Bonding for Overlook purchase authorized

Mon, 01/17/2022 - 7:30am

The Town Council signed resolutions last week to authorize borrowing by the town and the Block Island Land Trust to partially finance the acquisition of a portion of plat 19, lot 3 from Overlook Realty, LLC. This bonding resolution is to raise the money for the purchase of the land located on the Great Salt Pond between the Overlook building and Ball O’Brien Park. The Salt Pond Settlement is in between, but its property does not extend down to the water. The Settlement has access to the water through what would become the town’s property.

The town will be borrowing $3.6 million and the Land Trust will borrow $1.5 million. The Land Trust will also contribute $3.645 million in cash for the purchase. Barbara MacMullan, chair of the Land Trust, issued a statement to the Town Council explaining the Land Trust’s position. According to the statement, the Land Trust has $7.175 million in cash on hand, and $3.686 million in available bonding.
The Land Trust was given authorization to borrow up to $6 million in May 2001, and received authorization to bond an additional $4 million in May 2005. After this new bond issuance, the Land Trust will still have $2.186 million of authorized borrowing available.

MacMullan listed the reasons for borrowing $1.5 million as opposed to paying with cash, including large projects on the way that will require future bond issuance, and current favorable interest rates. MacMullan also wrote that combining the Land Trust’s bonds with the town’s would reduce closing costs and provide for a “more favorable rate overall.” The Land Trust bond will be paid with the Land Trust’s income.
Second Warden Sven Risom pointed out that since there was no cost to the taxpayers for the Land Trust’s portion, it seemed like a good financial move.
Council Member Martha Ball said that, initially, some of the total cost was represented as being paid by two other conservation groups on the island, The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Conservancy. MacMullan agreed that in the beginning there had been talk of this partnership, but since it was past the point of those conservation groups’ main fundraising time (which happens in the summer), the Land
Trust would pay their portions. Saying it was “misrepresented all along,” Ball pointed out that the conservation groups who had “lobbied” and “placed ads” in support of the project had “no skin in the game.”
It is estimated that the town’s bonding will annually cost each property owner approximately one hundred dollars per $1 million of property value.

On January 10 the Town Council discussed the management plan with the Land Trust for the property, with Town Manager Maryanne Crawford bringing a major issue to everyone’s attention. The problem is that the proposed management plan only allows 76,000 square feet of developable area, but zoning regulations require 80,000 square feet for a marina. The town hopes to build a public dock, harbors facility with storage and housing on the property.
The town’s Land Use Attorney, Bill Landry, confirmed that per the regulations, a marina is a dock, pier, wharf, or float that services five or more boats. “It will be considered a marina,” he said, referencing the town’s planned development.
Additionally, Crawford stated that the management plan would have to be amended several times as the town begins to develop the property. The Land Trust’s conservation easement does not allow development, except as allowed in the management plan between the town and the Land Trust. According to Crawford, if something is not mentioned in the management plan, then you have to amend the plan to include it, “even in the developable area.”

MacMullan agreed that this was the case, and said the Land Trust has to amend its management plans for its properties every time it makes a change. She said the Land Trust structures the easements and management plans this way to avoid having to make changes to the
Attorney Joe Priestley, who represents the Land Trust, told the council that the adjoining property, Ball O’Brien Park, had undergone several changes to its management plan as the Land Trust made changes to the property. Priestley said the property was originally going to be a harbor facility, then the plan was changed to build the playground, then the plan was changed again to build the bathrooms. “Each was a change in the management plan,” he said.
Ball said she remembered all the changes being “a little more difficult than is being represented.”
Attorneys Priestley and Landry both agreed that the prudent thing to do was to amend the allocation of developable land area to be “80,000 square feet plus the area of the access easement” which would bring the total to 92,000 square feet. The access easement is the road that
leads across the property to the Overlook building. This area can be added into the total square footage for the zoning calculations, even though it is not actually buildable area.
Priestley suggested that the attorneys and a negotiating team of the town manager, Risom, MacMullan, and Wendy Crawford (Treasurer of the Land Trust) work out the language and bring the revised easement and management plan back to the council. The council voted to continue the item until its January 19 meeting.