2018-08-30 / Front Page

Town will tour tax lots coveted by land trust

Conservation group wants 34 parcels in Jamestown Shores

To determine if there is any future value, the town will inspect a handful of lots in the Jamestown Shores before it agrees to transfer management to the Conanicut Island Land Trust.

“The town has a lot of needs,” said Lisa Bryer, town planner. “It may be a good idea to narrow down which lots could be useful.”

During their Aug. 20 meeting, the town councilors balked at the conservation commission’s recommendation to place 34 of these so-called tax lots under an easement. They arrived at their decision after a tipster suggested to Bryer some of these parcels “looked high and dry,” which means they aren’t necessarily unbuildable wetlands.

“It’s worthwhile to take one more look,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said.

Councilman Gene Mihaly agreed. He suggested hiring an environmental expert to inspect the properties, which range in size from 7,200 square feet to a half-acre.

“We can come to a conclusion lot by lot,” he said.

These 34 parcels are the remainder of the 120 tax lots acquired by the town through donations and forfeiture. They sit roughly along a ridge of wetlands between Seaside Drive on the west and Beacon and Gondola avenues on the east, from the bridge north to Sloop Street. Eighty-six of these lots already were placed under a conservation easement in August 2012. If approved, these 34 lots would be added to that contract. While the town still owns these properties, the agreement is “an added layer of preservation truly designed to prevent development,” said Andy Nota, town administrator.

According to the easement, the purpose is for this collection of lots to be “retained forever in its open, natural, scenic” condition. It also mentions benefits related to water resources and flood control. Moreover, the extensive list of prohibited activities ranges from constructing utility poles to mining minerals to dumping ashes to operating snowmobiles.

According to a memo from Bryer, the conservation commissioners want the town to protect “these lots in perpetuity to assist with preservation of the vital groundwater that serves residents of the Jamestown Shores.”

Joyce Antoniello, a member of the conservation board, urged the council to support this measure because these lots, after “extensive observation,” appear to have no municipal value.

“Some of them many not be in the wetlands, but they are abutting the wetlands,” she said.

“I have no problem granting your request,” Councilman Blake Dickinson replied, “but there are a couple of outliers that we should look at.”

Kristine Trocki, council president, agreed. “Our intention is to put as many of these lots on the easement,” she said. “But before we make a sweeping motion, we may want to at least take the time to address these concerns.”

Sav Rebecchi, a Sail Street resident with a vested interest in the neighborhood’s water supply, cited a University of Rhode Island study that indicated a single tree could use 200 gallons of groundwater daily.

“Some people have trees in their yards that use more water than the household,” he said.

Rebecchi suggested surveying these tax lots for trees that have been growing for decades. Cutting specific trees down, he said, would preserve essential water in the aquifer.

“We don’t want to cut down the forest,” Rebecchi said. “But I think it’s a good idea to manage the growth. If the land trust gets control of these lots, we could never do that.”

Rebecchi also suggested turning the drier lots into neighborhood parks for senior citizens and residents with disabilities.

Before hiring an expert, Bry-er said she will tap local environmentalists to walk through the lots with her. That will determine whether the town will need to finance a professional survey, she said. 

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