August 7, 2008

Donors Help Ease Loss of Land Trust’s Contribution

By Randal Edgar

A total of $339,555 has been donated to the town for conservation purposes by 29 individuals, says Town Administrator Bruce R. Keiser, after the local land trust withheld its donation.

JAMESTOWN -- When they voted unanimously last year to protect 145 acres of farmland, residents thought that about a fifth of the $9.3- million price for the development rights was going to be covered by the local land trust.

That scenario fell through when the land trust -- saying the town had changed the terms of the deal -- decided to withhold its contribution.

Still, town officials were hopeful at the time that some people who had donated to the land trust would redirect their money to the town, and as it turns out, some did.

A total of $339,555 was donated by 29 individuals, said Town Administrator Bruce R. Keiser.

While that is a lot less than the town expected last year from the land trust, Keiser said the town is "grateful to the donors" who stepped forward and will use the money to either reduce borrowing costs or help pay for a trail system that will run across the protected properties.

As it stands, the town is contributing $3.5 million toward the purchase -- the maximum that voters approved last year. The other contributions include $3.5 million from the federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program, $800,000 from the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, $750,000 from the Champlin Foundation and $420,000 from the state Department of Environmental Management, Keiser said.

The properties, which run for nearly 145 acres along the east side of North Road, at the heart of this island town, were appraised at $9.7 million.

Quentin Anthony, president of the Conanicut Island Land Trust, said the group had raised about $2.3 million for the purchase but decided it could not donate the money after learning how some of the property might be used.

He declined to go into specifics yesterday, saying the trust wants to focus on future purchases, but in an interview last year he said the group was concerned about the 100.8-acre Dutra Farm, one of two properties that is being protected. Trust members thought the only areas that could be built on were 15 acres set aside for agricultural buildings and 5 acres set aside for a house, but they later learned that up to 70,000 square feet on the remaining property could be built on, including a site along North Road, he said last year.

Keiser said the town's agreement with the Dutra and Neale farms was typical for such properties and had two aims: preserve two working farms and protect the land from housing developers.

"We felt that we were achieving two goals simultaneously," he said.

Keiser said the town is borrowing $3 million of its $3.5 million share of the purchase price. The debt service costs on the borrowed money will be about $145,000 a year, which will add about $35 to the tax bill for a house with the median assessment of $480,000, he said.

Now that they are protected, the Dutra and Neale farms help to create a continuous area of protected land that runs for more than 1,000 acres.

Jamestown [email protected] / (401) 277-7418

Originally published by Randal Edgar, Journal Staff Writer.

(c) 2008 Providence Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.