What was the thought process?

Fri, 05/07/2021 - 1:30pm

To the Editor,
My name is Melanie Blane Wilk. For those who don’t really know me, my roots run very deep here as both my maternal and paternal heritage goes back for many, many generations on the island. I have lived on Block Island all my life (so far) and have been witness to the many changes happening to this community; particularly in recent years some of these changes make me feel unsettled. I have a great love of the island which I guess I’ve never really thought about too deeply, other than to know in my soul that I love this place. This is home. For the past 10 years I have been fortunate enough to be able to live on land that has been in my family for almost 100 years. Keeping animals, farming, and my outdoor lifestyle is a joy in my life that I don’t take lightly, for I know that my family has worked hard, tirelessly in fact, throughout the generations to be able to hold on to this property. A task that grows harder and harder.
I attended the Financial Town Meeting, and as I sat in the gymnasium facing an insulated section of the wall that clearly has had water damage, the steel is rusted and the insulation falling down, I thought to myself this is the “legacy”. For those not in attendance, the term “legacy property” was thrown around a lot at the meeting in regards to a vote taken for the acquisition of a parcel of land being called “the Overlook” on the shore of New Harbor. The true “legacy” will be that the Town of New Shoreham for a number of years made poor, quick decisions, with very limited forethought and no real planning; with a track record for a lack of maintenance and follow-through for said decisions. Decisions being steered by a select group of residents who have chosen to make Block Island their home for their retirement years. They all claim that they supported this purchase because they are keeping preservation for future generations in mind, and while I do see their point to a small degree, I also see another side to it. With each additional purchase, or specially funded project that comes along and is so easily approved, you are also securing for the future generations of islanders like myself an incredible tax burden. Because it’s not just this one purchase, or one project... there will always be things like this, and it’s adding up! Supporters of this land purchase like to use the monetary example that “it’s only $137 annually per million of valuation”, to that I say... for how many years? Additionally there are many people who own more than $1M worth of property, so for them it’s not “just $137”. Furthermore the hurried frenetic way that this acquisition was added to the warrant just weeks before the financial town meeting is highly suspect to me, as well as the egregious asking price, and no real explanation was given as to why this is being rushed through, with only one meeting beforehand. I understand that Block Island’s tax rate is one of the lowest in the state, but the property values here have escalated greatly over the years, and they just seem to keep going up. As Block Island property is sadly marketed and sold to the ultra wealthy it is changing the fabric of this community. I would like to think there could be a shift towards a mindset of maintaining a balance between what we need to do as a tourist based community and what we need to do for our year round residents, whose jobs sustain the functionality of this town.
Again, this land purchase is being lauded as a “legacy property” and in this case in particular, for what?? The benefit and pleasure of transient boaters? Individuals like myself, the working middle class, will have to struggle to be able to stay here, if we choose to stay. But I see the change in the tide, I see friends of mine whose families have been here for generations, like mine, starting to look away from the island, thinking of leaving, or moving on to somewhere else, and it breaks my heart. The Block Island in my heart and in my memories, the Block Island I know and love is changing before my very eyes, and I find it very sad. As an islander I am now the minority here, as was made clear to me sitting in the gymnasium looking around at more people who were essentially strangers than not.
I feel discouraged and honestly shocked by the blasé faire attitude with which these decisions are made. I have never seen a group of voters so quick to have no problem spending millions of dollars, and all for a piece of property that they are only dreaming about what its potential could be. (Which will then cost millions more).
Lastly, the vote was somewhat close last night, with a difference of only 30 something. Working at the lumberyard I hear my fair share of grumbling when it comes to most anything, particularly town issues and tax dollars. This was not a landslide win for the supporters, and in the future I urge local resident voters to be present and participate because I feel this easily could have gone the other way.
Melanie Blane Wilk
Old Town Road