New farm-oriented land trust forming

"Islanders want to preserve open space, promote farming and provide affordable housing. One way to do all three simultaneously is through a community land trust, according to the city's affordable housing task force.The idea is simple. The trust will own the land itself, and will make it available on long-term lease for approved uses, including farming and affordable housing.The trust could acquire land and hold it in perpetuity, but lease it for agricultural use or affordable housing, said Garnie Quitslund, chairman of the task force. By controlling resale and owning the land, you keep it affordable, he said.The principal application of the land trust idea on Bainbridge Island is in the agricultural area, and Mayor Dwight Sutton said the trust is an important piece of the farm-preservation picture.The city doesn't have any business getting into the farming game, Sutton said. The trust can have a very positive role managing land that the city may acquire to preserve farming.The city is currently negotiating to buy development rights on a 20-acre agricultural parcel, Sutton said. And an entity called the Trust for Public Lands is negotiating for a separate 20-acre parcel which would be transferred to the community trust, assuming it is formed.In both instances, Quitslund said some of the land would be preserved as open space, some would be actively farmed, and some would be used as a site for affordable housing, particularly for the farmers.We did an economic survey of farmers on the island, Quitslund said, and found that their median income is well below the level that would qualify them for subsidized housing. If you're going to preserve active agriculture, the farmers need a place to live. The approach deals with both issues.The task force presented the land-trust plan at a workshop last week that drew some 30 people, many from the agricultural community. They heard a presentation from Orcas Island Community Land Trust director Lisa Byers.Byers told the workshop that on Orcas, a total of 42 homes have been built in two projects. The homes have ranged in size from 800 to 1300 square feet, and have sold for between $50,000 and $115,000.While the land-trust model could own land strictly for affordable-home-building, Quitslund said the more immediate emphasis on Bainbridge is towards agriculture.For example, the 20-acre parcel that the Trust for Public Lands is considering would have 12 acres preserved simply as open space. The remaining eight acres would be divided into four two-acre farming plots, each with an affordable home.The other 20-acre parcel would lend itself to similar treatment, Sutton said.The next step, according to Quitslund, is to create an actual trust. It would be set up as a charitable non-profit corporation, with a board of directors at least one-third of whom would be low-income persons. According to Quitslund, the trust organizers have asked former Bainbridge Land Trust Director Yolanka Wulff to be the director of the trust.Funding would come from the city itself and from individual contributions, Quitslund said.According to Mayor Sutton, the trust fits with the oft-expressed desire of island residents to preserve open space and agricultural lands. Sutton has proposed a $5 million bond issue for land-preservation purposes, and if that measure is approved, some of the purchased land would be managed by the trust.This is what I call urban fringe agriculture, Sutton said. There is a niche for organic specialty products that can be cultivated on a small parcel of land. This could preserve an important part of the spectrum of our community. "

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