2009-08-27 / Front Page

Properties’ future tops council concerns

By Phil Zahodiakin

The future of environmentally sensitive properties acquired by the town through tax-default proceedings was explored during a Town Council workshop on Monday night. All but seven of the 88 town-owned lots include wetlands, and almost all of them are located in the middle of Jamestown Shores.

One of the lots is south of Rt. 138, but all the rest are in “the wettest part of the island,” said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. “The owners stopped paying taxes because they concluded that their lots could never be developed.” Several abutters have approached the town about purchasing lots to expand their existing properties for aesthetic or recreational purposes.

But the town does not have any intention of selling lots which encompass, or overlap, wetlands, Keiser said, adding that Jamestown “has spent $150,000 and several years to acquire these properties, and having done so to protect the environment, we would not reverse our course.”

According to a power point presentation, there are 36 lots with existing homes whose property lines abut foreclosed properties. Although a member of the public said the town would benefit financially from the sale of foreclosed lots, there wasn’t any council support for selling the properties – particularly those with wetlands. Some council members urged the adoption of restrictions that would preclude their sale and development in perpetuity.

Town Council member William Kelly said he wants to “slam the door” on any possibility that a future council sees the lots as a way to erase a deficit.

Christopher Powell, chairman of the Jamestown Conservation Commission, told the council that “there isn’t any guarantee that regulations won’t change” in such a way that people who bought foreclosed lots would eventually be allowed to build structures or replacement septic systems if they used the latest technologies to protect groundwater.

Simply using the lots for lawns or gardens, a Shores resident warned, would increase the already “high” level of nitrogen in the groundwater if the plant- ings were treated with fertilizer – which, the resident added, “would be impossible to police.”

Nancy Kolman Ventrone, president of the Jamestown Shores Association, said that Jamestown does not have the resources to police the lots, period.

“Government agencies can only enforce about 20 percent of their regulations,” she said, adding that “there isn’t any way that the lots could be effectively monitored” if they were sold. However, many questions were also raised about effectively monitoring the properties if they aren’t sold.

Town Council President Julio DiGiando said he would support “entering into a stewardship agreement” with a land preservation group. Kelly suggested granting easements to the Conservation Commission or the Conanicut Island Land Trust, warning that, without the participation of a watchdog group, “I’m afraid that we will start seeing couches and old mattresses on these lots.”

Council Vice President Michael White said he felt that “the groups opposing the sale of these lots would help us figure out a way to keep them clean.

The Council will formally debate the disposition of the foreclosed lots at its Sept. 21 meeting. During that session, one of the 88 lots – located on Stern Street – might be mentioned as a candidate for sale because the lot is not a wetland and it is already surrounded by houses.

However, Kelly, like others opposing the sale of any foreclosed lots, warned that selling a lot because it lacked a wetland would “open a can of worms by setting a precedent” that would inevitably invite other buyers to pressure the town to sell other lots.

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