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Last call for open space

 - Courtesy of the Open Space Commission
— image credit: Courtesy of the Open Space Commission

How should the city Open Space Commission spend its last million? You tell them.

The Open Space Commission is down to its last million.

After three years of work, 15 land deals and nearly 250 acres preserved, a cool million is all that’s left of the $8 million in voter-approved funding for the purchase of local forests, farms and waterfront areas.

While the commission still has a handful of properties under consideration for acquisition, the group is asking for one more round of nominations by the public at large, to make sure no opportunities are overlooked.

“We’re still looking at six or seven good properties,” commission member Dwight Sutton said, “and any or all of those we’d be proud of. But that doesn’t also mean there are others that we don’t know of.”

The Open Space Commission was formed in 2002, bankrolled by an $8 million bond levy that earned overwhelming voter approval. Since that time, the commission has brokered 15 purchases, donations and land swaps to add some 238 acres to the rolls of public forest, agriculture and park land.

Among the big-ticket purchases are the Close and Peters properties at the southwest corner of the island, which together have swollen the Gazzam Lake preserve to more than 400 contiguous acres of public forest. The commission has committed $500,000 toward the acquisition of the old Wyckoff property on Bill Point, envisioned as a park honoring the late Joel Pritchard.

But other, smaller opportunities have fallen into the commission’s lap, including a 13-acre Christmas tree farm and a trade that will put the coveted “strawberry pier” property at the Head of the Bay under public ownership.

Sutton said that other opportunities might have come up since the commission last solicited input, perhaps from estates looking to see the preservation of family properties.

“We’ve had several come through the transom,” he said, “and we look at them, because who knows, those may trump what we’re looking at right now.”

The commission has a public meeting tentatively slated for Feb. 10 at the Madison Avenue fire hall, although the time had not been confirmed early this week. Anyone who can’t attend the meeting can still nominate properties for consideration by contacting the mayor’s office.

The meeting will also give islanders a chance to comment on the mix of properties acquired so far: too much or not enough forest, waterfront or farmland?

Sutton said the seven-member commission expects to wrap up its efforts by the end of this year. He expressed general satisfaction with the work of both the commission and the public in bringing so many deals to fruition.

“I would say, hooray for us collectively,” he said.

* * * * *

The promised land

Open space acquisitions include:

Hall property (12 acres, waterfront); Rockaway Beach dive park (0.5 acres, waterfront); M&E tree farm (13 acres, agriculture); Kane property (1.36 acres, wetlands/waterfront/estuary); Morales farm (4.74 acres, agriculture); Crawford property (2.3 acres, agriculture); Wyckoff/Pritchard Park (50 acres, forest/waterfront); Close property (64 acres, forest/waterfront); Battle Point trail (11 acres, one-mile trail, forest); Schel-Chelb Estuary (0.74 acres, wetlands/waterfront); Lost Valley (six acres plus trails, forest); Peters property (49 acres, forest); Yama (7.5 acres, forest/historical); Strawberry plant (4.2 acres, waterfront); Bentryn farm (11.5 acres, agriculture).

Total so far: 238 acres preserved

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