Future not clear concerning 100 Head’s Beach ‘tax lots’
The future of 100 so-called “tax lots” near Head’s Beach sparked an exchange between leaders of the Jamestown Shores Association and Town Council member Ellen Winsor at the JSA’s monthly meeting on Sept. 28.
Earlier in the summer, the Town Council appeared ready to grant the Conanicut Island Land Trust a conservation easement protecting the lots, which are mostly wetlands and unbuildable. In August, Carol Nelson- Lee, member of both the association and the land trust, said members of the Jamestown Shores Association would act as stewards and monitor the lots for the land trust, she said, making sure no one encroaches on the property or dumps litter there.
She had estimated the deal would be struck within 30 days. But then the agreement stalled because the management plan was missing, Nelson- Lee said.
“A hundred lots in the shores have been bought up by the town,” Nancy Ventrone, association co-president, said to sum up the situation. “They should be open space. We want to be the caretakers, the stewards of the open lots, once the Town Council makes a move and gets in touch with the Jamestown Shores Association through the Conanicut [Island] Land Trust.”
Nelson-Lee said they’re now waiting for the management plan and suggested it could be a simple, one-page document.
Then Winsor, who happened to be at the Sept. 28 Jamestown Shores Association business meeting when the issue was raised, said she was the reason the Town Council delayed.
“I’m responsible for the delay,” Winsor said. “I wasn’t comfortable protecting the water supply until there was a management plan.”
Although she supported the concept, she couldn’t sign off until she saw the management plan and received answers to some other important questions over the wording of the easement, she said.
“We’ll be very, very angry if the Town Council starts selling off this land,” Ventrone said.
“No, no, no,” Winsor replied. “Over our dead bodies.”
In an interview after the meeting, Winsor said she didn’t attend the meeting to speak on the issue but when it came up, she decided to “put it in perspective.”
Ultimately, drinking water protection for the whole island was at stake, and she wanted to make sure the goal was accomplished.
“In my mind, this is an aquifer water protection easement,” she said. “It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s not just a land easement.” Therefore, Winsor said, she was insisting on a “thoughtful review” of the documents.
“I don’t want the illusion of protection,” she said, then added that she did not mean to imply that was occurring.
“As I mentioned,” she wrote in a follow up email, “the management plan was not attached to the original document given to the Town Council. So we need the basic management plan. And I would like to know, as part of that plan, how any changes to the management plan are decided: who has say in any changes; who in the town or the shores should be notified; and how are changes ultimately approved.”
Winsor acknowledged some sections of the easement seemed to provide a way for the town to sell the lots.
“I’m not advocating for that part to be in there,” she said.
Also, Winsor said, the language of the easement suggested that if the state condemned the lots, the land trust could end up with town property. She wanted that language reviewed, she said, and sent the easement to Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki for an opinion.
But during the meeting, Nelson-Lee said the condemnation was not a likely scenario.
“Realistically,” she said, “there are very few instances I can think of where the state would condemn a wetlands in the shores.” Nelson-Lee said the tax sale lots do not constitute a large contiguous area. “They’re scattered,” she said.
“My opinion was none of it should ever revert to an entity,” she said. “Forget it’s the Conanicut [Island] Land Trust. I didn’t want that in that document.”
But she also said she wanted the tax lots to be protected, and sooner rather than later.
“I’m behind this getting done and in our lifetimes,” she said.
“Their great value is they are wet,” Nelson-Lee said. “This is really a move to protect drinking water in the shores. The land trust was approached.” Nelson Lee said the strategy was to separate the easement from the ownership, so neither party could sell. “With one group to hold the development rights and the other to hold the land, it would always protect the lots.”
In other business, Ventrone said she had been contacted by a community septic system education specialist, Jim Von Meier. He indicated that he could help residents install septic systems at about $18,000, or slightly over half the cost the state estimated. Ventrone said members could contact her for more information.
Finally, guest speaker Carol Sarubbi, physical therapist with the Visiting Nurse Home Health Services, demonstrated tai chi for arthritis exercises, proven to help with balance and mobility.
Sarubbi said a free tai chi for arthritis course starts Oct. 17 at 9 a.m. at the recreation center.