Land Purchase Links Preserves

Land Bank Buys Hilltop Property in Chilmark for $7 Million; Trail Easements to Connect Two Large Sanctuaries

By IAN FEIN

In a strategic acquisition that will connect a vast network of public trails in Chilmark, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank this week announced the purchase of 21 acres of hilltop land that offers sweeping views of the south shore.

The lank bank has signed a contract to buy the property for just over $7 million from siblings Jane Leavy, Jonathan Leavy and Elizabeth Leavy Stroman. Chilmark assessors this year valued the property, which is made up of three separate lots, at $7.1 million.

The purchase is significant because, along with a series of short trail easements granted by neighbors, it will connect the land bank's 50-acre Fulling Mill Brook Preserve to the 100-plus-acre Middle Road Sanctuary owned by Sheriff's Meadow Foundation. The link between those two properties will create a full loop of public trails around the geographic center of Chilmark - connecting the top of Peaked Hill to Meeting House Road, to Tea Land Farm and back along the historic Middle Line Road. That network also continues to a web of other trails and conservation properties throughout the town.

Chilmark land bank advisory board member Clarissa Allen this week praised the neighbors who donated trail easements to the new land bank property. She said the purchase was contingent upon obtaining those trail links, and that neighbors Michael Fabrikant, Elizabeth Frank-Bailey and the Abel's Hill Association all agreed to the terms within a matter of weeks. Ms. Allen said she could not recall a deal that came together so quickly and easily.

"Everyone understood right off that this was another link in a really important trail system, but I still am amazed that so many people were willing to come forward and welcome the public into their communities," Ms. Allen said. "Lots of people will tell you that they are conservation minded, but they don't actually do anything about it. These people, without any fanfare, stepped up and said yes."

After the Leavy property went on the open market, the land bank in late February approached family members, who Ms. Allen said were excited about working with the public conservation organization. And although the land bank quickly recognized the Leavy property as an important piece of land for both its place in the trail network and its views, the organization had not previously identified the parcel as a priority purchase.

"It was not on our radar, which is part of what was intriguing about this," land bank executive director James Lengyel said. "The land bank puts together a priority list to help shape its thinking, but the list doesn't command it. If a beautiful opportunity presents itself, and the land bank can afford it, then it will pursue it."

With a panoramic view that extends all the way from Squibnocket Point to the upper Chilmark Pond, the Leavy property stands as the highest point on what was once the old Ocean View Farm. Some town residents suggested this week that it might be one of the nicest views in Chilmark.

Established by the Massachusetts state legislature in 1986, the Vineyard land bank buys conservation land with a two per cent transfer fee collected on most Island real estate transactions. Over the last two decades, the organization has spent roughly $130 million to preserve more than 2,700 acres spread out over 64 separate properties.

Preliminary land bank management goals for the Leavy property call for the expansion of grasslands and the creation of trails. Land bank staff note that the property still shows evidence of its earlier farm use.

The only development on the property is a small summer home, built by the late father of Ms. Allen and designed like a boat, which the land bank will now use for staff housing.

Ms. Allen noted that, aside from the new trails and scenic view that will be opened to the public, the land bank purchase also will forever protect the land from further development.

"It's a significant piece of Chilmark real estate that would have had one or maybe three wonking houses on it," Ms. Allen said. "Nobody who bought that property would have lived in that modest home," she continued.

"But now, looking back at Chilmark from the shore, that hilltop will always look the same."