Sutton hails win for open space levy

Voter support for an $8 million open space levy didn’t surprise Mayor Dwight Sutton. The level of that support – 68 percent – did.

“It’s a great outcome,” said Sutton, who proposed the levy earlier this year and shepherded it to Tuesday’s ballot.

“I strongly feel, and have always felt, that the values of the community and what makes Bainbridge unique is the concern with preserving the rural-like features,” Sutton said.

“The levy embodies those values.”

Connie Waddington, co-chair of the levy campaign and a veteran of past open space efforts, said she too was surprised by the numbers. Seven years ago, the Gazzam Lake purchase earned about 63 percent support.

“My guess was 62 percent,” Waddington said, “not based on polling, but just my gut feeling.

“It just reaffirms to me that this community really wants this, and is willing to pay for it,” she said. “This community is scared about growth, and this is a small way to do something about it.”

The levy authorizes the city to issue up to $8 million in bonds to purchase wooded tracts, farmland, stream corridors and trail links around the island.

The first bonds are expected to be issued next year, giving the city a pool of money make land purchases as parcels come available. Backers say they will try to supplement the fund with grants and donations, and hope “conservation sellers” will be willing to part with their land at less than market value.

Now the administration is looking for volunteers to serve on a seven-member acquisition committee.

The group will be charged with establishing criteria for properties sought; identifying and prioritizing available parcels; and making recommendations to the city council for approval and purchase.

Because transactions will be “willing buyer, willing seller” – condemnation is not to be used – Sutton said the committee may advertise to find landowners who want to part with their property.

Sutton said the committee should have members with various interests and areas of expertise, including wildlife and habitat preservation, finance and real estate.

The committee will be named within 45 days; letters of interest can be sent to the mayor’s office.

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