said the town needs to make a stewardship plan, and possibly include the sale in that plan. But selling land now should not be done, he said.

“It is not an easy [decision] at all; the one thing I’m concerned about is…we do not have a stewardship plan for the properties we own,” White said, adding that a committee should be formed to look deeper into the issue. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said most municipalities approach the issue by forming a committee, and the tailor individual plans to the community’s interests. The committees usually protect some land and sell other pieces to continuous land owners, Ruggiero said.

A public hearing to discuss a town land sale will be held Monday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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