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Landowners line up to sell open space

With $8 million in public funds available, island landowners are lining up to sell their property to the city.

This, before the new Open Space Commission even has a process by which to consider parcels for purchase.

“From what we’ve already heard, we could spend it in six months,” commission chair Andy Maron said, adding, “Not that we’ll do that.”

Voters last fall approved an $8 million bond levy to preserve open space around the island. Since then, nearly a dozen would-be sellers have approached the city.

The parcels being offered vary in size from around five acres to “quite large,” Maron said, and at least one is waterfront.

Members of the new Open Space Commission have discussed the parcels in closed session. While the process for review and purchase is far from established, Maron said they hope to give interested sellers enough information to wait out the preliminaries.

“We want to make sure that we don’t lose some of the nicer pieces that might be gone if we don’t respond sooner rather than later,” Maron said.

The Open Space Commission held its third-ever meeting at city hall last week, discussing selection criteria and how to “rate” available properties.

Under consideration are agricultural lands, natural areas, shoreline areas, greenways and trails, and miscellaneous parcels that afford views or other amenities.

The commission may bring in outside an agent to represent the city in negotiations. Also at issue is when to bring the public into the mix for comment.

Commission members say the city could take out purchase options on a variety of properties, then refer them to the city council for review and public hearings.

“Then we can look forward to all those letters in the Review, about what a dumb idea it is to buy that property,” commission member Tim Bailey joked.

Said Maron: “Every one of these is ‘a deal,’ and it’s going to have to be done carefully and with expertise. We don’t want to blow one of these. It’s not as easy as the public thinks.”

The commission is also discussing ways to stretch the levy dollars. Some argue that if the city purchases large parcels, a building lot or two could be carved out at the edge and resold, with the proceeds plowed back into the open space fund.

That proposal, discussed informally last week, drew objections from several commission members.

The Open Space Commission next meets at 4:45 p.m. Feb. 13 in the council chambers conference room at city hall. Thereafter, regular meetings will be on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.

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