Land Bank Announces Two Purchases

By JULIA WELLS

Two purchases announced by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank this week will protect a piece of fallow farmland in the town of Tisbury and a tree-lined ridge with an old brook running through it in the town of Aquinnah.

In the first purchase, the land bank bought an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) on just over 21 acres of Chicama Vineyards, a well-known farm and winery owned by George and Catherine Mathiesen. The vineyard spans the towns of Tisbury and West Tisbury; the land bank will hold an APR from the Mathiesens on the portion of the property that lies in Tisbury off Stoney Hill Road. Purchase price is $529,750.

The farmland is dotted with old grapevine supports and young cedar trees growing up among them. The purchase agreement includes a provision that will allow the Mathiesens to sell the trees for the next 10 years. After 10 years, the land bank will have the right to remove the cedars and return the property to open land.

"This land bank always prioritizes farmland, whether active or fallow, so this was a natural," said land bank executive director James Lengyel this week.

The new acreage abuts the land bank's four-acre Little Duarte's Pond Preserve, made possible through a 2001 sale from the Mathiesens. The recent APR purchase includes a trail easement that will connect the pond preserve with the Greenlands Preserve in West Tisbury.

"This is a very beautiful part of Martha's Vineyard because even though you are so close to the Vineyard Haven town center, you are separated from it. It has a central Massachusetts farmland feel with a beautiful little pond in the center of it," Mr. Lengyel said.

The trail easement will add an important link to the land bank trail network.

"People will be able to walk through three towns in a matter of minutes," Mr. Lengyel said.

Chicama Vineyards was begun by the Mathiesens in 1972, and more than 30 years later the family continues to grow grapes and make wine, vinegar and other products at the vineyard. The Mathiesens have always had a strong conservation ethic for their land. "It's like the preservation of Sequoia National Park [in California] or Chaco Canyon [in New Mexico]. Those are all connections we as humans think it's important to pass along. On a smaller scale, we think that's important on the Island," George Mathiesen said in a story in Martha's Vineyard Magazine last summer.

In Aquinnah this week the land bank bought 12 acres from Carmela Stephens and Stella Hopkins fronting Lobsterville Road near the intersection of Lighthouse Road. Purchase price was $1.41 million.

The property abuts the Gay Head Moraine Preserve, a 61-acre property that began with a purchase by the land bank in 1998. The 28-acre original purchase included a hilltop with sweeping views of Menemsha Bight. The land was owned by the Nityananda Institute Inc., which used the property for yoga and meditation until the building on the property burned down in 1996.

The acquisition includes a cooperative venture between the land bank and the Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit corporation that is an arm of the Island Affordable Housing Fund. Before the sale to the land bank, one acre of the property was sold to the affordable housing corporation (a one-acre lot is allowed under a town affordable housing ordinance). The housing corporation gave a restriction to the land bank on half of the property, leaving half an acre for use as a single family affordable housing lot. The town will assign the lot to a qualified buyer who will be allowed to build a home on top of an old house foundation.

In the end the shared purchase price included $1.352 million paid by the land bank and $57,715 paid by the affordable housing corporation.

"This property was a priority because the land bank had already bought the property to the south. When you stand on the knoll you are looking right at Menemsha - you don't see anything except Menemsha village and houses would have detracted from the experience. Our goal from the start was to keep houses out of the ridge. The property was subdivided, it could have been sold. It would have been a great regret on the land bank's part to have not pursued it," Mr. Lengyel said.

The Aquinnah property was purchased on an all-Island basis because the Aquinnah land bank fund does not receive enough revenue to cover the purchase. All town advisory boards were asked to contribute to the purchase and all agreed, Mr. Lengyel said.

"We now have the potential for a trail from Lobsterville Road into this property. This could serve as an anchor for a cross-Aquinnah trail; I think the logic of it is going to appeal to people," he concluded.