Land Trust transfer fees set a record

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 6:00pm
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The Block Island Land Trust collected $669,109 in real estate transfer fees in September, eclipsing the previous record of $531,410, set in October 2004, and making August fees, at $464,888, slip from second into third place.

Since October 1986, the Block Island Land Trust has been authorized to collect a three percent fee on the sale of real property in New Shoreham. Funds collected are used to acquire, hold, and maintain open space, agricultural land, and coastal region property.

While August saw the highest ever price paid for a residential home on the island, at $6.5 million, the sales for September, totaling just over $24 million, include several residential homes sold for between one and two million, and one at $3,070,000. The sales also include easements granted to the Narragansett Electric Company ($239,068) and Deepwater Wind Block Island, LLC ($337,738), by the Town of New Shoreham, for which no transfer fees were collected.

At the Land Trust meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8, Treasurer Wendy Crawford was asked if this month was going to be “active” as well, and she responded that it was.

Scraggly trees

Although the motivation for investing in a home on Block Island may be shifting from that of a second home or rental property to that of a primary residence, people have traditionally paid for an ocean view — a view they want maintained, even if it means requesting that trees on abutting properties be removed. 

This was the subject of the majority of the meeting.

The Land Trust has had a request that three “scraggly trees” on Land Trust property be removed to maintain the neighbor’s view shed. It turns out that all three of the conservancy organizations often receive these requests. 

Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan suggested that there should perhaps be a policy for people to plant replacement trees for those requested to be cut. “’All trees matter’ could be our new slogan,” she said, citing the environmental importance of trees’ role in combatting climate change.

“Trees grow,” said Land Trust Stewardship Director Harold “Turtle” Hatfield. He said of people who once bought a home during the winter: “When they came out in the summer, they were livid.”

Currently, such requests are handled on a case-by-case basis, with the organizations doing site visits and evaluating just what type of trees are in question and whether they should be cut if they are an invasive species, such as Russian olive, or topped, such as a native cherry, or left as is. “You’re not going to cut an oak,” said Hatfield. (Oaks are rare on Block Island.)

But there were many other matters involved. Who should be authorized to do the cutting? What kind and what size of tree should serve as a sufficient replacement? Where should replacement trees be planted? Who will maintain the planted tree?

One solution that was suggested and received extensive discussion was that those asking for a tree to be cut down pay not only for the cutting, but pay into a fund to support the future planting of trees elsewhere, including, possibly, along roadsides to create shade.

MacMullan asked how much it cost to buy a tree. Hatfield said that it depended on the size. Earlier in the day he said he had planted some “16-footers” that were “$800 per pop.”

“How much is it to plant a reasonable tree?” asked MacMullan.

“A couple hundred,” said Hatfield. “I don’t want to see two-foot trees.” When asked about the cost of the trees planted at Ball O’Brien Park after some were cut down without the Land Trust’s permission and replaced by the town, he said they were $500 per tree. Later he added that it was not just the cost of the tree, but shipping, freight on the boat, and labor to plant and maintain it.

In terms of trees that are topped upon request, Land Trust Attorney Joe Priestley said the policy should be made clear that “if it grows back, it grows back.”

“It’s one time only,” said Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy.

“This is not a maintenance plan we’re giving them,” said Hatfield.

“I don’t think we say ‘yes’ a lot,” said MacMullan of tree cutting requests. “We went to Peckham Farm and decided not to cut. This really does have to be on a case-by-case basis.” She also said the organizations should “manage the cutting down part. So, we cut, they pay, and [they] pay $500 for a replacement tree.”

“I’d like to see something lined up if we say ‘yes’” to a request for tree topping, said Hatfield.

“Are we good to go?” asked MacMullan.

“I like it,” said Hatfield.

Policy changes still need to be codified and voted upon at a future meeting.